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    • The cast of Romeo & Juliet onstage for a party scene.

    • The characters mourn Mercutio [Felipe Perez ’22].

    • Romeo [Asher Joseph ‘25] and Juliet [Charlotte Co- cozza ‘23] run across stage.

    • Romeo [Joseph] and Juliet [Cocozza] meet at her balcony.

A Shakespearean Success: HDA Presents Romeo & Juliet

Rose Robertson’24 Arts Editor Shriya Sakalkale ‘24 Arts Editor
Countless iterations of Romeo and Juliet have graced the stage since the sixteenth century, now including Hopkins Drama Association’s own production. On April 28, Hopkins premiered a modern take on Romeo & Juliet, directed by Drama teacher Mike Calderone.
In Calderone’s words, “modern Shakespeare is often done for two reasons: 1. To make the 400-year-old language relatable to a modern audience; and 2. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper to costume!” Calderone drew inspiration from past productions of Shakespearean plays, including a similarly modern version of Richard III he directed a decade ago: “London punk with swords. That was inspired by a show I saw in Scotland by playwright Stephen Berkoff, who writes modern plays about the London gang scene but in verse!” Asher Joseph ’25, who played Romeo, expressed his admiration for Calderone’s approach to the show: “I loved embracing a contemporary theme while staying true to the Shakespearean script! Our director, Mr. Calderone, did a masterful job of intertwining the original story of Romeo & Juliet with glam rock costumes and music.” Joseph said that this “fresh perspective added a whole new layer of depth and meaning to the production.” Ty Eveland ’22, who played Count Paris, agreed: “I thought it worked really well for us because, by setting it in a more present-day setting and making it revolve around teens, we were able to get into character more, as it was more relatable.” Andrew Benjamin ’24, a member of the ensemble, initially worried about how a modern Romeo & Juliet might “appeal to the audience”, but he lauded the directors for their ability “to make the show more entertaining and fun while still respecting the original source.”

Calderone built the show around music from British rock band The Struts, starting with the song “Primadonna Like Me,” which became integral to the play’s party scene: “The line, ‘Big fish, small-town Romeo’ was literally the inspiration and made me wonder from whose point of view were they singing. When I put Mercutio [Felipe Perez ’22] in that role, the whole concept just opened up! That song and ‘Ashes Pt. 2’ were the templates for the staging of the party scene.” Benjamin felt the music locked into place during moments such as “the audience getting to see more of Mercutio’s character through lip-syncing to ‘Primadonna Like Me.’” This music also supplemented the show’s romantic plotline, Calderone said, “As Romeo and Juliet were first making eyes at each other, we played the song ‘Low Key in Love.’ We basically choreographed the blocking to fit the songs.” Calderone noticed parallels between the music’s lyrical content and the plot of the show: “When I considered Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting and final moments together, ‘Ashes pt. 2’ just ripped my heart out. Aside from the passionate music, the song contained central themes mirrored in the play.” Lead Stage Manager Beyla Ridky ’24 said, “The music gave me a better understanding of what Mike and [Assistant Director] Eli Calderone ’22 were imagining for the characters and their individual stories, as well as how the tone of the play changes from beginning to end.” Eveland added that the music choice “made the show super fun” and emphasized that “at its core, Romeo and Juliet is a story revolving around teens and their rebellion.”

When planning the aesthetic aspects of the production, Calderone considered practical uses of the set: “The use of one set for multiple locations was inspired by watching the Globe Theater production which helped out immeasurably with blocking certain scenes.” He made the versatile balcony on stage “as generic as possible–hence the gray color–and used light and projections to indicate where [the characters] were–
the cross to indicate Fr. Lawrence’s cell; the iron bars to indicate the tomb.” Benjamin added that the show’s costumes, inspired by the wardrobe of The Struts, “provided more depth to the identities of the characters and the glamrockish theme of the play.” Charlotte Cocozza ’23, who played Juliet, shared her admiration of the show’s “modernity.” She commented, “Mike [Calderone] did a great job of making the world come to life. There were different things like the music and the costumes, and there was one point where Talia [Chang ’22] had her phone out on stage, and then a glass of wine. At the party scene, Kian [Ahmadi ’24] was up on the balcony with his computer and his headphones DJing. I thought the small touches of adding in technology, or having a party, make it feel more informal than you might assume a Shakespeare show would be.”

As they took on more prominent responsibilities, members of both the cast and crew embraced the unknown. Joseph spoke to his experience stepping into the role of Romeo: “I have primarily portrayed ensemble roles this past year, so this character was definitely a challenge. The last time I held a role of this size was in seventh grade, and despite COVID, the skills and techniques I learned during my first and last middle-school production benefitted me when it came to memorizing Shakespeare [and] communicating emotions.” Cocozza shared similar sentiments, as she said that taking on a titular role was “intimidating.” She continued, “I feel like every scene that we rehearsed I was peeling back the layers of Juliet a little bit...But it was a little bit difficult for me, because it was like, what pieces of this character do I want to bring to the forefront and expand on here?” Ridky found herself facing similar challenges behind the curtain, as she recalls, “We had a really large tech crew so at times I struggled to make sure everyone knew what was needed from them, and to keep everyone and everything organized.”

Although the show proved a formidable undertaking, Ridky was grateful for the support she received from the upperclassmen of HDA; “ I really enjoyed the experience! It was stressful at points, but I learned a lot and I’m super grateful for everyone’s support and patience. Zach Williamson ’22 and Pearl Miller ’22, as well as many others, coached me through the whole process and answered all my questions, sometimes the same questions multiple times.” Joseph also reflected on his growth as an actor and expressed his gratitude for the cast and crew: “I must credit the incredible cast and crew for always being there for me throughout the production... Not only did this show equip me with new lessons and give me my first taste of Shakespeare, but above all, it helped me grow closer to the people who matter most to me and teach me what it really means to be supported.”
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