Entries tagged with “Romeo and Juliet”.

Rachel Pineiro as Benvolio

When I accepted the role of Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, I naturally assumed the part would be changed to Benvolia. Obviously, I was not well acquainted with Pigeon Creek’s practices: e.g. embracing the traditional tragi-comical gender-bending of the Renaissance era with the unabashed use of drag. In the 21st century, of course, the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company has the wit to employ this ploy by casting women as men in addition to men as women. Had I perceived the magnanimous task I was agreeing to espouse at its inception, I might have hesitated for a moment and raised an eyebrow.

It wasn’t until the read-through that I realized what was about to happen. I had contracted myself to delve into the mysterious and daunting realm of the male world, to unsex myself (as they say), and sacrifice my femininity on the alter of the theatre gods. I could not (and would not) look pretty on stage. Nay. I would steep myself in a culture of shoulder punching, loogie spitting, rough-housing male adolescence, peppered indiscriminately with early modern locker-room talk.


Something deep down inside told me to run away. I ignored that voice and chose instead to sink my imagination into the vast and daunting mystery of masculinity.

I discovered many things. The first was an epiphany that I had no idea what I was doing. I’d never been around a group of guys when there were no women present, and there was no way for me to determine how men behave under the influence of unadulterated, pure testosterone. Trying to imagine the situation nearly caused me to seize up, and I promptly sought out fresh air. While strolling the streets of Grand Rapids, I considered what lengths I would go to in order to achieve the resemblance of cross-gendered truth. Could I infiltrate male-dominated spaces, in disguise, and note the untainted distinctiveness of males in their natural habitats? Certainly not. The idea was deviant, and amusing at most. Could I adopt masculine social attributes, attempt to create Benvolio as a contemporary in West Michigan, and try out my alter-ego in public places? Again, no. I realized that hitting on women at the bar or engaging in street fights would not assist my character development so much as it would get me into trouble.

At some point, I came to the conclusion that boys are not alien creatures. They are human beings much like women are, and furthermore, I’d been studying males all of my life, being surrounded with them and communicating regularly. Letting the culture-shock wear off, I decided that I did not have to worry so much about “putting on a boy character” as much as stripping away my own mannerisms that were specifically feminine. I practiced holding a stance with weight equally distributed on both feet, and walking without turning my hips. I tapped into my athletic side and pumped out 50 push-ups every rehearsal in order to focus on the existence of arm muscles; and to experience tautness in my gestures, since I realized that it was feminine to have superfluous arm or hand movements. I wanted to achieve an energetic sturdiness, capable of climbing a tree or drawing a sword at a second’s notice.

With all of my focus on physicality, I certainly had a masculine image of myself painted in my head. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the reality of my appearance did not match up with my imagination. Benvolio’s embodiment within myself had no facial hair, stood only 5′2” high, and weighed about 1/3rd of the nurse. Thus, at age 23, I realized the most I could pull off was a prepubescent, 13-year-old version of Romeo’s friend. Barely a pin-prick of a man. But I began to fall in love with the idea that Benvolio has a big heart, and that he is more than he seems. I decided to play Benvolio in an in-between phase, moving toward manhood with his perception of social responsibility, but still possessing all the wiliness of boyhood and the awkwardness of adolescence.

It has been quite the adventure exploring the idiosyncrasies of Benvolio’s character, moment by moment, and working with and learning from the dynamic cast of the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company. I am infinitely grateful for the opportunity the company has given me to experience Shakespeare beyond the bodice and on the side of sword-wielding wilderness. Thank you to the company for giving me this experience!

Kilian Thomas G. (Paris) on the Original practices

As an actor, what I really want to achieve is the ability to say that I’ve told a good story. Stories are our pasts relived for us, parables manifested, and lessons to be learned. In ancient times, storytelling kept the records of history and keeps local culture alive. Each civilization had it’s own stories and ways of telling them. I could just volunteer to read story books at the library, but the thrill of being in front of an audience and the prospect of helping them enter into an imagined world is far more appealing. Pigeon Creek has given me the opportunity to do this, and has challenged me by doing it in a way more concurrent with traditional Shakespearean practices.

I have mostly worked with proscenium-style theatres, so when I was introduced to thrust staging, certain aspects didn’t quite jibe with what I had learned in the past. Fundamentals of Original Practices (i.e. foot placement, diagonals, and audience interaction) were mostly a new frontier for me. However, as the rehearsal processes progressed, my comfort level with the space grew steadily. The space in a thrust stage is always dynamic, filled with constant movement or powerful three-sided pictures, a right-in-your-face sense of theatre. Being that close to an audience means that one truly needs to be able make the acting shine from every side of their body. Front side, left profile, right profile and back side. How interesting is it to look at the cape of a man just standing there? Instead, what working with the company taught me was how to find focus, and power with stage placement and eye contact.

