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To Be, Or Not To Be?

Avery Deutsch as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet: Louisville 2020, created by Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Actors Theatre takes a modern approach to a new era of the arts

 

By Elizabeth Scinta
Photos provided by Actors Theatre

 

Just because theater as we know it isn’t currently taking place doesn’t mean the theaters have stopped creating and working; it’s actually quite the opposite. Actors Theatre has been hard at work adapting and coming up with new ways to keep their actors and team creating, not only for their benefit, but to give Louisvillians something to enjoy and support locally. Beginning in February, they created two new ways for people to enjoy and support the arts from the comfort of their homes with the production of “Romeo & Juliet: Louisville 2020” and new virtual fundraiser “Convergence! An Actors Theatre of Louisville Celebration.” We had a chance to speak with Actors Theatre to learn more about both of these exciting new offerings.

Romeo & Juliet: Louisville 2020

Director Robert Barry Fleming is putting a twist on the classic Shakespearean play, “Romeo and Juliet,” by setting it in the year 2020 in our very own city. I had the pleasure of interviewing the actors playing Romeo and Juliet, Justin Jackson and Avery Deutsch, to learn more about them and the process of creating the play. Romeo & Juliet: Louisville 2020 uses the traditional Romeo and Juliet script, edited in a few places as most productions do, but it’s set in a different year and different city than the normal production, according to Deutsch. “It’s set in Louisville in summer 2020 during the Black Lives Matter uprising. Juliet’s family, the Capulets, within the world of the story is of an old-money, pretty conservative White family and Romeo’s family is Black and that’s the backdrop of them finding each other. They aren’t just dealing with the challenges of loving each other but also the profound injustice of the culture they’re living in,” explained Deutsch.

Justin Jackson as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet: Louisville 2020, created by Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Many shows, movies, etc., are taking on the setting of 2020 and implementing masks into the shows as they think it’s essential to maintain the details of what’s happening in real life. I’ve heard from some people that they aren’t fans of this because they think that shows and movies are supposed to be an escape from reality. While Deutsch and Jackson both understood this thinking, they thought what happened in 2020, especially in Louisville, is too important to skip over. “I totally understand that impulse to want to escape reality and I feel that way sometimes too. But I think for something like “Romeo and Juliet,” a play that has existed for hundreds of years, putting it in a new context is a really rich way to understand the play more deeply and what we’re living through more deeply. I imagine it’s a big reason why Robert was drawn to setting it at this moment in time so we could reintroduce it,” said Deutsch.

For Jackson, what Fleming did makes sense to him because it seemed like what Shakespeare himself would do. “Shakespeare, from what I’ve heard and studied, would incorporate modern music from the time into the plays he wrote. I think that’s just another reflection of what Robert is doing here which is reflecting modernity and using that as a vehicle for a wider understanding and digestion for the show,” said Jackson.

Devin E. Haqq as Reverend Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet: Louisville 2020, created by Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Another novel and unique aspect of the play is that it was filmed remotely by each actor. Jackson explained, “I have a lot of friends and family who are still asking me how it works. The way I explain it is, they send us all of the film items you would need, they tell us to download a special film app on our phones and then you film yourself.” Jackson continued, “Let’s say we’re doing the balcony scene. Avery and I would both be on a Zoom call and then we would both individually share our phone recording screens to the Zoom call so that Robert can check our shots live. From there, he would adjust shots and adjust where we’re standing so we look like we’re talking to each other. I stare at my sticker on my wall and Avery stares at her sticker on her wall and then we would do the scene several times at different angles until we got it right.”

The tickets for “Romeo and Juliet: Louisville 2020” are available for purchase now, starting at $15, with the option to donate more if you’d like to provide additional support. When purchasing tickets, Actors Theatre would like you to consider the actors and team that made this magical production come to life and the expansive audience it will reach. “These are virtual tickets and you’ll get a streaming link that you’ll get to start watching at any time,” explained Elizabeth Greenfield, the Director of Communications and Patron Experience at Actors Theatre. “There’s an expiration on it, almost like an Amazon Prime rental. So once you start it, the link will expire after you watch it once. The links will be available in early spring so you can buy them anytime in the streaming window on into the spring.” All of the proceeds from the tickets go towards supporting the actors and team involved in creating the play.

Isiah Fish as Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet: Louisville 2020, created by Actors Theatre of Louisville.

“Romeo and Juliet: Louisville 2020” is a part of the Bingham Shakespeare Series, which is a part of the endowment given to Actors Theatre from the Bingham family, according to Greenfield. To purchase tickets or learn more about the other actors involved, visit actorstheatre.org/shows/2020-2021/romeo-juliet-louisville-2020/.

