Shakespeare in the Park presents its newest production of Romeo & Juliet 

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In fair Oklahoma, we lay our scene. Through September, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park (OSP) closes its summer season with Romeo & Juliet at Myriad Botanical Gardens.

Kathryn McGill, OSP executive director and art director, said she usually directs one show a year.

“This year, I’m doing Romeo & Juliet,” she said.

McGill’s approach to William Shakespeare’s tragic romantic play blends old and new, classic and modern.

“When people think of Romeo & Juliet, they think of the doublets, that kind of Italian Renaissance costume look,” she said, “This year, we’re doing it in a very contemporary world.”

McGill described the costumes as “European hipster” and said she had given the set designer images from modern Italian cities.

“We just believe that every time you approach a play … you should have a fresh approach,” McGill said.

Shakespeare’s continued and broad appeal, seemingly uninhibited by time and place, allows for endless interpretations and productions of Shakespeare’s work.

According to McGill, some organizations, such as Shakespeare’s Globe in London, attempt to recreate his works as they were originally performed, whereas OSP has more creative flexibility.

“I find it enlightening to choose a theme or an approach that is different each time,” McGill said. “Everything we do is to try to bring the play to a contemporary audience.”

While OSP strives to make Shakespeare accessible to audiences through creative stylistic adaptations, one thing has remained unchanged since the 16th century.

“We never change the language,” McGill said. “We will sometimes cut lines to make it shorter, but we never change Shakespeare’s actual language.”

In a world full of texting and tweeting, McGill sees language as limited and reduced.

“We get our information in short sound bites,” she said. “Shakespeare’s kind of the antithesis of that.”

The Bard’s words set him apart from his peers and ensured his place in the Western literary and dramatic canon.

“Shakespeare hits a nerve that not all playwrights can hit,” McGill said. “It’s that idea of language … as expanding thought, rather than reducing thought.”

Stage-to-page

While McGill has been planning multiple aspects of Romeo & Juliet for about six months, the actors’ five-week rehearsal period operates on an assumed familiarity with Shakespeare’s words.

“The actors we use have usually done Shakespeare before,” McGill said. “It makes all the difference in the world; you’re relying on their technique and experience.”

McGill said the actors playing Juliet (Hannah McCue) and Romeo (Tommy Stuart) are familiar with Shakespeare.

“She just graduated from Oklahoma City University, so she has a great deal of Shakespeare background,” she said. “The young man playing Romeo is a senior at [the University of Oklahoma], and he’s worked with us in the past.”

Actors who understand the meaning they must convey can make Shakespeare more enjoyable for audiences.

“I always tell people, ‘When you come to the play, just really listen for the first five minutes, and if you really focus on the language … then you can relax,’” McGill said. “It becomes easier and easier the more you listen to it and watch it.”

While many people first encounter Shakespeare in the pages of textbooks, McGill and OSP want to change that.

“I always believe that the best way to introduce Shakespeare to young people is to have them see a live performance. It was not written to be read; it was written to be seen,” she said of Romeo & Juliet.

McGill said OSP also offers student matinees during September.

“I just have so much feedback from teachers who rely on us to help them introduce Shakespeare in a fun and exciting way,” she said.

OSP provides a unique setting for audiences of all ages to take in the Bard’s works.

“People who like outdoor Shakespeare tend to be a different audience than people [who] go to traditional indoor plays,” McGill said.

She also said that watching Shakespeare in the park lends informality to the experience.

“You’re outdoors, you’re probably wearing shorts. The actors talk right to you because that’s something that Shakespeare includes in his plays,” she said.

OSP also dissolves any possible barriers to Shakespeare in other ways.

“We start the play in daylight so there’s no light to separate the actors from the audience,” McGill said.

While Shakespeare’s plays are verbose and layered, McGill said they ultimately portray simple human truths.

“And certainly, Romeo & Juliet is full of those — the idea of first love, the idea of hatred,” she said. “He says it in ways that we wish we could speak.”

OSP’s production of Romeo & Juliet runs Sept. 8-24 at Myriad Botanical Gardens, 301 W. Reno Ave. Learn more at oklahomashakespeare.com.

Print headline: What’s Shakin’, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park transcends time and place to bring ‘European hipster’ Romeo & Juliet to a modern audience.

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