There are many more aspects of the rehearsal process that have helped me grow as an actor (and specifically with Shakespeare’s text) such as: learning better techniques for dealing with the lofty language, better combat experience, the difficulties adherent in working with a traveling show, teaching myself valuable lessons about acting and time management, and finding the places in those areas where I can still improve. As story tellers we always want our stories to be told to the best of their ability, and the best of their ability is the best of our ability. I also believe we should always be trying to raise the bar for ourselves, and strive for excellence. I hope you come see the show and that you enjoy our world of Verona. Let us tell you a story.

Alisha Huber on Directing Romeo and Juliet

As I was getting ready to direct Romeo and Juliet, one concern kept running through my head: What do you do with a play that everyone knows? If you didn’t read Romeo and Juliet in ninth grade, you are in the extreme minority. If you can’t come up with a couple of lines from it off the top of your head, you are officially not drinking the same cultural groundwater as the rest of us. It’s probably the most frequently produced play in the English-speaking world. On a sitcom, if the high-school-aged characters need to be in a play, it’s going to be Romeo and Juliet (no pesky royalties, no need to waste valuable space in your twenty-two minutes helping the audience figure out the plot of the play-within-the-episode). There’s even an episode of Hey, Arnold! where the kids act out the play.

I asked people what they remembered about Romeo and Juliet, and what they thought they knew about it before they got into high school and read it. Everyone, even small children, knew that the title characters were famously in love with each other. Those who had been through high school remembered the feuding families and the fact that they both died at the end. About the rest of the play, people’s memories were fuzzier. They knew that Romeo and Juliet both died, but couldn’t remember how or why. Very few people remembered the key detail that they actually got married. Almost no one remembered anything about any of the play’s other characters.

This gave me somewhere to start. Many cuts of the play that I’ve seen in performance remove the scenes that humanize Lord Capulet and pull the focus entirely to the young lovers. My cut tries to spread the attention and stage time around to many characters, often by leaving in lines or scenes that I literally have never seen performed. I was able to work with the actors who played the various supporting roles to clarify what their characters wanted and needed from this situation. Sometimes, this ended up being funny things that the audience will probably never really see—for example, we decided that Benvolio loves to dance, and a lot of his actions early in the play have to do with convincing his friends to help him crash a dance party. Others, I know will be clear to the audience. Katherine Mayberry and I worked a lot with Lady Capulet’s clear discomfort with her daughter, her longing for closeness with her, and the oddity of her relationship with the nurse—the woman who bore Juliet, and the woman who raised her.

The problem that was hardest to tackle was certainly that of Romeo and Juliet themselves. Audience members come in with expectations of what the lovers will look like, how they will talk, what kind of personalities they will have. Most of my work was to throw out those preconceptions and dig in to the text. “Trust the text,” I tell actors all the time, but in Romeo and Juliet, I was the one who needed that reminder. Here’s one fun fact that I bet you didn’t know: Romeo totally says funny things all the time, especially in the balcony scene. One of my favorite moments in the entire production is where Sean Kelley, as Romeo, says, “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?” It’s a line everyone knows (I bet you even know the next one). He delivers it in an unexpected way—as a command to the audience, telling them to SHUT UP—and it always gets a laugh. Kat Hermes, as Juliet, found that Shakespeare’s Juliet is not the pale, doe-eyed, simpering girl popular culture would have us believe. She is smart, funny, and very much in control. Remember, Juliet proposes to Romeo, not the other way around. She’s also young and inexperienced. May of her best lines come out of the fact that she’s used to knowing exactly how things are going to go, and the depth of her own emotions surprises her.

Chaz Albright as Tybalt

Is life fair? It appears not… Are good deeds rewarded? haha…

Tybalt. King of cats. That’s my name. Many consider me a hot-headed, vengeful hooligan! WOW… I am all those things… but I am such in the spirit of honor, I am not some common murderer! Nothing about me is or ever will be common, I am a Capulet! This is my blessing and my curse. I cannot simply behave as common people do. Oh no, all of Verona’s eyes gaze upon my family and me. I, unlike some other family members, have learned to embrace this fame and flaunt it. If everyone already assumes you are one thing, why waste your time trying to change their mind? Fear seems to be the emotion that I inspire in people, so fear me they shall!

