One of William Shakespeare’s most popular plays, Romeo & Juliet, is more than the story of a set of “star-crossed” lovers. It’s also the story of a family torn apart by parental expectations for their daughter and a community torn apart by people whose love for their “tribe” is expressed through hate for the “other.”
In early 2020, the MICDS theater department was poised to start “off-book” rehearsals (where the actors have memorized their lines) when the pandemic shut everything down. Cut to 18 months later, many of our student actors were ready for the reboot. For all actors except one, Harrison Brown ’22 as Tybalt, this was the first time they were going to perform on the Orthwein Theatre stage.
Abby Gray ’24 and Ash Aranha ’23 played the young lovers. Their plot to marry was assisted by faculty members and theater veterans, Middle School Dean and Drama Teacher Charlotte Doughtery and Middle School Math Teacher Steve Looten. Looten also played a unique role in the production as the fight choreographer. Upper School Fine & Performing Arts Teacher Patrick Huber remarked, “This was our first Shakespeare production since 2016’s Macbeth so their leadership and generosity were invaluable in working with our new actors.”
Huber and Upper School Performing Arts Teacher Carolyn Hood effused passion for Shakespeare in equal measure. Hood shared her thoughts on the unique costume design for this play from the 1500s, “I had some of the most fun I have ever had designing hordes of Fellini-inspired 1960s Italian fashions. Juliet had nine costume changes, and we learned to use ‘bump-its’ and loads of hairspray to emulate Ann Margaret and Rachel Welch hairstyles. The younger male roles were inspired by the street gang looks of West Side Story, and the older males were based on my memories of detective shows starring George Peppard.” Huber added, “I’d almost forgotten the joys that come with producing Shakespeare at MICDS. There is little that compares to working with students as they get their minds and hearts around Shakespeare’s text.”
Dougherty reflected on the experience as well, “As a theatre teacher, it’s important to get on stage with my kids and model the skills I’m teaching them. So when I was offered the chance to do a full production, I couldn’t say no. We worked together, laughed together, and grew together. I loved every minute of my time rehearsing and performing with the young adults I taught in middle school.”
With all Shakespeare productions at MICDS, original music is composed. Grant Hylen ’23 and Miles Rainwater ‘23 created a beautiful soundscape for the production of Romeo & Juliet. In addition, Seldom Scene, the backstage crew for all MICDS theater productions, developed an aesthetic that was both dramatic and allowed the actors and the Shakespearean language to remain the focal points. The set even included a nod to the MICDS campus by using a chandelier removed from the newly redecorated Blanke Room.
For the character of Juliet, Gray embodied the role (and nine costume changes!) with enthusiasm, “Romeo & Juliet was a fantastic experience. I learned and grew so much by working with such a talented team. I loved playing Juliet; she’s such a complex character with some great lines and costumes!”
As Romeo, Aranha shared highlights of the experience, “I enjoyed the fight choreography that we did on stage because I had never learned how that works, so it was really fun to try. Mr. Looten did an amazing job choreographing our fights and making them look realistic. This was my first time doing a show in Orthwein Theatre due to the pandemic. It was challenging at times to understand exactly what some parts of the script meant, but Mr. Huber was good about explaining it. I had a great time doing the show, and we couldn’t have done it without the help of our techies Raina Compton ’23, Eliza Dorf ’23, AJ Turnell ’23, and Greysen Brown ’24. All in all, it was amazing getting to perform again for a crowd, especially for my friends and family.”
Sam Lustgarten ‘22, who played Mercutio, shared similar sentiments, “Playing the chaotic and cynical comic relief known as Mercutio was a fantastic experience. It was wonderful bringing him to life with some extra little ‘flourishes,’ and I am extremely grateful to Mr. Huber for directing an exceptional return of Shakespeare to MICDS.”
Congratulations to those who helped reboot this production and bring it back to a live theater audience! “Thus, with a kiss, I die.”