DALLAS – The words in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet may be more than 400 years old, but Dallas High School Theatre’s production of the classic brings a modern feel that goes beyond costumes, set and soundtrack.

Guest director Hannah Fawcett, who recently spent a season as a cast member in Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2019 production of “As You Like it,” said she had a choice was between Romeo & Juliet and Titus Andronicus, and she decided on Romeo & Juliet because she had yet to be part of a production of the play.

She said she’s grateful her opportunity to work on the show is with DHS theatre.

“This is a play that has eluded me, artistically, so many times. It’s a project that sits really close to my heart,” Fawcett said. “This is the right company, the right time because, the world that we live in, we can bring this play to us and interpret our world though these 400-year-old words. That’s been really exciting for me as well.”

The students playing the characters had a critical part in developing what the audience will see on stage once the play opens on Thursday.

“I like to say that all of us are building the plane while we are flying it. It’s a really intense play because there are all these problems we have to figure out, and we have to figure it out in the moment,” Fawcett said. “That is the strongest crucible for creativity.”

The original plan for the set was to make it look like junk-filled alley. It ended up looking less like an urban landscape and more like “grandpa’s attic.”

“We are kind of building on that idea. It separates it from our reality, which I’m really OK with,” Fawcett said. “I was really inspired by the idea of creating our world together.”

She said that they treat the stage as though it’s “this big, grown up sand box.”

Some of the costumes were purchased at the Dallas Goodwill as a sort of cast field trip. Fawcett said that was another way for the actors to connect to their characters, especially those performers who are in their first Shakespeare production.

“To be actively involved in creating the world, they have a sense of ownership of the characters we’ve created together,” Fawcett said. “Sometimes their ideas are significantly better than my ideas because they know themselves and they know the characters they are inhabiting in a way that I don’t, so that opinion is invaluable in the process.”

Hadley Nelson, who plays Romeo’s friend Mercutio, decided to portray a twist on the character that repeatedly tries to convince Romeo that romance is overrated.

Nelson is playing a part normally taken by a male actor. She said having a woman speak his words changes their meaning.

“Traditionally the role is somewhat misogynistic, so it allows me to take a somewhat of a feminist look at it,” she said.

Nelson said that is especially true in Mercutio’s monologue about Queen Mab.

“I speak about how women are supposed to do what their husbands want, and that’s their role in society and Mercutio does not agree with that,” she said. “At least in my version of Mercutio.”

While widely viewed as a love story with a tragic ending, Romeo & Juliet has more violent scenes than what ultimately happens to the title characters. Violence is one of the harsher themes in the play and Fawcett said the DHS production doesn’t gloss over that aspect of the story.

The play has choreographed fights between characters and has a “blood master” as part of the tech crew to make those scenes realistic.

Ethan Largent has the title of blood master. Five characters die on stage, and it was his task to make those scenes bloody.

That was not the role he expected when he wanted to join the tech crew.

“I wanted to do stage master or assistant stage manager,” Largent said.

The job of blood master wasn’t listed in the tech jobs, but he was asked to take on the role.

“They asked me if I wanted to, and I thought it would be really super cool,” Largent said.

He gives the actors packets to place under their clothes so they can during death scenes. What the audience will see on stage is the product of experiments conducted in Ethan’s kitchen.

“When they told me I was going to be blood master, I went home and tried a bunch of stuff,” Largent said.

Star-crossed lovers

What: Dallas High School Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet

When: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.

Where: Bollman Auditorium, 1250 SE Holman Ave., Dallas.

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