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“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

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“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

Written by Marissa Anderson

Photo Credit to Maytal Espino

Starting the year out with Romeo and Juliet, Shasta College’s theater department is hard at work preparing for the show, set for curtain-rise on October 17th.  After speaking with several members of the production team, I quickly learned that this Shakespearian rendition is not intended to be the same run of the mill love story. Director, Dean Monroe (left), says, “A lot of people think they have this preconceived notion of Romeo and Juliet is all about and that it’s some sort of love story. It is a love story. But bottom line is this girl who’s not yet fourteen is being forced to marry…” Monroe then continues on with the synopsis of the play’s deeper level beyond the overlying love story, during which he makes sure to note, “Even in death Romeo takes a potion. [Juliet] stabs herself! She’s the one who shows the determination and she’s the one who sees how cruel the world is.” Monroe pauses to glance at the rehearsal from where we sit towards the back of the auditorium, smiling fondly. The actors were practicing their lines “off-book” and were dealing what Monroe referred to as an, “awkward week.”

Working on a scene during the rehearsal is an actress who I was fortunate enough to talk with for a while. Courtney Griffin (below), stepping into the role of Lady Capulet, is returning to acting at Shasta College for the first time since, what she estimated to be 2005. Having lived in New York for approximately three years she explained how refreshing it was to return to Shasta’s theater department. When asked how it felt to be back acting at shasta Courtney smiles and says, “It’s really great. There’s just a lot of freedom to really express myself and to get back into acting…This is a great place to re-emerge into what I love. The structes there, there’s really great faculty that are very encouraging but have a standard of excellence. I just think Shasta has a strong theater department.” She looks over her shoulder as fellow castmates trail on and off the stage, still with the same sincere grin on her face. Courtney continues to descibe how it is to be stepping into the well known role of Lady Capulet. “It’s really fun,“ she says, her eyes lighting up. “I feel like Dean and I are on the same page a lot of the time.” There is definitely a complexity to be achieved in creating a character that Courtney describes with a thoughtful chuckle as, “very composed and controlled…And is kind of evil…but at the same time has this human side…And she kind of cracks when her daughter dies.” Lady Capulet is one of many amazingly complex characters with Romeo and Juliet, all of whom have differenct challenges in molding and shaping each character. All of the actors work hard to bring these characters to life for their audiences.

Along with the actors preparing for the upcoming show, lights are hung, sets are painted, costumes sewed and sword fighting choreography is being rehearsed as well. Hard at work on putting the show together along with Monroe is a whole crew of people making sure everything is designed and in place for the upcoming show. Among those people are assistant director, Ken Hill, and the set designer, David Fraser. Ken is the man responsible for the sword fight choreography which he sums up by explaining it as “the willful suspension of disbelief.” He further explains that in order to achieve this and have the audience suspend their disbelief into the production, they have to be captivated while remaining completely at ease that the actors aren’t really in any danger. This of course takes careful planning and execution. Ken elaborates on how the show follows careful planning and execution as a whole. With animated excitement on the topic he gestures to David Fraser, who was also in the room saying, “what Dave and Dean have put together is simply profound and just amazing.” He beckons me closer as if to share a secret and whispers, “he and Dave are geniuses!” David (right) adds modestly that Monroe had a lot to do with the planning and so did the costume designer, Hilary Fahey. “Everything is in black and white and shapes instead of color. Juliet’s side is all sort of swirls and everything is curved. Romeo’s is all straight. And that’s shown through the show in different ways with the shapes,” he explains, gesturing to the different designs. There are minimal set pieces, however, what is there is all existing with a purpose. It is clear that all of it is the result of a well pondered thought process.

In addition to all of that, the entire play will be accompanied by two students who tell the story through sign language, Jessica Johnston (left) and Curtis Horner (right). Jessica says the most challenging part about signing is, “remembering everything.” Curtis jumps in to add that they, “have to take the language and translate it to regular English then take that and change it into sign language.” Both agree that it is an “exciting challenge” and the language translating, “is quite a feat.” Both Jessica and Curtis are well worthy of admiration as they take on this enormous task. A play accompanied by ASL (American Sign Language) hasn’t been tackled at Shasta for several years and it will be fantastic to see how it all pans out!

There you have it Shasta, romance, tragedy, eloquent Elizabethan language, sword fighting and ASL. What more could you ask to see in one show? So, grab a friend, mother, sister, father, brother or even that distant cousin and be sure to see Shasta College’s production of Romeo and Juliet (showings on October 17th-19th and October 24th-26th at 7:30pm, with a Sunday Matinee at 2:00pm on October 20th.  General admission is $8.00; students and seniors, $5.00). Let’s see if we can fill the house!

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