Strand hosts star-crossed lovers: Romeo and Juliet now on stage

Jason Bowen and Julie Ann Earls star in the Actors’ Shakespeare Project production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, now being staged at the Strand Theatre through November 3. Photo by Stratton McCrady

“As a person of color and as an actress, I can say, ‘It’s always nice when you’re at the theater to see a little something of yourself up on the stage.’ ”

At least that’s the experience of Codman Square resident Miranda Craigwell, who will be playing Lady Capulet as the Actors’ Shakespeare Project (ASP) returns to Uphams Corner this weekend for a month-long, multiracial production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

Craigwell knows from “outsiders,” having once played Shakespeare’s Shylock as a black woman in Prohibition Era New Orleans. She’s confident that the whole spectrum of Dorchester subcultures will see something of themselves up on the Strand stage in ASP’s much-anticipated production. The show, running October 2-November 3, is an official part of the Dorchester Open Studios programming.

ASP conducted an earnest, multipronged campaign through free and deeply discounted tickets and collaborative community projects to optimize its welcome back to Dorchester.

In 2006, ASP opened its third season with an October/November production of “Hamlet” at the Strand. Despite a lack of media attention, the run of the show had to be extended because of high ticket demand. Now to launch its 10th anniversary season, ASP reappears on the Uphams Corner stage with a much higher media profile and a fat grant in pocket.

“We’re proud to be hosting Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s 10th Anniversary kick-off at our very own Strand Theatre,” Mayor Menino said. “The work of the talented staff at Actors’ Shakespeare goes a long way in helping the young people of Boston develop an appreciation and understanding of the arts.”
According to ASP executive producer Sara Stackhouse, the company’s struggles with “Hamlet” yielded fruits for “Romeo and Juliet.”

“After working with the Strand the first time around we had a much better idea of what it would entail to work with the City of Boston, to work with Dorchester partners on the project, to engage with inspectors and city officials, and to interface with the great staff at the Stand.  This time, with ‘R&J,’ it was like coming home and working with old partners as opposed to figuring everything out for the first time.”

As always, the ensemble is exploring new ways of presenting Shakespeare. Here’s a heads-up on what twists they’ve dreamed up this time.

Unlike the current hot-ticket Broadway production of “R&J,” which features Orlando Bloom and his white Montague family and Condola Rashad and the black Capulet family, ASP’s casting is completely color blind.

Allyn Burrows and Bobbie Steinbach, who co-directed the production, explain, “We cast according to which actor best fits the part, regardless of race. While we strive to make our company of artists as diverse as possible, our criteria are based on what each actor can bring to the role, regardless of their hue and culture of origin.”

Steinbach and Allyn also switched acting and spectating spaces. In “Hamlet,” ASP had the whole audience sitting on the stage and had the actors all over the “house,” (theater seats, balconies etc). For “Romeo and Juliet,” some of the audience will again be seated on stage, the rest in the rear orchestra area with the performers in between, in the space created by removing the first few rows of seats.

The directors add: “Putting seats on the stage puts some of the audience right in the middle of the action, but they then become set pieces, if you will, as witnesses to the tragic events that unfold before them. The audience is watching the audience watch the players who speak to the audience. All that interplay and proximity enhances the experience for everyone involved, actor and audience.”
ASP’s star-crossed lovers are Jason Bowen (Fortinbras in ASP’s “Hamlet”) as Romeo and BU- trained Julie Ann Earls as Juliet.

Maurice Emmanuel Parent, who plays the fiery Mercutio, is a theater arts teacher at Dorchester’s King School. In addition he collaborated with Dot actress Obehi Janice and co-director Steinbach in the “What’s in a Name?” project, the results of which will be exhibited at the Strand later on in the run.

A host of Dot schools like TechBoston, Cristo Rey, and Codman Academy are coming to matinees. Local adults with free tickets to the special Dorchester community night (Oct. 10) include groups from Boston Adult Tech Academy, from Dot Main Streets and from St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children.
Members of the Dot-based, Home for Little Wanderers-affiliated YARN (Young Adult Resource Network) are also coming to Community Night; their artwork is displayed in the Strand lobby.

ASP is still offering Dorchester residents discounts on tickets priced as high as $50 for the general public. Two great deals at the door: EBT cardholders can get in for $5, Dot residents for $10. UMass undergrads and senior citizens got special group rates.

The Sunday matinees feature post-show “talk-backs,” informal Q and A sessions with cast and directors. Check out actorsshakespeareproject.org for details on this production that runs through November 3 – unless like ASP’s “Hamlet,” it is extended – something, as the Bard himself said, is “devoutly to be wished.”

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