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TOPIC: Performing R&J - seeking feedback & ideas

Performing R&J - seeking feedback & ideas 5 years 2 months ago #4416

  • rusty
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Hi,

I will be directing R&J next year and would welcome advise, feedback and conflicting ideas on this play. At this early stage in planning please accept this brainstorm of ideas (remembering there is no wrong ideas on a brainstorm). There is a great range of interests from the contributors in these forums which is what I am hoping to learn from.

I will be playing R&J as principally a tragedy, interspaced with good comedy. I am not aiming to feature the play as a 'romance' rather the dow-eyed courting of two very young and dramatic adolescents. I feel that the adults of the play failed to stop these two children going down a destructive pathway. Following are some early notes on characters I wish to focus on.

Prince: Doubled with/as Prologue and the moral compass of the play. The tired guardian of Verona who tries to empower the people to self-govern but is always let down by them. The timeframe of the play lets us see an exremely frustrated temper start to be expressed by him.
Romeo: A popular boy and hormones have really kicked in. I want to highlight his rapid change from romantic attachment to romantic attachment is made clear. Romeo is the centre of his world and has a trouble accepting outside forces on his world. I will be making the violent rage of his in murdering Paris a confronting element of him.
Juliet: Trapped. This girl needs to escape and Romeo is perfect for this. She loves him and loves who he is, and can be. She trusts in people. I like the girl.
Paris: I am really still exploring options here. I want to use him as a vehicle to convey the feeling of Juliet being trapped in the family plans. I am considering casting him as a 40-something rich, polite and charming man but need to test this concept.
Motagues: The family of the establishment, they have always been in powerful positions and enjoyed privilage. [BACKSTORY] the grandparents were good, hardworking people, the parents learnt from them but didn't recognise the struggles made to get to their position, the children (Romeo et al) are used to being in a good social position and don't recognise how they create oppression of others.
Capulets: they were once powerful & rich, but the recent years have not been good to them. They maintain the act of power and wealth and most people fall for the act. Paris is viewed as a back-door deal to return to wealth. They are passionate and love family above all else. They are not bad people.
Friar: An adult who attempts to use the youthful acts to further a wider (and inderstandable) agenda. Unlikely to appear in a good light in this production and his guilt at the end will be a focus.
Benvolio: Everyone needs a friend like B. He is a mature voice of reason dramatically unheard and too passive to make himself heard.
Mercutio: He is uber male and witty. In the context of the last 50/60 years I am looking for suitable examples of this characteristic that is appealing. I am considering cross-casting this role and planning as a fiesty girl keen to out-boy the boys.
Openning Scene: TRapped is likely to be a theme of this production. A busy outdoor cafe will be on stage with many different groups. Sampson & Gregory have been drinking and bragging for sometime it would appear (much like bad tourists) and see Abram walk by with his girlfriend. He will walk to upstage being taunted behind and before reacting will show that he is trapped in needing to respond, although he would as like ignore if it wasn't for the loss of face. This will be the first of several key scenes that show people trapped and made to take the easier (short-term) option.

These are early ideas only and I look forward to changing/refining them based on your ideas and advice. Thank you in advance for any feedback.

Cheers,

Rus
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Performing R&J - seeking feedback & ideas 5 years 2 months ago #4441

Hello Rus,

Well, you've really hit the jackpot with me here. I have directed the play twice, once in a university production and once in a professional production. I have been in it numerous times, as Montague, Friar Laurence, Capulet twice (once opposite Annette Bening as Juliet) and even played Tybalt for a couple of performances (at age 42!) when the actor playing the role in my production was injured. And right now I am playing the Prince in a modern-dress production at the California Shakespeare Festival. I have some problems with the director's concept, so as often happens, my disagreements have led me to articulate what I think are legitimate or less advisable interpretations. So I've been thinking a lot about the play lately and will be glad to share some of my thoughts with you.

I'll just address a few of your comments in this post, and then you're welcome to solicit my ideas on specific questions later. I am nothing if not free with my opinions!

* I have no problem with modern-dress productions per se, but I think they have a couple of pitfalls one should beware of. One, which I think your countryman Baz Luhrmann fell into, is the problem of executive authority. If the society looks like a democracy, then who is the Prince and how does he exercise his authority? Luhrmann made him the police chief, which made it sound very strange when he started threatening Montagues and Capulets with banishment or summary execution. Shakespeare's Verona seems to have in common with Shakespeare's London that there is no public security force, and therefore the Prince is apparently ruler, mayor, judge and public prosecutor rolled into one. I think any modern-dress production has to provide a rationale for the absence of democratic institutions such as a police force, or the press for that matter. The story would play out very differently in modern cities as we know them.

