Romeo & Juliet — Week 4

With rehearsals moving into week four, we also dedicated some time to publicity work.

But first, have a look at our gorgeous poster!

Our trailer was shot mostly outdoors, to capture Verona and its landscape. For this, we shot several scenes at the Theatron and in surrounding parks, hoping it would mirror Southern Renaissance ambience. Quite a challenge with all those 21st-century-dustbins around the theatre 😉

Our artistic aim was to capture an atmosphere of alarm, tension, hustle and bustle — by which we hope to depict the daily life in our version of Verona.

The Theatron, Westpark; Photo: Conny Loder

The Theatron’s stairs, in this case, Entrance Audience Stage Left (ASL), serve well for a quick and energetic entrance of the rowdy Capulet and Montague clans, ever seeking trouble, ready to fight and defend their families’ honour. We don’t want to give away too much — and you will see for yourselves in our trailer and in the production — but this entrance will be widely used! If you want to be close to our actors, pick your seats around these stairs!

The next step was to choose appropriate music that supports these energetic entrances and the omnipresent hustle and bustle. We decided on a mix of Renaissance courtly dance music and swashbuckling adventure overture. After all, rich Capulet invites us to dance, to “foot it,” and with all the raucous  fencing in action in the market squares, why not go for something more rogue-like? More on this soon.

One more thing: Do you like souvenirs as much as we do? Then we got something for you: a fan flag. So, it’s time to make up your mind, are you a Capulet or a Montague?

Capulet and Montague fan flags, Photo: Conny Loder

Romeo & Juliet — Week 3

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend / The brightest heaven of invention, / A kingdom for a stage, princes to act / And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

William Shakespeare, Henry V, Chorus

This week we’d like to introduce you to some key players behind the scenes.

First, our producers. Ken Lawler (Producer, right) and Susanne Moog (Assistant Producer, left) are working closely together, much in the sense of: the show must go on!

Susanne and Ken discussing the programme; Photo: Dora Lutz

Our Production Team is master of multi-tasking and keeps a close eye, actually, several pairs of eyes that is, on various issues.

One of the jobs is to look after the play’s budget plan. Since our productions are run on a charity basis (there is free entrance to the summer Shakespeare open air shows, yes free entrance!), we plunge into treasure hunts across flea markets all over the area. Our Shakespeare productions live much on a visual impact, so our set, props and costumes need to be carefully contrived, and flea markets offer wonderful treasures in this respect.

Another important job is to look after advertisement. Together with the business team, the producers gather posters and flyers which then need to be shared with our lovely public, cast and crew bios need to be collected and programmes to be fashioned — all of which requires much co-ordination between the production and business team and all members of a show.

Further they are responsible for coordinating all the technical issues and staging requirements, thus aligning closely with stage management. Luckily, since Ken is also the set designer, communication paths can be kept short and efficient. Ken’s philosophy is that a performance must entertain the audience, take them by the hand and guide them through the story, but at the same time, they become willing accomplices to the actors. Hence, much in the vein of Shakespeare’s own words, as Chorus to Henry V, Ken asks our audience to “let us, ciphers to this great accompt, / On your imaginary forces work […] / Piece out our imperfection with your thoughts.” We’ll soon be able to offer you a sneak peek of our set, so stay tuned.

Another person who holds a big responsibility in the show is the Assistant Director. Let us introduce you to Julia Pflüger, this year’s Assistant Director to Romeo & Juliet (Photo: Dora Lutz).

Let us hear Julia’s view on Shakespeare, his plays and this production.

Julia had her first contact with Shakespeare in German and wasn’t all too impressed. Only later, once she read the original versions, she soon became an ardent fan of Shakespeare (especially the tragedies and histories) and dedicated her undergraduate and graduate studies to the interface between Shakespeare and linguistics. Ever since 2012, she has spent her summers in Stratford-upon-Avon for Shakespeare performances and workshops at the Royal Shakespeare Company, furthering her interest in (and may we add, obsession with) Shakespeare and his plays.

During her undergraduate studies, she was an active member of the Bonn University Shakespeare Company and acted in/directed several Shakespeare and non-Shakespeare plays. Her favourite production as a director so far has been Titus Andronicus (she clearly likes the bloody plays…) which – while being far from perfect – is also her favourite Shakespeare play (spoken like a true tragedy fan!), because it is an intriguingly raw and unforgiving play, which features some very memorable characters and scenes. It is basically a 16th-century-Tarantino film.