A few days ago while walking through fair Verona I found myself facing a quarrel in the town square. The fight was between some guards of my uncle Capulet’s house, and those despicable Montagues. No doubt those bastards were the ones that started the fight. As I strolled in to punish the dogs, that child, Benvolio, appeared right before my eyes with his sword drawn and ready to strike…AGAINST SERVANTS! Of course I was not going to let this poor excuse for a boy make worm’s meat of my dear Uncle’s men, so I did as all bearing the great name Capulet should, I drew my sword in pride… until our “proud” Prince came to part us, knowing not the occasion of the brawl.

After retiring to my Uncle’s house, I was once again scolded for being temperamental, hostile and violent. I know not what is in that old, clouded head of my Uncle, but he has clearly grown too effeminate to end this feud… The Montagues deserve not this mercy.

Though I did not agree, I left the old man to prepare for his wondrous masquerade that was to begin in a few short hours. After preparing myself for the party and rousing my dear friend, Juliet’s Nurse, I headed to the hall to have a feast and dance the night away. Upon arriving I was only lucky enough to dance with the beautiful Nurse for a few short moments before my night was spoiled. I was in a world of dancing bliss until I heard the pathetic peep of a young and foolish Montague named Romeo.

We have been in a blood feud with the house of the Montagues for years, and my thoughtless Uncle still allowed that Romeo bandit to enter the party. It was a disgrace to our family! And when I tried to make that “well educated young man” leave, my uncle Capulet forced ME to go…

The morning after that piteous party I thwarted my uncle and took matters in to my own hands, sending out a written challenge to that same Romeo who did intrude upon our solemnity… It has now been several days and I have heard no word from the coward. This is not the time to sit aimless by as this boy insults my family and my honor, this is the time for vengeance, which I will now with furious hands carry out.

Katherine Mayberry as Lady Capulet

The role of Lady Capulet is one that unfortunately can slip too easily from the audience’s notice in the midst of the central tragic love story in Romeo and Juliet. For many audience members, Lady Capulet’s most notable moment in Romeo and Juliet is when she disowns her daughter. In Act 3, scene 5, after Juliet refuses to marry Paris and Lord Capulet threatens to throw her out into the street, Lady Capulet exits after telling her daughter “Talk not to me, for I’ll not speak a word./Do what thou wilt, for I have done with thee.” By itself, this line makes Lady Capulet seem like a cold and unfeeling mother, but in the earlier portions of the play, she is actually trying desperately to find some common ground with her teenage daughter, who has a closer relationship with the Nurse than she does with her own mother.

Lady Capulet’s first significant scene in the play is Act 1, scene 3, in which she first broaches the subject of marriage with Juliet. She at first tries to have a private conversation with her daughter, dismissing the Nurse so that she and Juliet may “talk in secret.” Immediately, she calls the Nurse back again, as if simply being alone with Juliet is an awkward and uncomfortable moment. Lady Capulet is so excited about Paris as a possible suitor — “Verona’s summer hath not such a flower” — that Juliet’s non-committal answers about this potential marriage make her mother seem like some one who is trying too hard. Lady Capulet even tries to find common ground with Juliet by saying, “By my count,/I was your mother much upon these years/That you are now a maid,” but Juliet doesn’t share her enthusiasm for marriage and motherhood.

Lady Capulet spends a large portion of the play mourning, and not just for Juliet. She is distraught over Tybalt’s death, and remarkably angry at the Montagues. She actually expresses more desire for vengeance than her husband does, demanding of the Prince “I beg for justice, which thou prince must give./Romeo slew Tybalt. Romeo must not live.” When Juliet “dies” for the first time, Lady Capulet’s reaction completely belies her earlier coldness to her daughter. Weeping over Juliet’s body, she says “My child, my only life,/Revive, look up, or I will die with thee.” At this moment, she must desperately regret having said the cruel things that she did in Act 3, scene 5, as all parents regret the things they have said in anger.

I hope that our production does a good job of showing the complexity that Shakespeare has written into the role of Lady Capulet, and into the parent-child relationship between Juliet and her mother. Although her involvement in the play’s central plot is tangential, Lady Capulet’s reactions to the play’s event give the audience a perspective on Juliet’s family life, and on how the families’ feud and tragic deaths of the lovers affect the other individuals who surround the title characters.

Sean Kelley as Romeo

Romeo is one of the most challenging roles I have played, and the first part I will have played twice. Romeo and Juliet is often called the most produced play of all time, and I am thrilled that Pigeon Creek has brought this ensemble together to test the play again. One of the most interesting aspects of the behemoth that is Romeo and Juliet is how what happens to the title characters is determined by their harsh social environment.

