Romeo y Julieta
Directed by: Julia Ashworth
BYU’s Young Company (Provo, Utah) - 2018
Romeo y Julieta - 2018
by Roxanne Schroeder-Arce
In 2018, I visited Brigham Young University to see a bilingual production of Romeo y Julieta. Directed by Julia Ashworth, the theatre for youth piece was designed to go on tour to area elementary schools. While visiting, I saw the production twice, interviewed faculty members as well as student designers and actors. Having never visited the campus before, I was surprised by the practice of prayer before each class session and performance. Ultimately, I was pulled into two critical elements of theatre for youth more generally and of this particular work—context and relevance. I found myself unable to detach the relevance of this production to its communities of university students, school children, and the larger Provo community. I have seen Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet countless times. This was the first time, however, that I witnessed the script adapted and appropriately called Romeo y Julieta. The production centered the migration of one of the families as the major space of contention for the Montagues and Capulets (in this case, Capuletas). Julia was of course a Capuleta. Initially, my own lack of awareness and perhaps biases of Provo led me to question how this adaptation and production would land in this context.
Romeo y Julieta focused on challenges with communication; the use of Spanish and English functioned so that characters were often literally unable to understand one another’s language. This added to communication challenges imbedded in the story—missed communication and misunderstanding in communication. For the BYU community, the Provo community, and the school communities where it toured, the production took on new meaning. Specifically, for the Latinx youth who saw the play in their schools, it was significant for them in particular, hearing Spanish, and seeing brown bodies who look and sound like them. The production made a statement about how all Spanish speakers in the US are lumped together, seen as invaders, portrayed by media as evil, threatening beings from evil, threatening countries. Ashworth made bold directing choices: the production invited young audiences to question rather than to teach them around issues of representation.
At BYU, with no great mass of student actors from any specific Latin American heritage, Ashworth looked to the actual cultures and heritages of the students portraying each of the Capuletas. One actor, who identifies as Afro-Latina shared,
I was so happy to be able to do this play, being black but Hispanic. I never get to see that. Not only did I get to be in this, but to get to create the character made me so happy. It is important to show that there are so many cultures and we got to do that.
For many of the students on the Capuleta side, getting to play a character who shares their cultural background for the first time was critical for each of them as a person and as an artist. Another student actor shared that the play was important for her family to see her act in. She continued, “It was a way of saying to my parents, ‘See, I am proud to be in this play and show everyone who I really am, who we really are’”. She also shared that she had never played a Latinx character before. The actors shared how they created their characters and how they felt their thoughts and their lived experience informed the design. One actor shared,
We got to create. We put up presentations of what our characters would be like, poster boards, PowerPoint presentations. We collaborated to create the characters. I have never had that kind of influence in a production before, to create a character with a director who listens like that and is willing to go on a journey with me.
A costume designer shared a similar sentiment to that of the actors, “It was wonderful to see how [the actors] interpreted ideas. I think it helped the rest of the process go really well. It was awesome to realize where the idea came from for the Virgin Mary on ‘Tiboldo’s’ hoodie. Given my cultural experience, I would never have thought of that, even [with] research.”
There is a possibility for a production trying to do too much, to put every Latinx or Latin American or Hispanic, Chicanx culture on stage. While one could question the portrayal of all of the Capuletas being from different “Hispanic” or “Latinx” communities (given that they are one family), the choice(s) were interesting if not refreshing. When working with actors from different cultures, why not employ their own specific cultures in the production?
Sadie Anderson, “Romeo y Julieta Teaches Power of Communication Across Cultures,” The Daily Universe, 14 Mar 2018.
Hannah Gunson McComb, “’Dare to Suck’ – A Weekend With Jose Cruz Gonzalez,” 4th Wall Dramaturgy, 1 Feb 2018.
Russell Warne, “Romeo y Julieta at BYU Gives A New Spin to an Old Classic,” Utah Theatre Bloggers, 9 Feb 2018.