DOWNTOWN — “Romeo & Juliet” is a classic work of literature that almost everyone in the English speaking world has either seen or read but Santa Monica’s City Shakespeare Company (City Shakes) is promising a new take for their upcoming performance.
Director Brooke Bishop, who also co-founded the company, said performances of the play often fall into two categories, either overly romanticized or attempting to graft additional meaning onto the text. In contrast, she said the City Shakes performance stays true to the play, retaining the natural drama and imbuing the performance with a realism that it often lacks.
“There’s a kind of reality in it that I don’t think has been done before,” she said. “There’s a humanity in it because it feels more real. I buy this performance. I’ve had a hard time buying it in the past but I buy it now, there’s real emotion.”
City Shakes performs at 1454 Lincoln Blvd. The front of the space is a vacant store the company uses for special events and they stage their shows in the back portion of the space. Organizers said the early 20th century warehouse space, located within walking distance of the Third Street Promenade, fits the gritty context of the story.
For Romeo and Juliet, Bishop compared the set-up to a tennis court, with the audience split on both sides of the stage. She said the staging allows the audience to feel those emotions in a way they can’t if the actors were on a traditional stage because a traditional stage forces actors to spread out, causing movements and volume levels that can separate an actor from the audience.
“We can actually touch people a lot more because we’re less than an arms length away because the audience is closer,” she said.
She said Megan Ruble, who plays Juliet in the Santa Monica production, can deliver her final line with a bowed head and broken voice, preserving the natural emotion of the scene in a way that wouldn’t be possible if she had to reach the back of a huge space.
“It really caters to our need in L.A. to feel real,” she said.
Ruble said the staging caters to an intimate emotional experience.
“The audience is a scene partner as much as anyone on stage is,” she said. “It really changes the energy of a production.”
David Hartstone, who plays Romeo agreed.
“The thing about Shakespeare is the audience is part of the cast, part of the show and when they’re on both sides they’re right there with you,” he said.
Bishop said the company occupies a middle ground between some of the traditional, high-art performance spaces in Santa Monica and the funky, artsy performances in Venice. As a result, the audience at a Santa Monica performance is a mix of people who may not normally cross paths in the theater world. That group includes established theater patrons, students and young adults seeking an exciting take on the classics.
Ruble said the Santa Monica audience is always supportive of the shows and said the City’s deep well of creative residents is good for performers.
“They know what it takes to do this type of art form,” she said.
Allison Volk who plays Benvolio and is also a co-founder of the company agreed.
“They’re very supportive and it feels like we’re in a community of peers,” she said.
They both said the performance benefits from a desire to cater to the local audience.
“They have high expectations because everyone here is knowledgeable,” said Volk.
“We’ve done all the homework,” said Ruble. “You can tell this is a detail orientated play.”
The show opens July 11 and runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. through July 26. Street parking is available after 6 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 at http://cityshakesrj.brownpapertickets.com. For more information, please visit www.CityShakes.org.