R+J at SDSU

“R+J” brought a new twist on a timeless classic in San Diego State’s Experimental Theatre from Feb. 19 to 23.

“R+J,” adapted from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and directed by Dani Bedau, is a touring production that will be performed at local high schools in San Diego.

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“R+J” approached the classic tragedy by getting creative with the way the roles are portrayed. Four cast members played Romeo, and four cast members played Juliet. According to graduate student and dramaturg Joel Castellaw, this was to explore the infinite possibilities for the portrayal of these star-crossed lovers, inviting further reflection on the ways Shakespeare’s play can be reinterpreted and reinvented by all who encounter it. 

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The cast and crew of “R+J” have been working on the production since last August.

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Theatre performance junior Athena Assalone said the process took a lot of collaboration.

“It was an incredibly unique process to bring to life,” she said. “The cast read the play numerous times and took an individual theme from the show. We then all brought them together and compiled them into a general message we wanted the show to convey to the audience.”

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Business administration freshman Malijah Hopkins said “R+J” was a one-of-a-kind production. The ensemble spent a month or so getting to know each other and themselves on a deeper level.

“R+J” was unique in the sense that the ensemble came together and really helped shape the finished product. They picked themes, scenes, and characters that were crucial to the story of “Romeo and Juliet.”

IMG_4661“After putting together a cohesive script, we worked with Shakespeare lexicon and broke down every single line into a modern paraphrase so that we truly understood the language we were speaking,” Assalone said.

Acting and theatre performance freshman Maddy Davis said the creative team is responsible for putting together the show that is now “R+J,” and that it was a great new way to approach a production.

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After all showings of “R+J,” the ensemble and Bedau hosted an interactive exercise for the audience. This experience was to show the audience the process of how the cast and crew truly dug deep into “Romeo and Juliet” and made it into something of their own.

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The audience was presented with a short part of “Romeo and Juliet” on a whiteboard and were then challenged to replace the words and form a modern version.

“I loved being able to understand Shakespeare’s words and being able to add a lot of valuable material to my acting toolbox,” Davis said. 

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Since the show would be presented in high schools, theatre design senior Andrea Bashe, said the goal for costuming was to keep it modern and stylish for young audiences to engage with, while still alluding to Renaissance silhouettes.

It was also important to create looks that would work for two or more characters since almost every actor and actress played Romeo or Juliet plus an additional character, and had to form together as an ensemble without anyone leaving the stage.

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All photographs courtesy of Emily Klemmetsen

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