Romeo & Juliet: Louisville 2020
Early Spring – May 31, 2021
www.actorstheatre.org/shows/2020-2021/romeo-juliet-louisville-2020/

Convergence! An Actors Theatre of Louisville Celebration

The new virtual fundraiser, “Convergence! An Actors Theatre of Louisville Celebration,” will be streaming on February 27 as a replacement for their usual annual Lobster Feast fundraiser. As the year comes to a close, Robert Barry Fleming and the Actors Theatre team thought it was crucial to showcase the work they’ve produced this year and to fundraise in a different way than they have before.

“The two public crises of COVID-19 and then our reckoning with systemic racism gave us the opportunity to offer stories on a virtual platform as the primary way of doing business. It has felt like real-time to see the cumulative work we’ve done on a digital platform and how that has been formed in the conversation with systemic racism, the matrix of oppression, domination and how to make a greater Louisville,” Fleming explained. “This is one of the key things of ‘where have we been, where are we and where are we going.’ That convergence of using digital technology as a social enterprise that is both rooted in arts and culture, but also civic conversation, felt like a way to really celebrate the amazing ways we pivoted and have been nimble and agile over the last nine months.”

Jessica Wortham as Nurse in Romeo and Juliet: Louisville 2020, created by Actors Theatre of Louisville.

The night will consist of showcasing the art and productions of Actors Theatre’s artists as well as what they’re calling people’s “Impact Stories.” These “Impact Stories” will focus on how this year and the social conversations we’ve all been having have impacted that person, according to Patrick Owen, the Chief External Relations Officer at Actors Theatre. “The big focus is really being in conversation with people in the room and sharing the work we’ve been doing and helping them better understand who we are and where we’re going,” explained Owen. There will also be some moments of fundraising and lots of surprises according to Owen. 

“I think what is lovely about this too is that, even though Actors’ tradition has been plays of theatre only, we’re now bringing in all this other interdisciplinary art to come together into one wonderful event where people can actually interact with the event,” explained Natalia Bishop, Co-Chair of the event. “What you can expect is going to be a wonderful experience throughout the night that is going to allow you to really be immersed and actually interact. Participants will be in the community experiencing art together in a very unique way that I think our audiences are really going to enjoy.” There will be spoken word, music-centered pieces, animated work and traditional theater pieces, including snippets of “Romeo and Juliet: Louisville 2020,” for all to enjoy, according to Fleming.

Still from Romeo and Juliet: Louisville 2020, created by Actors Theatre of Louisville.

With Actors Theatre’s mission statement being to “unlock human potential, build community and enrich the quality of life by engaging people in theater that reflects the wonder and complexity of our time,” Jennifer Mackin, Co-Chair of the event, believes that “Convergence!” will encompass all three pillars of the mission. “I think the timing of this event is interesting because we’re all looking forward to saying good riddance to 2020 and are thinking toward the celebration in 2021 after getting past a lot of the challenges of the past year. And I’m not just talking about our health challenges, but also societal challenges. I think that’s one of the things I’m the proudest of Actors Theatre for, for really trying to heal and connect the community and tackle some of these challenges through art so we can celebrate in February this future that we have together,” explained Mackin.

Jennifer Mudge and Chris Henry Coffey as the Capulets in Romeo and Juliet: Louisville 2020, created by Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Accompanying the event will be an auction that will take place two weeks prior to “Convergence!” and will close on the night of the fundraiser. “What’s going to be unique is thinking about where we are in our social isolation and making sure that whatever we have within the auction reflects the time we’re living in. We want things that would be appealing now, so we are looking at what we have done in the past that people have enjoyed and also some new things that would draw people in. We don’t have it all completed yet, so we’re looking for anyone in the community that can help,” explained Mackin. More details on the auction will be released in the coming weeks, so make sure to pay close attention to Actors Theatre’s website for more information at actorstheatre.org.

Tickets will not be available to purchase in advance as Actors Theatre wants as many people as possible to attend the virtual event without the burden of ticket prices. “Because it’s going to be virtual, like all of the work we’re doing, our reach can be so much greater and vaster in all kinds of ways including geographically. We’re finding that, for the work that we’re doing, we’re getting national and international participation. People are tuning in to what we’re doing from around the world and we’re excited! We want to democratize the arts,” said Owen.

Christina Acosta Robinson and Ken Robinson as the Montagues in Romeo and Juliet: Louisville 2020, created by Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Stay tuned for more information about the preceding auction as well as the exact time of “Convergence! An Actors Theatre of Louisville Celebration.” Mark your calendars for February 27 for a beautiful virtual evening filled with art, learning and the celebration of moving on from 2020 stronger and better than we came into it.

Convergence! An Actors Theatre of Louisville Celebration
February 27, 2020
Actorstheatre.org

Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main St.
Louisville, KY 40202
actorstheatre.org
502.584.1205