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Shakespeare that speaketh to today’s modern audience

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO, Colorado
AE romeo and Juliet KA 11-07-07
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But soft! What is Shakespeare talking about?

Half the time it’s hard to guess without spending hours analyzing the text.

This coming weekend, Battle Mountain High School students will make “Romeo and Juliet” palatable for the modern audience by introducing 21st-century touches such as cell phones.

Set to debut tonight, the play will feature the Capulet Corporation and Montague Industries rather than feuding families.

Also hip, Juliet falls for Romeo at her 18th birthday party instead of a ball near her 14th birthday.

“No one really knows Shakespeare’s language that well so a lot of people would just get bored with it,” 17-year-old Maria Scullly said (she plays Juliet). “Modernizing it helps for everyone to understand it and lets everyone relate to it.”

Play director Suzanne Foster, a language arts teacher at Battle Mountain, has been helping audiences relate to Shakespeare classics such as “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Twelfth Night” for years. This time around, she wanted to rework a tragedy.

“We modernized it and it’s really funny because one of my friends said, ‘Why do you still have a sword fight if you modernized it?’ And I said, ‘because it’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ ” you have to have a sword fight,'” Foster said.

That’s right: Actors trained with an expert so they could use real swords in the duels. The swords bring authentic clanking noises and drama to the fights, even though protective coverings will obscure the tips.

Senior Sean Pack, who plays Romeo, said the students practiced first with wooden sticks until they felt comfortable with the swords.

“The fight scenes are choreographed so nicely,” he said. “The audience is going to be freaking out every time someone dies.”

Rehearsals generated memorable moments for the cast. Students auditioned for roles in late September and have been rehearsing four nights each week.

For the teens who played Romeo and Juliet, the kissing scenes took some getting used to.

“Some of it was awkward at first because me and Sean were both kind of shy but I’ve acted with Sean for a while and we’re really good friends, so we’re totally used to it now and we’re totally comfortable, but at first we didn’t really know what to do,” Scully said.

Feigning death in Juliet’s coffin proved much more disconcerting. At first, Scully found lying in the stark Halloween coffin from Wal-mart scary.

“But they made it all pretty with pillows in it and stuff so it’s better,” she said. “It’s not as creepy.”

Both Scully and Pack have embraced what they consider dream roles and have worked hard to channel the intense emotions that characterize Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. Inspired by the script, Pack composed a song titled “Our Destiny,” which will play during some of the scenes.

For the actors, rehearsals offered a chance to form relationships with other students, and no, we’re not talking about the feud-ending, double-suicide variety.

“The best part is getting all these crazy people together and they’re all weirdos and we all just bond as a cast together,” Pack said. “That’s probably the best part.”


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