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Director’s Notes for IStage Performance Ensemble’s ROMEO & JULIET

Romeo and Juliet is performed by the IStage Performance Ensemble, an audition-based, semester-long production experience for actors in grades 7-12. For more information about our top-quality, selective advanced programs, please visit our Training and Performances page.

This is a cliche, for sure, but the great joy in revisiting the plays of William Shakespeare is discovering how their themes remain true over time. Over and over again we set these plays against a variety of backdrops and see both old and new ways the images and messages emerge on stage or screen. It’s an incredible feeling to join with artists across countries, across centuries, exploring these enduring works time after time and finding relevance and revelations with each new production.

The first thing you’ll likely notice about our take on Romeo & Juliet is its time setting in the 1980s. Romeo & Juliet is one of those stories that is hard to place any more recently than that because the invention of cell phones makes the second half of the story pretty implausible. The '80s brought many incredible trends in fashion and music making it a rich tapestry to set any story against. But the ‘80s were also known as “the me generation” or “the greed decade” which provides some interesting opportunities for interpretation, especially when looking at the wealthy leaders of the Montague and Capulet families and their petty fighting that has trickled down to their young, impressionable youth.

Time plays out in other ways throughout the story with an intense urgency to live for the moment regardless of the consequences. The events of the entire play take place within only three days and the characters spend those three days rushing time as fast as they can, and in that way, rush the story to its tragic end. Juliet asks Romeo to set up their marriage ceremony the day after they meet. Capulet pushes up the marriage date of Paris to Juliet immediately following Tybalt’s death. If Romeo had waited one extra minute to take the poison he would have seen Juliet wake up. Friar Lawrence is the only character trying to slow everyone down, but alas, she does not succeed.

Our impressions of this story also change based on when we’re watching or reading this play. When I was younger, I took away themes regarding the power of love. But today, I see a warning to adults to beware the fallout that comes from divisiveness. A call to reject the culture of hatred and exclusion that is plaguing our society today, the consequences of which so often fall onto our young people.

Watching actual teen actors so genuinely portraying two people ferociously in love, pouring all their vulnerabilities out to each other and onto the stage, fills me, simply, with incredible joy. I hope it will affect you in the same way. I watch their early scenes with each other and think, these two young people deserve to explore this relationship further. Romeo and Juliet should have had more time. And they probably could have, had it not been for the culture of hate and violence begun by their elders. We, as adults, need to stop acting like time is infinite and ensure we are leaving this world in a better place than we found it.

-Nikki Kaplan, Director

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