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Students to Stage Shakespeare’s 'Romeo & Juliet'

ASCC Press Release Wednesday, November 10, 2010

ASCC Literature Students to Stage Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet”

By James Kneubuhl, ASCC Press Officer

“Shakespeare is the most influential figure in English literature, and he had his finger on the pulse of the people. He knew what struggles people were experiencing, and this is what has allowed Shakespeare’s work to survive the test of time. Not many writers have had their work survive for 400 years.” American Samoa Community College (ASCC) Language & Literature instructor Lawrence Wilson made these observations while discussing the production of “Romeo & Juliet” that he and his students will bring to the stage this coming Thursday and Friday, November 18th and 19th, at 6 p.m. in the ASCC Lecture Hall.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) probably never imagined an adaption of his classic love story almost 400 years later on an island halfway around the world where no English was even spoken when he first wrote it, but as Wilson points out, Shakespeare’s focus on the human experience resulted in works which transcend any specific language, time or place. For their adaptation of “Romeo & Juliet,” Wilson and his students have set the story in the present day on the ASCC campus. “Rather than a rivalry between two families,” he says, “we’ve made the rivalry between two student clubs.” If this premise sounds preposterous, don’t forget that the same rivalry was previously re-imagined as taking place between white Americans and Puerto Rican immigrants for a musical some might remember called “West Side Story”. The latter premise also sounded preposterous at first, but “West Side Story” went on to earn recognition as an all-time Broadway classic.

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While Broadway may one day be on their individual or collective agendas, for the moment the cast of the ASCC “Romeo & Juliet” are concentrating on the College’s Lecture Hall and how to maximize that facility’s potential as a performance space. “Because the Lecture Hall has closed acoustics, we won’t have to use microphones,” said Wilson, recalling the sound challenges of his previous Shakespeare adaptation, “As You Like It”. He and his students also have some fresh concepts about how to use more than just the room’s main stage for the production. “I wanted to create an environment where the audience feels like they’re in the play themselves, Wilson explained, “and the intimate setting of the Lecture Hall will enable the actors to project their voices, just like in Shakespeare's time.”

As he did with “As You Like It,” Wilson collaborated with his students to modernize as well as “Samoan-ize” the script, which has resulted in a version of “Romeo & Juliet” truly unlike any other. “It’s important to make this play relevant to the lifestyles of the present place and time,” Wilson explained. “The more the audience sees themselves in the play, the better.” While some parts of the dialog remain exactly as written by Shakespeare, other portions have been re-worked by the actors, who are mostly Wilson’s students from the classes ENG 150 (Introduction to Literature), ENG 151 (Freshman Composition) and ENG 251 (Sophomore Composition).

“Letting the student actors have a degree of influence over the dialog gives the play a unique sound, and also makes it more personal to them,” Wilson explained. “Otherwise, they’d just be memorizing lines that might not have as much meaning. This way, we have a more genuine engagement between the students and the text. I want the students to gain an appreciation for Shakespeare, and I would like for them to be able to say that they had a great experience performing this play. Having tried this approach with ‘As You Like It’, I’ve learned that you cannot rush the process, but the actors want to do well and will find their own ways to bring their roles to life.”

Prior to the Lecture Hall performance, the cast of “Romeo & Juliet” will give several warm-up performances at several local high schools. Confirmed appearances so far include Marist/Faasao and Leone, with others a possibility if time and actor availability permits. The high school appearances will help the student actors fine tune their stagecraft for the major performances in the ASCC Lecture Hall on the 18th and 19th. Tickets will be available at the door, and the show will start at 6 p.m. Since the Lecture Hall seats a maximum of 150, those who wish to attend the play should arrive early in order to secure a set.


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