“Romeo and Juliet” is one of Shakespeare’s most well−known plays. Adapted in myriad ways — most memorably in the original Broadway production of “West Side Story” (1957) and most infamously in Jet Li’s bloody “Romeo Must Die” (2000) — “Romeo and Juliet” has become a cliche in and of itself. The challenge, then, is to create a unique and meaningful production that brings something new to a well−worn story.
Director Katie Welch seems to have done just that in last weekend’s production of the play. A senior majoring in drama, Welch incorporated the concept of youth culture and its relation to the adult community to tell the tale of these two tragic lovers.
The production was subtitled “An Outdoor Theatrical Event” due to the non−traditional setting and structure of the performance. Rather than having it take place inside Aidekman’s black box theater, Welch brought the play outside. But even more radical was her decision to mobilize the performance from place to place around the Hill.
The performance literally moved across campus, as audience members followed the actors from the Tisch Library Roof to the Academic Quad to the stairs by Eaton Hall. The production’s movement helps engage the audience in the plot of the play and also added an element of intimacy — the traditional barrier between the audience and the actors was broken, leaving the acting to boldly speak for itself.
This immersive, non−stationary structure has been successfully applied to Shakespearean productions before. Indeed, Welch’s project has joined a long line of successful experimental acts. In Cambridge, the American Repertory Theatre struck theatrical gold with “The Donkey Show,” an interactive interpretation of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” with a disco theme. After all, sex and spandex sell just as well today as they did in the 16th century. Similarly, the Punchdrunk Theatre Company’s virtually wordless production of “Macbeth,” entitled “Sleep No More,” takes place in a block of Manhattan warehouses that audiences explore during the non−linear production.
Even on the Tufts campus this trend is evident. Later this semester, seniors Charles Laubacher and Justin Gleiberman will be putting on a production of Sophocles’ “Electra” on the library rooftop. With contemporary dance, music and staging, Laubacher and Gleiberman hope to breathe new life into this venerable Greek tragedy.
Aside from the interesting setting choice, Welch made several narrative changes to her production as well.
“I chose to concentrate on the issues of child development in the story and changed a few of the characters in order to do so,” she said.
Welch seemed confident in her alterations, suggesting that they “brought the drama into current times, made the children of the story more relatable and added a new layer to the tragic end.”
Welch’s adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” was produced by the Bare Bodkin Theatre Company. Founded in 2003, this student−run Tufts organization is devoted to producing both experimental productions and the works of Tufts playwrights. Each year, Bare Bodkin helps support the Department of Drama and Dance’s Playwriting I course by organizing theatrical renditions of their one−act plays.
The cast for Welch’s production featured a wide variety of Jumbos, including some who were relatively fresh to the Tufts theater scene. Sophomore Adam Bangser and freshman Grace Oberhofer play the star−crossed lovers. The two leads were supported by a variety of upperclassmen, including seniors Kevin McDonald, Erik Leupp, Hannah Wellman, Cara Guappone and Thomas Martinez.
An interactive, outdoor show has its risks, as the performers soon discovered. During one scene involving a knife fight, a perplexed Tufts University Police Department officer pulled up in a police car. During another scene, a rogue Frisbee interrupted Lady Capulet’s discovery of Juliet’s corpse. The weather was another major variable. While it improved as the weekend progressed, Welch and her actors were faced with the challenge of a rainy opening night. But, not to be deterred, the play went on. After all, in practicing for the show in the wintry months, Welch and the cast were forced to map out their rangy stage and plot the blocking with pure imagination. But by the final performance on Sunday afternoon, the weather was both sunny and bright, contrasting tragically with the bitter end to the timeless saga.