- Siggi Ragnar
This weekend, the Classic Theatre opens its 2019 season with a classic we all know and maybe love, Romeo and Juliet.
In the lead up to opening night, we met up with the director Joe Goscinki and lead actors Alyx Gonzales (Juliet) and Josh Davis (Romeo) to talk about the Classic's contemporary take on the timeless play and how they approached putting on Shakespeare in 2019.
The promotional artwork for this production of Romeo and Juliet features images of borders and emphasizes the theme of division within the play. How does this issue come into play in the production and what was the conversation around borders during development and rehearsal?
Joe Goscinski: There’s a line, “There is no world without Verona walls,” that Romeo says, and I’ve known that line for quite a while. I was here [at the Classic] last year directing a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and then, the topic of the border wall was very prevalent. With people being separated, and kept apart, the whole thing of being beyond Verona’s walls was prevalent to me. Romeo and Juliet lends itself to that theme of two groups of people being separated, in this case, Mexican and American, and I thought I could establish it [in San Antonio] and it would be relevant to the community.
This is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known works, so every audience member is going to come in with some level of familiarity with the story. Does this change your approach to directing compared to how you’d produce a less well-known play?
JG: Yeah, I would say that over 90% of the audience knows [the play] or the ending, so I take that into account with the opening scene and I’m revising the order of the play, but I’ll let the audience see it. People know the story but they haven’t heard every idea – every thought that’s being spoken in it. I’m looking to flesh out those concepts and make them relevant today. Just because a story is well-known doesn’t mean that it’s always well done. I’m hoping everyone, young or old, will see this play and go, “Wow, I don’t know it had that in it as well.”
- Courtesy of The Classic Theatre
You also directed last year’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Classic, which opened the 2018 season. What is it about Shakespeare that appeals to you as a director?
JG: The ideas, the size, the enormity of what’s being said. I think you can always find plays and literature about love, but Romeo and Juliet talks love in such a way that I think is deeper and more personal, both to me and to audiences when the actors communicate it correctly. I love poetry. I’m a romantic, and I appreciate good writing. I’m an actor as well as a director and as an actor, when you get good writing handed to you, and you get to say such beautiful things that are relevant to you that you can take into yourself and feel changed about, it’s really interesting. It’s really personal to be able to share those lines and to take them off the page from four hundred years ago and bring them to an audience’s ear right now. It appeals greatly to me.
I had a professor in college who just loved Shakespeare, but I did not love Shakespeare – I hated it. I saw bad production after bad production and it was all thee’s and thou’s to me. He opened my ears and my eyes to it, and since then I’ve loved being in productions of Shakespeare.
What contemporary elements does this production bring to the table?
JG: We’re in present day America and the images of hate, misunderstanding and lack of empathy are surrounding us in this theater, with graffiti on the wall. We’re even giving people an opportunity to take chalk and write on the walls how they feel about any issue. This came into my mind because of something that happened when President Trump was elected. In New York City's Union Square, people started putting up post-it notes expressing how they felt in one of the subway stations. Most of it was Anti-Trump and it filled the entire subway station. It was interesting to watch that and see the passion in people needing to speak, needing to say something. So I think our world needs to say something about how they feel and not just be shouted at by Fox News and CNN.
For the actors, how did you approach playing these well-known characters?
Alyx Gonzales: What was most important is making Juliet, instead of this ingenue on a pedestal, a relatable person in 2019. She’s more than a character – she’s a person – and I wanted that to come across.
Josh Davis: Exactly the same. Everyone knows Romeo, everyone has an idea of Romeo. What I was focusing on was: what’s my Romeo? As Joe was saying, almost everyone’s read the play but not everyone knows every single line that’s in there, not everyone knows what it is about my Romeo, or what it is about Alyx’s Juliet.
- Siggi Ragnar
Did you prepare for this as if you are doing a classic piece of theater or a contemporary work? How much did the thematic focus on borders inform your performances?
JD: Humans have not changed much since Shakespeare’s time. We are pretty much the same still – the language is just a bit different. When I work on Shakespeare, I don’t think of it as a classic piece apart from the language. It is heightened language, but that’s just because the size of the ideas. The language is so poetic and big because these ideas are that big and there’s no other way to communicate them. So going into it, looking at the relationships in Romeo and Juliet as contemporary, because they are, they always have been. How many people have fallen in love? That’s just life and it has been since the 1600’s. The contemporary focuses we’re looking at, separation, border walls… The hate is there, the us vs. them mentality is still very present in the world.
AG: When approaching this production, there are thousands of plays lost to time, but this one has not been and I think that’s for a reason. It’s still relevant and has been relevant for a long time. We’re doing it because it’s still applicable to the current state of affairs. Specifically when approaching Juliet, the issue of consent came up a lot in my mind. Where was that line with her and Romeo? For me, it was very important to make it clear that she had agency. And that is in the original text – Juliet asks Romeo to marry her. But it was very important to me to have that come across, that she is 100% on board with this situation.
What can contemporary audiences look for from this production?
JG: I think the relevancy of opening our eyes to what’s around us, seeing what the irrationality of hate can do to a world. To stop and look at two people who are in true love, and understand that there’s something beautiful about that – there’s something worth fighting for – and to see themselves in those characters. When [the audience] comes to this theater, they watch Romeo and Juliet fall in love with each other every night, and surrounding all of that love there is a lot of insensitivity and lack of compassion. Because you can see what happens with hate, when people are trying to pull people apart that are meant to be together, it just causes chaos and it’s unnecessary.
$19-$34, 8 p.m. Friday, and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday through September 29, The Classic Theatre of San Antonio, 1924 Fredericksburg Rd., (210) 589-8450, classictheatre.org
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