Last night, the CLASS Scholars gathered in the Janet Ayers Academic Center to hear from Dr. Marcia McDonald, grad student Alyssa Wynans, and Santiago Sosa, who directed the Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Winter Shakespeare production of Romeo and Juliet the scholars attended last week.
Dr. McDonald began the seminar by answering questions Scholars had written down the previous week during the production. She read from books from the 1580s that described the rigid social structure and family relationships of Shakespeare’s London, explaining some of the actions of the Montagues and Capulets. Then she asked the Scholars “to think about how Romeo and Juliet runs counter to all of these assumptions.”
Dr. McDonald also discussed our perception of the play vs. how it was marketed at the time. The examination of a title page of an early paperback version of the play advertised it as “An Excellent, conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Iuliet.” We don’t think of tragedies as being funny, but the word “Conceited” indicated to contemporary audiences that there were humorous elements in the play, as well as excellent wordplay.
Santiago Sosa spoke next, discussing how he came to Shakespeare as a Hispanic actor when all other kinds of roles in contemporary American plays seemed closed off to him. After getting his start in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Texas State University, he attended workshops and acted with a traveling company before completing an M.F.A. at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He has worked with Shakespeare Festivals in Illinois and Pennsylvania, among other places, before landing here in Nashville, where he had performed in several plays before being asked to direct Romeo and Juliet.
He answered Scholars’ questions on a variety of topics, from how he found and directed the very diverse cast of this play to how his background in Art helped him as a director. Prompted by one of the Scholars to “Draw something!”, he demonstrated how he might develop concept art for Julius Caesar, based on X-Men comics from the 1990s but reflecting our immersive media environment today. (Sosa’s concept art for Romeo and Juliet is available here.)
Speaking of our media environments, Belmont M.A. student Alyssa Wynans discussed her current project investigating social media performances of Shakespeare plays across a number of cultures and platforms. Shakespeare’s works, it seems, are endlessly adaptable, ensuring the enduring reputation of the man and his plays.
To close out the evening, some Scholars tried their hand at being directed in the famous balcony scene. After the scholars read their lines, Santiago Sosa explained how a director would find direction for actors actually within the lines of the play. An actor playing Romeo has to figure out how to make “Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven” real for an audience, and Juliet’s “O” in one of her most famous lines has to forcefully express the emotion of the young girl in love, in order to give context and clarity to the rest: “Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?”
Some of the CLASS Scholars lingered to talk Shakespeare with our guests after the seminars, reminding us of those famous lines of the bard:
“Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”