Fair Verona comes to UAA in “Romeo and Juliet”

The classic love story of “Romeo and Juliet” is coming to the University of Alaska Anchorage through the Department of Theatre and Dance. The production opened last weekend and will continue Oct. 18-20.

Romeo (Ben Hagensieker) and Juliet (Tess Zernzach) meet at Capulet’s party: “My only love sprung from my only hate,” Juliet says in Act 1. Photo courtesy of the UAA Department of Theatre and Dance.

“Romeo and Juliet” is the first production of the 2019-2020 season and hasn’t been immune to the recent UAA budget cuts. The same set from last semester’s play, “Lysistrata,” is being converted from ancient Greece to mid-1275 Verona, Italy, according to Ty Hewitt, an assistant professor at UAA and director of the play. 

However, theater is fortunate in that it doesn’t rely heavily on having a large budget, Hewitt said. This is because of the suspension of disbelief, meaning the audience willingly believes something happening before their eyes, even if they know it is not actually true.

“The proposal of theater is ‘we’re not really these people we’re pretending to be,’ so it’s based on an initial lie. But that lie allows for greater universal human truths to be shared and exposed,” Hewitt said. 

The normal rehearsal period of six-seven weeks has been condensed into four weeks for “Romeo and Juliet.” However, the shortened rehearsal time has caused the cast and crew to put even more effort into the production, according to Hewitt.

“Everyone involved has had to be on their A-game every single day. It’s a fantastic exercise in decision making if nothing else,” Becca Padrick, assistant director, choreographer and intimacy coordinator, said. 

Jake Beauvais, a 2018 UAA graduate, says that his role as Mercutio, Romeo’s close friend, is exciting because of how egotistical the character is. 

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“If I had to describe him, [I would say] he’s got a lot of panache. He’s all about being the center of attention and making a scene,” Beauvais said. “This role is a new challenge and experience for me. I haven’t played anyone quite like this before.”

A lot of production roles in “Romeo and Juliet” are being filled by students. Lucy Peckham, a professional theatre sound designer and composer, has been mentoring the student sound designer, Krisha Manuel.

“[Peckham] is the best of the best in the state for sound design. She has taken a branle, an Elizabethan dance, and coordinated with [John] Lutterman in the Department of Music and students to record viol parts,” Hewitt said. 

Branle was a type of dance popular with European aristocrats from the 15th-17th centuries. The viol family of instruments is held between the legs, like a cello. 

The casting for “Romeo and Juliet” was blind, meaning an actor is cast for the role based on who is the best fit for the spirit of the role, according to Salem Collins, who plays Benvolio, Romeo’s cousin and friend, a traditionally male character.

“[Directors] don’t [usually] do that sort of casting if you’re a woman. There’s also not all that much variety in female characters, especially during Shakespeare’s time,” Collins said.

The original “Romeo and Juliet” play inspired numerous pieces of pop culture, according to Hewitt. 

“In the Queen Mab speech that Mercutio has, he refers to time out of mind that ferries coachmakers. That was taken by Bob Dylan for one of his albums, ‘Time out of Mind,’” Hewitt said. 

There have also been more modern references to “Romeo and Juliet,” such as in HBO’s “Westworld,” which features a wild west theme park with human-like androids.

“The line that Anthony Hopkins’ character [Dr. Robert Ford] repeats: ‘these violent delights have violent ends’ [is from] Friar Laurence [who secretly marries Romeo and Juliet],” Hewitt said. “That is timeless. You can apply that [line] long before Shakespeare and long into the future. There’s a universal truth contained in that idea.”

Shakespeare’s plays are appealing to a broad audience because they have something for everyone, Hewitt says. 

“You’ve got the height of style, beauty and romance and then you’ve got the utterly bawdy humor and the thing that I love the most: sword-fights. [Shakespeare] knew what his audience wanted,” Hewitt said. 

“Romeo and Juliet” runs about two hours with a 10-minute intermission. There will be six performances from Oct. 11-13 and 18-20 at the Mainstage Theater in the UAA Fine Arts Building. Friday and Saturday shows start at 8 p.m. and Sunday shows start at 5 p.m. Tickets can be bought at ArtsUAA.com at $9.99 for students, $14.99 for seniors and military and $19.99 for adults.