Take, for instance, the first time Romeo and Juliet meet. Romeo is headed to the party to rejoice in the splendor of Rosaline’s beauty when he sees Juliet, falls in love, and ruins everything for everybody. This is exactly the course of action suggested by Benvolio a few scenes earlier, who tells Romeo to go to the party and check someone else out. Mercutio is no help, telling Romeo to ignore his cautious dreams and go to the Capulet’s party.

Kat Hermes, Juliet in our production, put it this way: “Everything else in their lives is awful, and we never get the chance to find out if they would be awful to each other.” Juliet only has one friend, the nurse, and is being set up in marriage by her distant parents. Romeo’s lot is not much better.

Sometimes the heightened language between Romeo and Juliet reveals deep syncopation in the two characters. That is what makes the play such an effective tragedy. The ill-fated pair are of marrying age and have strong interest in each other, as well as good social standing for a match. They should marry. The reasons they should not are provided by their toxic environment.

Romeo and Juliet are products of this environment, but they are hopeful characters until the end. Romeo is a little bit Benvolio, and a little bit Friar Laurence, and a degree of Mercutio but he has their characteristics turned positive and aimed away from the feud. This reflects back on the peace that could exist between the other people in Verona. If the ingredients yield products of hope like Romeo and Juliet, why can’t the feud be overcome?

I hope you come to see our production of Romeo and Juliet, where we will try our best to answer that question.

Victoria Everitt as Lord Montague

Much has been written about the relationship between three pairs of fathers and sons in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In all three relationships the father’s death precedes the son’s, but two sons, Hamlet and Laertes, seek personal revenge for their fathers’ murders and are in turn murdered, while another son, Fortinbras, prince of Norway, seeks only to complete his father’s life work (to reclaim land from Denmark) and survives the tragedy. Scholars have long conjectured that the death of Shakespeare’s own father in 1601 may have inspired some of these intense father-son dynamics in Hamlet, which was first performed near the time of John Shakespeare’s death. It does give one food for thought.

When I was cast as Lord Montague in Romeo and Juliet, I chose to focus on the relationship between Lord Montague and his son Romeo as my springboard for characterization. It is evident throughout the play that Juliet has a complex and volatile relationship with both her mother and her father, who are hovering ‘helicopter parents’ in her life, but Romeo’s parents are missing from most of the play. Why?

I believe the answer to this question lies in the male-dominated society of the Renaissance. Unmarried young women were sheltered from the outside world by their parents, by their servants (such as Juliet’s Nurse), and by their religion. The fact that Romeo and Juliet are raised in the same small town but never see one another until the Capulet party attests that Juliet, literally, does not get out much, or, when she did, she would be carefully chaperoned by family and staff. Under a double standard, Romeo and his adolescent pals are free to wander the streets day and night without consequences. In fact, Romeo’s father is well aware that Romeo spends his pre-dawn hours loitering in a local sycamore grove, “with tears augmenting the fresh morning dew,” and Lord Montague even admits that he does not know why. After the Capulet party Romeo does not even return home “to his father’s,” so we can conclude that young men of a certain age were basically independent of parental supervision and control.

But how does Romeo feel about his father? How does Lord Montague feel about him? They never once converse onstage, but careful line analysis suggests that they do love one another a great deal. After the opening brawl in Act I, Romeo’s parents are “right glad…he was not at this fray” and “would as willingly give cure as know” the cause of his melancholy mood, after which Romeo’s third line upon entering onstage is “Was that my father that went hence so fast?” In Act III, after Romeo kills Tybalt for murdering Mercutio, Lord Montague convinces the Prince to commute Romeo’s death sentence to exile, since “his fault concludes but what the law should end, The life of Tybalt,” showing quick thinking on the part of a desperate parent. In Act V, Romeo writes a letter to his father to explain why he “came to this vault to die and lie with Juliet,” and later when Lord Montague discovers Romeo dead, he laments, “O thou untaught! What manners is in this, To press before thy father to a grave?” He grieves that Romeo, his only “son and heir,” did not outlive him, and his universe will never be the same.

To me, Lord Montague’s last words to Romeo are eerily prescient on Shakespeare’s part. Romeo and Juliet was first performed in 1594-1595, only a year or so before the death of Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet, at the age of 11. All too soon would the playwright feel firsthand the anguish of losing his only son and heir, as Lord Montague did.