For Julia, Shakespeare’s plays represent the perfect balance between an intriguing story and a fascinating language. As a linguist, she regards Shakespeare’s texts as a never-ending source of research opportunities for all areas of language usage – be it his highly interesting use of personal pronouns (you-thou) and what it tells us about characters and their relationships, or the way in which he coined thousands of words (ok, slightly exaggerated…) which are still being used in contemporary English. One thing is for certain: Shakespeare shaped the linguistic and theatrical world of today unlike any other author/playwright in the history of the English language.

This pretty much sums it up why we never tire of presenting Shakespeare to our audience. His plays are unique examples of aesthetic linguistic brilliance as much as true representations of human nature. And Romeo & Juliet is delicious dish served with a bit of teenage rebellion, a bit of fencing, a bit poisoning… Ah well, do you look forward to this production as much as we do?

Romeo & Juliet — Behind the scenes

The aesthetic concept of a production requires set design, props design and costume design to work closely together. As we decided to set our production in the epoch of the Renaissance, set designer Ken Lawler focused on imitating Renaissance Veronese architecture.

The original Capuleti and Montecchi houses as seen in the photos below (all architecture photos: Ken Lawler) are of typical colours to be found in and around Verona. The yellow colour is often found with green window shutters as in the example above; the red bricks are inspired by the many brick buildings throughout Verona, such as the Castelvecchio above. The Scaliger pinnacles (photo to the left above), will also feature in our set.

The interior design for our set, such as Juliet’s bedroom, reflects the red bricolage of Capulet’s house. It also captures the wealth of the Capulet family, as the text refers to “rich Capulet,” and thus features golden stripes.

Juliet’s bedroom, red and gold; Photo: Conny Loder

The aesthetic concept also reaches out to costume design. While the Capulets are portrayed in red, the Montagues’ colour is blue. The prince’s household features purple as their main colour. Our amazing costume designer, Claire Middleton, has put her sewing machine to good use, creating some stunning costumes for 25 actors. But, psssst, we won’t tell you all our secrets, come and see for yourselves in July.

Below you can see a typical Capulet costume and a typical Montague costume for this production (Photos: Dora Lutz).

As the play features a masked ball, a design for the masks was required. Inspiration was taken from Venetian masks, and we even made them sparkling.

The masks; Photo: Conny Loder

Romeo & Juliet — Week 2

Greetings from Team R&J, we had another busy week! What were we up to?

We looked closer at the play’s central themes and motifs. Romeo & Juliet is often considered as a transitional play from a time when Shakespeare started to merge comedic and tragic elements, which offers various themes: love, hatred, resistance against authority, generational conflicts and fate. With the love-theme ever so prominent, it is easy to neglect the cause for the lovers’ tragic ends. The feud between both families not only denies the play a happy ending, it is also a significant force that propels the plot.

To grasp this force and to allow the dynamics to unfold on stage, we wanted to look back at the origin of this feud, about which Shakespeare is rather silent in his play. Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (1595-7) is an adaptation of Arthur Brooke’s poem, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, 1562. The poem elaborates much on the deadly hate among the two wealthy families and, unlike Shakespeare’s play, warns the reader of hasty love and disobedience to parents. The story of the tragic lovers was also taken up by William Painter, 1567, in his work The Palace of Pleasure. One of the original Italian sources, of which it is unknown how much Shakespeare drew on, are Matteo Bandello’s Giulietta e Romeo, 1554.

Shakespeare’s play and his sources can be traced back to historical persons and events, the feud between the Montecchi and the Capuleti families. The original dispute was caused by politics: during the 14th-century-civil wars that raged in Verona, one family chose to side with the Roman Emperor, the other one with the Pope in Rome. The extent of the roles of the two tragical lovers remains unclear. It is these political differences that are resumed in Shakespeare’s play in which two “households, both alike in dignity” break from “ancient grudge” to “new mutiny,” where “civil blood makes civil hands unclean” (Chorus).

To plant this feud-shaken atmosphere into our Verona, we embarked on an Italian journey: our production will start in Italian – and it won’t be just any start, but a dramatic one, brace yourselves! Preparatevi! To help us with proper diction, we asked Giorgio Pastore to join us.

Giorgio Pastore, Italian Diction Coach Photo: Conny Loder
Cast rehearsing in Italian Photo: Conny Loder

This was a fun activity and everyone mastered it very well. It will be a great addition to the play — come and find out yourselves in July!

What else were we up to?

We also looked closely at some key scenes of the play. Apart from the opening of the play, scene 7 (the masked ball at which Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time) and scene 14 (the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt) much determine the plot.

Scene 7 challenges us not only to put on our dancing shoes and try out a Renaissance dance, but also introduces the love between the two lead characters. A sneak peek of our dance can be found here.

