University of Utah director crafts elements to enhance enjoyment of 'Romeo and Juliet'

Published: Saturday, Feb. 15 2014 3:20 p.m. MST

In 16th-century Verona, romance blooms. She’s a Capulet, he’s a Montague, and the two families are bitter enemies. And it’s not a spoiler that there’s no happily every after.

The classic idea of romantic love is embodied in “Romeo and Juliet.” Shakespeare presents it as a force of nature, so strong that it transcends societal conventions.

The swoon-worthy story of “a pair of star-cross’d lovers” has been adapted many times over — from Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere in “Le Chevalier de la Charrette” to Maria and Tony in “West Side Story” and more recently Bella and Edward in “Twilight.”

“It’s a very beautiful love story,” says director Sarah Shippobotham. “What we find so appealing is how much Romeo and Juliet are attracted to each other, how much they open their hearts to each other. And there’s the potential for danger that makes their romance exciting.”

A University of Utah associate professor and head of the actor training program, Shippobotham directs a student cast of “Romeo and Juliet” at the Studio 115 theater.

Among Shakespeare’s most popular and well-known plays, “Romeo and Juliet” is largely considered to be the first and greatest example of romantic tragedy written during the Renaissance.

The director promises unique elements at this staging to heighten theatergoers’ enjoyment of the play.

“I’m trying to create a truly theatrical experience, an intimate experience that you can’t go to a cinema and have the same experience,” she says. “I want the audience to ask who’s playing who, what’s going on, what comes next, who is playing Romeo, who is playing Juliet. And as soon as they enter the theater, they may ask 'Where am I?'

“I want the element of surprise, the element of ‘Oh, I didn’t see that coming.’ ”

To further the suspenseful component of the staging, programs will be handed out at the conclusion of the production in order to not reveal the names of the actors.

Shippobotham says the Bard’s original blank verse will be spoken, but she hopes the production will not be an “intellectual enterprise” for audiences and that they will relinquish any stress to decipher the iambic pentameter construction of the dialogue.

“Enjoying ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is not about understanding every word,” she says. “It’s about being drawn into the story of these two young people. If people will let go of the need they feel to understand every word, they will enjoy the production more.”

“Romeo and Juliet” deals with mature themes and may not be appropriate for all ages.

If you go ...

What: University of Utah Department of Theatre’s “Romeo and Juliet”

Where: Studio 115

When: Feb. 20–March 2 at 7:30 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees March 1 and 2

How much: $10.50–$18

Tickets: 801-581-7100 or

Note: “Romeo and Juliet” deals with mature themes and may not be appropriate for all ages.

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