US high school puts Covid-friendly, animated spin on Romeo And Juliet
“Parting is such sweet sorrow” — especially for a US theatre troupe hoping to stage a live performance of Romeo And Juliet in the middle of a pandemic.
But, amid social distancing regulations and school closures, high school students in Boston, Massachusetts, may have found the solution: making an animated movie version instead.
This autumn, pupils from Westwood High School have been recording themselves reciting lines from William Shakespeare’s timeless story of star-crossed lovers. The audio tracks will then be set to images from a graphic novel version of the play.
Producing an animated film meant students didn’t have to worry about memorising lines, costume changes or many of the other things that go into a live theatrical performance.
But it was still an interesting challenge to focus almost completely on their voice work, said Lucy Vitali, 16, who plays Juliet.
“This was definitely a good one to do Shakespeare for,” agreed Ryan Kaplan, 15, who plays the friar.
“The focus is much more on the words and the terminology, which is what Shakespeare is all about.”
For 17-year-old Cassidy Hall, who plays the nurse, the chance to remain active in theatre has been a welcome dose of normality.
She is among the students who have chosen to study at home rather than attend in-person classes this year, so her interaction with peers has been limited.
“It’s something I really look forward to,” she said. “Just to be able to rehearse with everyone.”
Cast members said there was never any doubt they’d find a way to perform this autumn. Their musical production of The Addams Family in spring was cancelled after its opening night performance when a state-wide lockdown was imposed.
Jim Howard, the school’s drama teacher, said he turned to the animated film idea after it became clear that performing the play live wouldn’t be possible. Under the state’s current guidelines, performers must stand six feet (two metres) apart.
“How do you do Romeo And Juliet at six feet?” he asked.
“It’s a love story. They dance; there’s fighting; there’s a lot of physical interaction.”
Mr Howard said he found an illustrated version of the play by Classical Comics, a British imprint, while searching online, and the creators agreed to let the students use the images for their project.
Over the past few months, the cast has spent three days a week rehearsing their lines and getting used to the quirks of the Bard’s English before laying down audio tracks in the school’s closet-sized, soundproof music rehearsal rooms.
They wrapped up recording last week but not before a small setback: the school was forced to close for in-person classes after some students — none in the cast — contracted Covid-19.
Mr Howard said he’ll send the best of the audio tracks to a technician who will merge them with the comic book images. He expects the finished product will run at about an hour long and be ready next month.
Since a proper premiere isn’t possible under pandemic restrictions, the cast of 20 is planning to gather in the school’s auditorium for a viewing. The film will also be posted on the troupe’s website, where Mr Howard hopes it can replicate some of the joy and community of live theatre.
“There’s a great opportunity, at a time that is so difficult, to have some pride in our town and smile a little,” he said.
“We all need that – even if it’s behind our masks.”