Scott Lange as Benvolio/Capulet

Most of our audience members are probably not aware of this, but on the morning of Pigeon Creek’s final performance of The Taming of the Shrew, I was in a fairly serious automobile accident. In addition to losing my car, some musical instruments, and the majority of our set, I also sustained injuries bad enough to require a six day hospital stay. Needless to say, we didn’t have a performance that evening.

We held auditions a few weeks before that scheduled performance, so I knew before the accident that I would be playing Mercutio and Lord Capulet. After the accident I had a number of concerns about my ability to perform. I had extreme difficulty walking for a few weeks, bruised lungs, and a dislocated elbow.

In order to perform adequately, I need to project my voice, move around the stage quickly, play music, and be able to fight as Mercutio. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do any of those things. I brought up my concerns to the rest of the Pigeon Creek board. We decided that I should go ahead with rehearsals, and see how my body improves. We came up with a plan “B”, but hoped we wouldn’t have to use it.

Anyway, it’s been almost exactly five weeks since that day, and that conversation. I’ve made quite a bit of improvement. I’ve still got a little bit of a limp, and I can’t quite straighten out my left arm, but things are progressing. I’m working pretty hard to develop a sort of strut for Mercutio to cover up the fact that I’m not walking totally normal. For Capulet, however, I am allowing the limp to come through. Both of my characters also talk excessively, so my lungs are getting back into shape.

By talking about this, I’m not really hoping to elicit any pity from actors or audience members. I also hope to avoid anyone saying “you did really great, for someone recovering from a major accident.” I want the performance to be able to stand on its own. As an actor, I’m always thinking about how I want to walk, move, gesture, or speak as a specific character. But this time the experience is so different. Instead of starting with my natural body movements (a.k.a. my neutral state), I’m basically building a framework from the negative end of the scale. I’m trying to discover my characters, whilst trying to rediscover myself.

Kat Hermes as Juliet

We have what several people have said is a fairly non-traditional cast for this production of Romeo and Juliet; we have a man playing the Nurse, a woman playing Benvolio, a Tybalt who is more physically imposing than the “king of cats” is usually played, and as Juliet, we have me — a woman who is hardly a typical ingénue and who our audience is most used to seeing in comic, male roles.

All of this has me thinking a lot about the idea of “type-casting.” The phrase can have negative connotations both for actors and audiences, carrying with it the implication that an actor who is type-cast is not being challenged; he or she is “playing him/herself” or is doomed to only play a specific kind of character. But there is little doubt that Shakespeare’s company would have done a great deal of type-casting. It was, in fact, common practice. Audiences would not have been at all surprised to see the same actor playing the same kinds of roles across a variety of productions. Considering, by modern standards, the extremely limited rehearsal time Early Modern theater companies had, having actors specialize in a certain type of role was extremely practical.

The dislike many modern actors feel towards type-casting may have a lot to do with the fact that the “type” referred to is often a physical type. I mean that, depending on their appearance, there are some “types” of roles they’d never be considered for no matter what their ability, and some they’d be forced to play again and again regardless of interest. But there is another way to look at type-casting which may be closer to the way that Shakespeare’s company would have practiced it.

Though certainly appearance would have been a factor (especially since casting boys in women’s roles was a legal requirement), when descriptions of a character’s physical traits such as height and coloring are written into Shakespeare’s plays, it is not because he demanded a character look a specific way and expected to find an actor that fit his description, but because he already knew what actor he was writing for. Actors were cast by character type, rather than physical type.

Casting by character type, that is, giving actors the sort of roles that they can fit themselves into intuitively and excel at, is something that Pigeon Creek does especially and unusually well. I think our reliance on cross-gendered casting is a big part of this, as is our focus on language and storytelling over spectacle. The fact that the company is actor-run probably helps as well, since you learn a lot more about another actors capabilities sharing the stage with him or her than you can in an audition or even by watching his or her performance in a full production.

I remember a discussion about physical type in one of my college acting classes. We were talking about the professional advantages of knowing your “type” (i.e.: knowing what parts to audition for and how to present yourself at auditions) and trying to argue the limitations presented by focusing on one’s physical type instead of one’s character type. I pointed out that in a hypothetical production of Romeo and Juliet, by physical standards, I would pretty much only be eligible to play the Nurse, a role that I would be terrible at. But, I went on to say (with all the arrogance of the late-teenager), I would be an amazing Juliet if I ever found a casting director willing to look beyond physical type and consider me. One little piece of my joy at being cast in Pigeon Creek’s Romeo and Juliet is getting the chance to find out if my nineteen-year-old self was right!