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Waterford to begin theatre season with ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ‘The Tempest’

Oct 01, 2022 08:21PM ● By Julie Slama

Waterford will present William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” this November. (Courtesy of Waterford School)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Waterford School will open its theatre season with plays from arguably the greatest playwright, William Shakespeare.

“Shakespeare is very much the foundation of Waterford’s theatre department,” theatre director Javen Tanner said. “In the upper school, we perform Shakespeare every year as one of three plays we put on each year. The middle school doesn't always do Shakespeare, but there was a middle school Shakespeare camp this summer, and they studied ‘The Tempest.’ Then, they went down to the Utah Shakespeare Festival and saw the production there, so they’ll be performing it this term.”

Waterford’s middle school will perform “The Tempest” at 7 p.m., Oct. 14-15, as well as at 3 p.m. on Oct. 15. The performance, directed by Riya Sahasrabudhe, is free.

The upper school will perform “Romeo and Juliet” at 7 p.m., Nov. 11-12, with a 3 p.m. matinee on Nov. 12 in Waterford’s black box theatre, 1480 E. 9400 South. Tickets for the free show are available on the school website.

“The thing that makes this fall really special is that I've been in Waterford now for 16 years and I've directed 18 Shakespeare plays in that time, but this will be the first time that we ever done ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” said Tanner, who hopes to someday direct all of Shakespeare’s plays. “This just felt right. I looked at the kids that I have and how they matched to the play. I love the play; I often teach the play. It's such a masterpiece, but it just has never felt like the right one and the right moment. This year, it's right. I'm really excited to dig into ‘Romeo and Juliet.’”

The upper school’s cast will be about 25 students and is expected to begin rehearsals in early October.

“The thing that's fascinating about ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is that they're teenagers and you get that sort of teenage angsty love a lot with ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ And these high school kids, they're the age of the characters, which is not the case in most of the Shakespeare that we do,” he said.

The performance will be set in the 1960s.

“I just want it to have a very sleek, clean look, a minimalistic look with beautiful costumes from that era,” he said. “It’s a time when the gender roles existed and were still pretty traditional. So, you can get a lot of the angst that comes from that out of those lines. I didn't want to do the sort of typical Elizabethan piece and look because we've done so much Shakespeare at Waterford that I want the kids to see that you can really play around with space and time when you do Shakespeare….”

While the play is part of the seventh-grade reading, Tanner plans to teach it in his dramatic literature class.

“We'll start reading it right around the performance so a lot of the kids will already know it and we will start talking about it in class,” he said. “‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a play that is so iconic. The name of it is so well known and it's been adapted in so many ways. In some ways, it can be easy to kind of just to discount it in a way to think that ‘Oh, it's just this love story. It's not as important to play as say ‘Hamlet’ or ‘King Lear.’’ But that is incorrect. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a masterpiece from top to bottom. It is so well written. The characters are fascinating. Every time I read it, every time I see it, I'm reminded just what an astonishing work it is. It's not a surprise that Shakespeare wrote this tragic masterpiece about the same time he wrote the comic masterpiece, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as the two plays are connected. Both plays are two of the most performed plays in the history of the world because they're so well written and so good. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is not some fluff play. It is truly one of the greatest pieces of theatre ever written.”

The upper school students also will perform in two yet-to-be-announced shows during the school year, and they will have the opportunity to work with Tanner and The Sting and Honey, a residential company at the Eccles Theatre, with a December nativity story told through poetry, mask and music.

“I cast my students in various appropriate roles for them with the company. They get an opportunity to work with the professional actors who work with us in the Salt Lake Valley and kind of dip their toe in the professional theatre world here in Salt Lake,” he said.

While many public comprehensive high school theatre programs put on musicals and go to competitions, Tanner said that is not the direction of Waterford’s theatre program.

“We do straight plays. We do comedies, dramas and tragedies, all kinds of different plays, but always straight plays. And sometimes, we'll do some very silly and over the top like, I love to do a farce, but I direct straight theatre,” Tanner said. “We are an acting-focused program. Waterford has an intensive acting training program that prepares them for the college level.”

Students’ study ranges from different mask techniques to the tradition of clown and the commedia dell'arte tradition.

Waterford theater core curriculum covers movement; voice, diction, and articulation; and the fundamentals of the Stanislavski approach to acting or various techniques that encourage actors to create believable characters and put themselves in the place of a character. Elective classes include dramatics theory, dramatic literature, and a specific course on Shakespeare.