Take a trip to fair Verona where the USC School of Dramatic Arts' production of Romeo and Juliet lays its scene. Set in the 15th Century, this production—under the direction of Kelly Ward— hearkens back to the original period of the classic tale. Dean David Bridel has described the mission of the School of Dramatic Arts by saying, "we draw upon the traditions of the past, create in the present, and build towards the vivid future of our disciplines with passion and rigor." To support that mission, the school explores the full spectrum of theatrical works, including Shakespearean classics such as this staging of "Romeo and Juliet."
Julia Stier, playing Juliet Capulet, and Taubert Nadalini, playing Romeo Montague, discuss their experiences bringing this classical text to life.
How would you describe your overall experience working on this production?
Stier: Working on this show, and with Kelly Ward, has been an incredible learning experience He has really taught us how to dive into the text, and does an amazing job of encouraging us to dig deeper into what is written. So many times we will try something, and he will comment, that's great, but I think we can discover even more, and really find all the different nuances. The biggest lesson I've learned while working on the show is to just trust the text. The actions, the emotion, the reactions, the relationships—they're all there for you.
Nadalini: I would say my experience working on this production has been so positive and constructive. From day one, I've been enormously excited to work this cast, and knowing that Kelly has such high standards, I had nothing but great expectations for the process. Now, looking back to the rehearsals and looking forward to the performances this weekend, I'm truly honored to be telling this story with these people and this creative team. It's beautiful. I'm so proud of the work we've done and the show we have prepared collectively.
What has been your greatest challenge approaching this text?
Stier: Almost everyone knows the story of "Romeo and Juliet" so, the biggest challenge we face with this production is finding a way to make it fresh to an audience that already knows the ending. With our production, we are trying to remind people that, up until Tybalt's death, "Romeo and Juliet" is actually a comedy. I think people are going to be surprised to find themselves laughing!
Nadalini: Ironically my greatest challenge with Romeo and Juliet has also been my greatest aide: the bard, himself. In my opinion, Shakespeare is both the most challenging playwright and also the most generous. We're speaking text that was written for a late 16th century audience in Elizabethan England, and it was even heightened language back then. So when I'm approaching Romeo, I consider my foremost responsibility to be bridging the time gap and communicating the text in a way that is as coherent and relatable as possible. That, of course, means knowing inside out every word and image that Romeo says. But it also means I still have to listen to Shakespeare. I can't just take the text and run with it. He writes in such a specific way that if I really honor his words and the verse, I find a tremendous resource. He directly informs the actor playing Romeo where the emotional peaks of the play are. He colors the character with specifically chosen imagery and metaphor. He even communicates to the actor—through the text itself—what his hands need to be doing at certain moments throughout a given scene. So for those reasons, he's extremely helpful. But consistently meeting the high bar he's created for his actors is definitely a fun challenge. Last night, Julia and I were laughing because as soon as we both got backstage after our run of the show, we both just kind of collapsed out of exhaustion. It really feels like we run a marathon every night. But that's also why we love it!
What about this production do you think will ring true to today's audience?
Stier: I think this show is relevant to today's audiences because many of us remember what it was like to be completely swept off of our feet by someone. So many people have that memory of the excitement of first love, and "Romeo and Juliet" gives them the chance to relive that feeling. We are also highlighting the show's message that love overcomes hatred with the reconciling of the Capulets and Montagues after Romeo and Juliet's deaths. I think this is a message we could all use right now.
Nadalini: There's a reason Shakespeare's texts are still read and performed so often. He wrote plays that deal with the foundations of humanity. His texts weren't circumstantial or specific to the time they were written. They contain profound examples of what we as humans should universally strive for in life. "Romeo and Juliet" shows us the transformative power of love in a world filled with hate and conflict. How could anyone doubt the relevancy of that message in our world today? 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, and I'm so moved and proud to say that I've contributed to the continuation of his stories and his message.
What are you most excited about as the production nears opening?
Stier: We have put so much work into this show, and I truly believe that it has paid off. It has been such an honor working with this incredibly talented cast. I'm most excited to share this show with people who don't like Shakespeare, because I believe this production will change their mind. We have something for everyone: sword fighting, love, comedy, tragedy, the works. We also have a lot of gorgeous, original composed music by Nathan McEven that really enhances the mood of the show, and I can't wait for people to hear it!
Nadalini: I'm excited for people to see a production of Romeo and Juliet that takes the story back to it's most fundamental elements. Our production is set in 15th century Verona. We're saying the text in its purest form, staged dynamically with enormous precision. This show is thrilling to perform, and I really think it'll be so exciting for people to watch.
For a night of laughs, love, and loss, be sure to check out the USC School of Dramatic Arts' production of Romeo and Juliet
The USC School of Dramatic Arts' 'Romeo and Juliet' will perform November 3-6 at the Bing Theater. General Audience tickets are $12 and can be purchased online, at the USC Ticket Office, or at the door. Discounted student tickets are available at the USC Ticket Office for $5 with a valid student ID. For more information regarding performances and tickets, visit https://dramaticarts.usc.edu/romeo-and-juliet/