Scene 14 on the other hand becomes the play’s pivotal point. Until then, the story could have very well climaxed in a happy ending. The tragic and fatal intervention of Romeo to end the duel between Tybalt and Mercutio, together with Romeo avenging Mercutio’s death, both steer the first half of the play from comedy to tragedy. Below you can have a first look at some of these fatal moments. Our Fight Director Sara Brandt did a marvelous job in coaching our actors, don’t you think?

Stay tuned, our next blog entry will take you behind the scenes when we unravel our plans for set design and costumes.

Romeo & Juliet — Week 1

The first week of rehearsals is always super exciting because of its entire novelty: the faces, the space, the script.

The first activity for everyone thus is learning names and faces; many an ‘aha’ moment is to follow among cast & crew (“So THIS is the one who got THAT role…”) and then one turns to the sacred text. During the first read-through, we stop after each scene to clarify what happens – follow the story. And for Romeo & Juliet, it’s a heck of a story! Ever realized that this play could have well ended up as a comedy? If only the Capulets hadn’t run into the Montagues on Monday, and Romeo not gone into banishment (and utter isolation as to what really happens in Verona in the meantime) on Tuesday, and Juliet’s father not pressured for a hasty marriage with Paris (also on Tuesday), and if only Friar John had been admitted to Mantua (Wednesday), and Juliet woken up 10 seconds earlier from her so-called sleep (Wednesday)… Alack. Imagine!

If only.

Well, it’s a tragedy, what can I say, and we’ll bring you some fine deaths by sword & blade, knife and poison. But before, we need to make sure that Verona’s citizens know whom to side with: the Capulets or the Montagues? Whom will you side with?

Rehearsals Romeo & Juliet, 2019 Photo: Dora Lutz

Why I direct Shakespeare plays

Romeo & Juliet Rehearsal, 2019 Photo: Dora Lutz

Why do I direct Shakespeare plays?

My first theatre experience was – as with most of us – at elementary school. We staged a play about the history of the Monastery of Andechs, I played a damsel, and it went all wrong. I vowed to never touch theatre again, off or on stage, until I started studying literature. The first Shakespeare play I directed was Richard III at Greifswald University, the rest, as they say, is history.

Being an introvert, directing gives me the means to express what I might otherwise not be able to communicate.

Being a Shakespeare geek, directing allows me, with cast & crew, to share Shakespeare’s words and his stories.

Being passionate about theatre, directing gives me the chance to put my own vision onto stage.

Having studied at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon and having lived there for three years, exposed me not only to an intense study time of Shakespeare and his works and everlasting friendships with many wonderful fellow-Shakespeare geeks (let us not forget those wonderful nights at the Dirty Duck when, after a couple of pints, we indulged in animated discussion about some footnote or other rendition of Shakespeare’s lines), but also to a vivid exploration of his plays on stage through the RSC, as well as countless trips to theatres in London.

When I returned to Munich in 2014, I became a drama teacher at the ESM, founded the ESM Players who premiered with Midsummer Night’s Dream. We then moved to Richard III, Macbeth and Shakespeare’s Complete Works.

Since you can never have too much Shakespeare in your life, I also started directing with Entity Theatre in 2014, one of Munich’s finest English amateur theatre club. My first production that summer was a 60-minute-adpation of Midsummer Night’s Dream, featuring Lederhosen- and Dirndl-wearing lovers that escape the harshness of Athens.

Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2014 Photo: Tom Hafner

The following year, we embarked on Merry Wives of Windsor. We set it in Early Modern time, with colourful costumes and Sir John Falstaff prominently featuring a cod-piece, and even the set stepped up in elaboration: four doors! Not bad outdoor theatre, right?

Merry Wives of Windsor, 2015 Photo: Ken Lawler

In 2016 we presented As You Like It. The real stars were the sheep. This was also the first year in which a heavy rain shower doused cast, crew and audience, but no-one wavered. The show must go on! And on it did go.

As You Like It, 2016 Photo: Ken Lawler

2017 marked a new start with the Shakespeare summer open air productions. We moved into a new home: the Theatron at Westpark. Our debut there was Twelfth Night. The stage naturally offered itself to a fantastic shipwreck, the permanently installed stage allowed us to present Lady Olivia’s house. Note the shingles!

Twelfth Night, 2017 Photo: Tom Hafner

2018 then became a tragic year. No worries, no-one died – at least not off stage: we took on the one and only Hamlet. And it was a great success!

This year, we resume our tragical mirth by presenting Romeo & Juliet. You can follow our journey in the months to come on this blog. Enjoy.