Four hundred years ago, Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” explored the notions of sexual identity, familial obligations and sociopolitical matters of the time. This fall, DePaul Theatre School explores those same themes in the premiere of its modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play
Head of DePaul’s BFA acting program and director, Cameron Knight, aims to put a modern spin on this William Shakespeare classic.
The student-run play uses Shakespeare’s original “Romeo and Juliet” text with some adaptations, including using a political backdrop that’s similar to what is going on in America right now.
“The Capulets are Republicans and the Montagues are Democrats,” Knight said. “Using themes of Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+, and all the political and emotional strife that’s been at play in our country, the story actually is relevant to an audience.”
Knight changed the gender of some characters. Romeo, for example, is played by a female, and Romeo and Juliet are a same-sex couple.
“Shakespeare wrote themes that united people,” Knight said.
Senior assistant director Allegra Larson spoke to the power that the LGBTQ+ messages can have on the audience.
“In a conservative household, being gay is not an okay thing to do, so the tension that comes with that and the kind of fear to love in a world that doesn’t want you to love, I think that is a very powerful through line for our production and the initial text itself,” Larson said.
Larson articulated that one of the goals of the production is to draw connections between the play and the day-to-day life outside of the theater.
“Art is a powerful vehicle for social commentary, and through that commentary, we may more keenly observe what in our society needs to be changed,” Larson said. “It gives an audience the ability to absorb the story we tell them and then take whatever they’ve gleaned from it to make the world a better place.”
Larson discussed how police brutality is another topic that is brought up in the show.
“In this ridiculously violent city that we live in, we thought it was very important to tell a story about love and the power of love in the midst of violence,” Larson said.
Larson believes that police brutality is an example of “protectors not protecting”, which is a theme that comes up multiple times during the show
“In ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ the parents are supposed to be protectors of children, but the parents are why their children kill themselves. Protectors not protecting is a very strong theme, and how we have to find the love, support and care in other places,” Larson said.
The set, which is built out of steel and wood and contains a faux marble painted floor with a high gloss and texture pillars, is meant to both represent Chicago architecture as well as share similarities with Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.
“The show, while taking place in Verona, in our production is inspired by Chicago,” scenic designer Claire DiVito said. “The architecture is inspired by real Art Deco architecture, downtown that is iconic to our city. (…) The stage is shaped in a similar shape to the Globe so that the actors can use the space in a movement pattern that reflects that of The Globe. It also brings the audience closer to the action.”
Knight believes what makes Shakespeare’s plays relevant today are the themes he wrote about and the richness of his poetry, which are maintained by DePaul’s adaptation.
“I’m excited for the students to get to share it,” Knight said. “One of the questions I hear from not just students in the Theatre School, but students all around the country, is: ‘why are we still working on this author? A 400-year-old playwright, why is it important?’ Finding and showing our young audiences the relevancy of Shakespeare is what I’m excited about. The play connects to them and the world they live in right now, not high collars and corsets and things that people appreciate, but don’t relate to. I’m excited to present a Shakespeare play that’s relatable.”
Larson agreed that while there are adaptations that the DePaul Theatre School has made, much is still authentic to Shakespeare’s classic.
“The passion is still there, the language is still there, the love is still there, the hate and violence is still there,” Larson said. “The only difference is making it for today and for where we are in the world and who we are in this school and at DePaul.”
The production runs Nov. 4 – Nov. 13 on the Fullerton Stage at the DePaul Theatre School.