A Rose By Any Other Name: Arts One Presents timeless but modern ‘Romeo + Juliet’

A Rose By Any Other Name: Arts One Presents timeless but modern ‘Romeo + Juliet’
April Wallace

However you’ve seen “Romeo and Juliet” on stage before, director Taylor Dolan can almost guarantee that you haven’t seen it the way Arts One Presents is about to do it.

Arts One Presents is the next chapter for the Arts Center of the Ozarks, and the company will make its debut at Likewise, a co-working space in Fayetteville, with this contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers.

Dolan wanted a show that could be performed in an alternative space rather than on a typical stage, she says, to reach more people.

“A big goal for our debut year was to have theater become more accessible to the wider community,” Dolan says. “There’s something intimidating about a traditional performance space. I think it invites the same sort of folks every time. We wanted a show that we could create in a space that’s very much not a theater.”

These performances will take place in the parking garage of Likewise, in a space that Dolan describes as industrial and Victorian with high ceilings, giant antique windows and a view over Mount Sequoyah.

Dolan had been looking at wedding venues and large meeting spots, trying to “find the abnormal and make it exceptional,” she says. Likewise’s garage, with its mix of indoor and outdoor spaces, turned out to be just right, but that’s not to say that it didn’t take a little adjusting.

Arts One Presents lighting designers have had to get creative to ensure there’s enough illumination for the unusual stage and crafted a lot of elements specific to the space. They covered the ceiling in fairy lights, brought in trees to build up as lighting holders and used other less traditional means.

Dolan says most of the technical staff working on the show have done eight to 10 productions a year for most of their adult lives, so she’s glad to have their rich knowledge and problem solving skills for the various riddles of a modern leaning “Romeo + Juliet.”

“It’s really exciting to see what they create,” Dolan says.

Among the venue’s unique attributes is that the audience will surround the actors on three sides, which for those attending means a lot of interactivity with the performance.

“It’s really exciting with this much sword fighting and energy,” Dolan says. It also has far fewer seats available, narrowing down audience space to less than a quarter of what ACO shows could hold. “So for each person who’s there, this show is for you.”

Having the audience so close on almost all sides presents a particular challenge for the actors, who in usual performance venues are ordinarily trained to never turn their back to the audience and to always keep their bodies at a three-quarter angle. When they’re surrounded like this on so many sides, it makes those rules difficult to keep.

It’s forced them all to relearn the fundamentals, something that doesn’t hurt with so many folks new to theater performance. The cast includes 15 people whose experience levels are all over the place, Dolan says, students, young professionals, a retired choral director and a professional clown. After delaying the performance due to the Omicron covid surge, Dolan had to recast a couple of people.

“We have a wide range,” Dolan says. “Picking ‘Romeo and Juliet’ allows … room for a lot of actors without a background in theater, a lot of smaller roles so we can train people up who are interested in theater but not with the experience.”

Since “Romeo and Juliet” can be adapted in so many ways, Dolan says it was a perfect fit for reenvisioning. This production will keep the same words and themes of Shakespeare’s romance, but the visual and musical parts will be fresh elements to the tale.

The sets are constructed with furniture painted charcoal black and have bespoke quotes on them. The bed’s headboard, for instance, says “Give me my sin again,” and one wall reads “These violent delights have violent ends.”

Costumes are similar to what you’d see in a dance production: antique slips, corsets and men’s blouses, except that these are all dyed red and pink. Dolan likes to begin her set designs with a vision based solely on color. She hopes the combination of these costumes and sets will create a sort of timeless effect to give possibility to imagine that any time period is happening, she says.

If you’re still skeptical and wishing they wouldn’t mess with Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Dolan would urge you not to grow too concerned. Arts One is using the same script as the one used for the National Theatre in London production with Josh O’Connor, for a run time of one hour and 45 minutes.

“For those who are worried we ruined Shakespeare or have taken away the beloved tale, the story is there, the love is there — and the sword fighting too,” Dolan says. Audiences can look forward to five epic battles over the course of the show, choreographed by a local ballet instructor from Ozark Ballet Theatre. “These are high-stakes, exciting clashes.”

The only real change to the characters is a switch of personalities for Lord Capulet. Ordinarily portrayed as perhaps a drunk, abusive, domineering male figure, Dolan thought it would be interesting to see those traits in a woman, so she assigned those characteristics to Lady Capulet.

“If you give her the power and ferocity, she becomes this dynamic, interesting character,” Dolan says. Played by Sarah Nicholson, Lady Capulet is divine, ferocious and anyone should be afraid to be her daughter.

For anyone still concerned about approaching Shakespeare for fear of not easily understanding the way the actors will speak, she has two assurances. One, the soundtrack will be entirely contemporary, bringing context to the production through recognizable rock, EDM and R&B music of the 1990s to now with the help of two DJs. And most of all, the cast will do the heavy lifting for them.

“Bringing in a cast that understands the (play) as much as they do, they bring it to life and put in the emotion that allows you to understand it in a way you wouldn’t on paper,” she says. “The text hasn’t changed, the prose is still there, but the way we present them are all out of time, which brings the contemporary twist.”



‘Romeo + Juliet’

WHEN — 7 p.m. April 20-23 and 2 p.m. April 24

WHERE — Likewise, an historic building and multi-use space, at 70 N. College Ave. in Fayetteville

COST — $20 general admission. Tables are available as are drink tickets; Pink House Alchemy will be supplying beverages, “Pick your poison.”

INFO — artsonepresents.org

FYI — Parking is available in the municipal parking deck across the street from the entrance.

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