Likewise, democratization tends to remove the servant class from the equation, and this can be a problem especially in the early scenes, as it has proved to be in our production (which, by the way, is reviewed elsewhere on this site). Though some references to "my master" remain in the text, all the visual references give the impression that Sampson, Gregory, Balthasar, Peter etc. are just a bunch of teenagers loosely associated with the M. and C. "posses;" in fact, at the Capulet's ball, all are dancing indiscriminately to hip-hop and there are no servants in evidence at all-- no one even taking coats or serving drinks. I think what's lost here is what the Elizabethan audience would have perceived even before the first words of Act I, scene 1 are spoken, suggested by the opening stage direction: Enter Sampson and Gregory, with swords and bucklers... A city in which servants are going about heavily armed is a city already at the point of violence; it's an indicator of how badly things have already been allowed to get out of hand. And for that reason, you should beware of letting the Prince off too easily. He even blames himself, in his next-to-last speech ("And I, for winking at your discords too..."), and it's plain that he has failed to use what executive power he has effectively. If he had indeed followed through on his threats, and executed Romeo for Tybalt's death instead of banishing him... well, we wouldn't have much of a play, but it can be argued that Paris and Juliet wouldn't have died.

I won't drone on too long here, but a couple of thoughts on other characters:

* Mercutio: I agree with you he's "uber male" in a way, but I incline to a bit of a darker interpretation. It appears to me that he's doing everything in his power to influence Romeo to think of heterosexual relations purely in sexual terms, to remove any trace of romantic longing from the equation. That, it seems to me, is what the Queen Mab speech is all about, as well as the smuttiness of his "conjuration" in II, 1 and his verbal horseplay in II, 4: to convince Romeo that love is just about sex, with no responsibility and no personal commitment. Myself, I feel that he's delighted about Romeo's unhealthy obsession with the "cruel" Rosalind, because it's virtually guaranteed to fail, leaving R. alone and miserable and leaving the field open for Mercutio, who I think is at least bisexual and certainly very possessive. The deeper love for Juliet-- of which M. never really gets an inkling-- is a far greater threat to his designs on Romeo, if he ever knew it. I think he's some years older than Romeo (perhaps as many as 10 or 15): he strikes me as being potentially a very damaged individual, reckless and with a bit of a death-wish. We explored the idea of his being a former soldier, suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress (we found a way to hint at this in Queen Mab), and this also might account for his scorn of Tybalt, a kid who's learned his skills in the best of fencing-schools and who has no idea of what real combat is like. For this and a number of other reasons (notably how this character is a counterpart to the Nurse), I wouldn't advise cross-casting it for gender.

* I think your ideas about Paris are good; I would add that I think, for all his limitations, he's indisputably Nice. He would probably be a sweet, considerate, boring husband for Juliet. I suspect that his wealth and position make him an extremely desirable match from Capulet's standpoint, and that his disclaimers (she's too young, she's all I have left, we should let her recover from her cousin's death) are all just window-dressing, casuistry actually designed to whet Paris' appetite for marrying her. That's why he goes so ballistic when Juliet thwarts his will in the matter, just as it seems his plans are coming to fruition.

All for now. I'll write more later.

Best, Julian
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Performing R&J - seeking feedback & ideas 5 years 2 months ago #4482

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Julian,
thanks for this - sorry it's been a while to get back to you, I've had troubles logging into the site. You've raised some great points and I'm mulling them over at the moment. Currently completing a proposal to direct Henry V then will get back to this topic in next couple of weeks as my plans for R&J are alot less developed and really still forming - needing for form quickly though as I am expecting a Feb/March production! I'm glad you've challenged some ideas of mine - you've triggered a couple of improvements in my concept already.

I hope the production goes well - in next couple of weeks I'll repost a tightened concept.

Cheers,

Rus
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Performing R&J - seeking feedback & ideas 5 years 1 month ago #4595

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Hi Julian,
Again thanks for your ideas and challenges - I've used these to revisit my initial concept and from your input believe it to be much improved. Core aspect is the problems with modern settings that you mentioned and the absence of order and modern world democracy. I was under quiet a bit of pressure from the board to stick with a modern setting with suggestions of replacing the Prince et al with social workers and the like in a disadvantage suburb. The issues I would have to address to carry this theme are not issues that add value to the themes I would like to focus on so have abandoned the modern setting.

