Shakespeare on the Sound is back in Greenwich this summer with a different take on the timeless classic, "Romeo and Juliet."
Joanna Settle, artistic director of the production, says this rendition of the tale of the star-crossed lovers opens with a dinner party made up of eight friends who, each year "on a gorgeous summer's night" get together to read one of the Bard's works.
"We are letting our author, Shakespeare, live with us in a very intimate and exciting way this summer!" Settle says. "It's a lot of fun to work on."
The play is the fourth production Settle has directed for Shakespeare on the Sound, and it premieres June 26 at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park. Greenwich Citizen interviewed Settle to learn more about her passionate connection to Shakepearean plays and her approach to putting on this year's production.
Your production is quite unusual. A dinner party -- where a reading of the play escalates into living out the story. Tell us more.
I'm right in the middle of working on it and finding the concept very engaging! Yesterday, it struck me as I was working on the end of the play how profoundly drawn to the story we are as adults. It's not a teenage play, though everyone seems to love it. It's not like that record you loved when you were a teen and then grew out of.
This author's words grow in meaning as we grow in our own understanding of the world.
The young hostess of a dinner party taking on the role of Juliet will allow us a chance to let that energy infuse the story.
Also, what happens at the end? How do they step out of such a story?
A deep encountering of these plays, I think, changes us. I certainly have my thinking shifted by them each summer. It's very rich and full of excitement, allowing how we actually come to the plays to be part of the evening.
Though I must say, that balcony scene will feel exactly like it should! It's subtle, how the dinner party layer will infuse the evening. We will also have a lot of songs this summer, and Stew, who's creating music and songs for this production, will be working with the company to create the opening dinner party scene.
We are letting our author, Shakespeare, live with us in a very intimate and exciting way this summer! It's a lot of fun to work on.
Who is playing Romeo?
William Jackson Harper is coming back to Shakespeare on the Sound after his performance last summer as Claudio in "Much Ado About Nothing," and I must admit I picked the play with him in mind.
Who is playing Juliet?
We are currently in a national search for the actress who will play Juliet, and there are some very exciting women in the race. I'm heading into auditions today!
What sets this Shakespeare play apart from his other plays?
Audience response. This is our collective favorite. That seems to mean we all own it a little bit, which is exciting terrain for artists. We are telling a national story in a way -- one of our culture's foundational myths.
What is it about Shakespeare plays that lend themselves to such varied and unusual interpretations?
They have rock solid structures and, unlike other bodies of work, they exist as scholarly documents. This means nothing any of us do on our stages can undo the canon. It doesn't need to be "preserved" -- the canon is going to be safe and sound forever.
So, we are free to be subjective with how we tell the stories -- as subjective as we are with how we experience them from the audience, or late at night when we are reading them.
The plays can take it! In fact, if you don't interpret and bring yourself generously to the task of making them live -- if you just say the words in order -- you have a very long evening, indeed.
What is it like taking on Shakespeare -- the greatest playwright of all time? What particular challenges does a Shakespeare play pose?
I must say Euripides and Samuel Beckett are also pretty great playwrights . . . as are Stew and Suzan-Lori Parks. It would be impossible for me to decide, in the landscape of great writers, that one was the absolute best. Also, I think Shakespeare's writing can go a bit wrong in performance if it is approached with hero worship instead of holding his plays to the standard of a live event. They've been burdened with a tolerance for boredom in the pursuit of something "important." It's why we sometimes dread how long the evening will be when heading off to a Shakespeare play. The quality of my audience's evening is very important! People's preconceptions of the play and the body of work are one of the particular challenges, and my strategy is to approach the script as if it were a new play and be certain nothing gets to skate by with an air of being vaguely "Shakespearey."
When, and how, did you first get enamored of Shakespeare?
When I was five years old, I decided to write a book of poetry with 50 poems, to be collected in five chapters of 10 poems each.
My father suggested I write each chapter in a different form, and when I asked what he meant he read me one of the sonnets. I laughed myself silly and wrote the poems my way . . . but didn't forget the crazy writer my dad knew who made music with words.
My adult love of Shakespeare came during a class at Juilliard. Barry Edelstein was teaching text analysis, and one afternoon he combined the suggestion to see "sun" when you say "sun" with some key advice on the meters (maybe after I'd had a good lunch?) and it felt like in a single moment the whole canon was unlocked. I went from feeling they were in a foreign language to being struck in a deeply personal way by the plays.
For more information about the Shakespeare on the Sound production of "Romeo and Juliet," which will be performed at 7:30 p.m. from June 26 to July 8 (with the exception of July 2 and July 4) at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park in Greenwich and at 7:30 p.m. from July 18 to 29 in Rowayton at Pinkney Park, call 203-299-1300, or email info@Shakespeareonthesound.org or visit www.Shakespearonthesound.org.