The play will be set in a small, regional, rural village in Italy somewhere between the 1st & 2nd world wars. I like the energy and passions in the play and cannot find a better venue than the italy Wil set it in so feel no need to make a change for change sake. I likewise feel that this time period is not too too far away for the modern audience to readily reach and accept. The villiage is insular and will let me communicate the breakdown in social order. There will be three core groupings of characters - the Montagues & Capulates (along the lines of my initial post) and the rulers - Prince, Paris & Mercutio. The rulers will be 'outsiders', ex-soldiers retired to this hamlet. I will be relying on the early facist uniforming to communicate this but will not be exploring the theme of facist any further than this. Keeping the Prince and Chorus as one he will be the broken moral compass, broken from his time at war and hence retired to the country, given a non-important rule and left alone to his own self-indulgances. Paris will be the upright and as you suggested, nice collegue and admittedly I am still exploring the cross cast of Mercutio. I understand and accept your critic of this and can give no better articulation of this yet but that I am running on a gut-feel (with a high chance of letting you know after the event that you were right!). In practical terms and the capacities of the smaller theatre group I will be working with I will base this decision on the auditions to find the right actor regardless of gender (I need to be realistic that the range of talent will be large across the actors available to me.

I remain happy with my initial approaches to the two romantic leads and feel this setting will help support this. Some developments of characters since I posted include;
PRINCE: He will be showing strains of his failures. As a backstory he has focused more on his drinking, sloth and scamming free dinners as often as possible. Although the only ruling figure in town he has not ruled effectively. The worries of the world will be sitting heavily on his shoulders but he does little in terms of actions to relieve these. He will be an unsettling character for the audience. I have an actor in mind who can deliver this (once I get him to abandon his preference for a very typical Friar).
INITIAL SERVANTS FROM FIRST SCENE: I will be swapping Sampson & Gregory to the house of Montague & Abraham to Capulet. Balthasar will not appear and be replaced in this scene with Abrahams girlfriend. I don't feel it is vital which servents belong to which family in this scene and making this change to support my backstories of the families. The key aspect is the unrully fueding that keeps occuring
PARIS: A decade younger than Capulet (Lady Capulet will be approx 28yrs, her husband in his 50's). A good catch alround. Using the age difference to help Juliet feel trapped.
Fiar: I am looking at him (he is my least developed character still) as removed from the society and perhaps a little anti-social. A meddling and nervous man who is using people to create improvements and peace in the village.

I am struggling to remember the last time I saw a production that included the murder of Paris - is this your experiance as well by any chance? I can understand the cutting of it as it reduces the hero status of Romeo but as this is not my objective intend to include it as another appearance of Romeo's rage.

The Queen Mab speach is very challenging. I struggle to identify with the interpretation of this becoming a 'distressing' scene for Mercutio (as per the Zeffirelli & Luhrmann productions). Rather I see him as in complete control here (backed by his lack of acceptance of romance over physical aspects to love) and taunting Romeo (who wants to get ou tof going to the party). He sets a trap for Romeo in speaking so much rubbish and when Romeo calls it as such, rebukes him with the 'True, I talk of dreams' response. I haven't found a like interpretation and your thoughts here will be valuable to me.

Sorry to bombard you again and thanks again for your ideas.

Cheers,

Rus
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Re: Performing R&J - seeking feedback & ideas 4 years 3 months ago #5000

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Hi Julian,

Sorry this has taken a while to get back to you. Your feedback on the roles were a great help in this production. Basically this production became a first - shakey - step of the bards work in my part of the world. It was a challenge just to get to stage alone! I was partically aware of departing from your advice on not cross-casting Mercutio. I had hoped to be able to tell you my approach was fantastic, but I can't. I likewise cannot say that it was not a great idea. Our reviewer (who liked all things traditional) canned the decision to cross-cast but the role was the standout audience favouriate. I would love to have the same actress back after a couple more large roles under her belt and I think I'd have a absolute winning case. This was the first Shakespeare in my local for about 15 years and the first for my young cast. I've just secured a term teaching shakespeare at the local youth acting group so hopefully can develop a culture away from the predominate english bottom humour of the 1930-60's that currently dominates.

Thanks again for your ideas and for sharing your experiance - it was valuable to me.

Rus
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