BWW Interview: Jennifer Graves and Patrick Briggs of ROMEO AND JULIET at Santa Fe Classic Theater
When a group of actors with a passion for the classics (who already have a plan for a theater) are presented with the opportunity to produce outdoor Shakespeare in what is arguably one of the loveliest venues in Santa Fe, they just have to go for it; even if it means putting together a large scale production of one of Shakespeare's most well known and beloved works in fewer than six months.
Such is the case for the Santa Fe Classic Theater, which was founded in recent years by Patrick Briggs, Suzanne Cross, Jennifer and Michael Graves, Barbara Hatch, Kelly Kiernan, and Lynn and Ann Roylance with the mission of presenting high caliber classical theater in Santa Fe. When the production company formerly producing summer Shakespeare in the Santa Fe Botanical Garden was unable to continue their work, the Santa Fe Classic Theater stepped in with a new vision for Shakespeare in the Garden and a highly skilled and motivated team.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with SFCT President Jennifer Graves and production director Patrick Briggs to discuss the company and their upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet, which will be presented May 31 through June 9.
How did the Santa Fe Classic Theater come together?
Patrick Briggs: We all [the SFCT founders] connected through the Santa Fe Shakespeare Society, during a production of Much Ado About Nothing in 2011. We're all old hands... we've all worked professionally and have done tech, stage managed, directed, and acted together here in Santa Fe.
Jennifer Graves: We were all just a group of friends who said, "you know, I don't see much classical theater happening here". We were also all a part of Shakespeare in the Garden, and when we found out it might not happen, it was just tragic; if nobody's doing theater in the Garden, we felt like it had to go on.
Why did you choose Romeo and Juliet for this season?
Patrick Briggs: It's one of my favorites; it has this visceral, big emotion that can hardly be contained, and it'll fit in the outdoor space. Most of the play takes place outside, and with the sword fights [to be choreographed by Ambrose Ferber]... it's very dynamic. And Mercutio and the Nurse and Romeo and Juliet are four of the most developed characters [in the Shakespearean canon].
Jennifer Graves: Also, since Shakespeare in the Garden has done two comedies [The Tempest in 2017 and A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2018]...
Patrick Briggs: And you also have to think about the talent pool. Santa Fe has a lot of young actors with a lot of passion; it was important to cast a lot of young guys you would believe were at each other's throats.
True! What was the casting process like?
Jennifer Graves: We had a lot of talented local actors turn out, and that's great because it was important to us to cast locally; I don't even think we had to cast from Albuquerque. They're a very young, bright, intelligent cast.
What's the concept for your production of Romeo and Juliet? Will it be traditional/Elizabethan?
Patrick Briggs: It won't be Elizabethan... I'm kind of approaching it like a fairy tale, kind of mythical. Verona can be anywhere, any time, any place... it will be very actor driven - it has to be. My wife, Kelly [Kiernan], will assistant direct with me; she's going to bring a more feminine viewpoint, and we work very well together.
That's very important... Will it be the full play without any cuts?
Patrick Briggs: No - it would be a four hour extravaganza [laughs]... I cut it judiciously and conscientiously; I wanted to make sure I followed all of the thoughts through and that things that were important to character development were left in. We've had so much support - John Andrews, who used to be at the Folger, is very interested in supporting Shakespeare in Santa Fe. All actors will schedule time with John to work through and really figure out the meaning of lines; he is such a wealth of knowledge and even if everything he says doesn't go directly into the performance, it all feeds the beast. We're so lucky to have so many brilliant people in one city waiting to be tapped.
Speaking of talent in town, what can you tell me about the Santa Fe Shakespeare Festival this summer?
Patrick Briggs: It seems like Shakespeare is having a little renaissance in Santa Fe.
Jennifer Graves: Theatre Santa Fe is a great enabler of the theater community working together, and we found out that we got the go ahead from the Garden for Romeo and Juliet at about the same time that the International Shakespeare Center announced that they were going to have the Swan; Suzanne Cross - who works with both theater companies - wanted to pull us together - we all wanted to pull together.
Patrick Briggs: we're all pulling from the same talent pool - it makes sense to work together.
Jennifer Graves: We'll be having a little bit of a summer of Shakespeare; the New Mexico Actors Lab will do their Shakes Scenes and Robert Benedetti will do some talks; the Theatre Lover's Club will do some talks on Shakespearean plays, and of course the International Shakespeare Company season... its just going to be an umbrella Shakespeare festival.
What's next for the SFCT after Romeo and Juliet?
Jennifer Graves: The first thing we'll do after Romeo and Juliet is a benefit for Theatre Santa Fe. The [Santa Fe] Playhouse has offered their space - or we might use the [International Shakespeare Center's] Shakespeare Reading room, which is also available, for another Shakespeare show - we don't know which yet.
Patrick Briggs: Romeo and Juliet has such a young cast, we're wanting the next show to be one that shows off more seasoned actors. And next year, we're hoping to be back in the garden - we really want it to continue, and it looks like hopefully we'll be able to.
Romeo and Juliet features Noah Segard as Romeo, Allyssa Bonanno as Juliet, Miles Blitch as Escalus, Bear Schact as Paris, Ken Bordner as Montague, Eric Devlin as Capulet, Hania Stocker as Mercutio, Emily Rankin as Benvolio, Tyler Nunez as Tybalt, Nicholas Kohnen as Friar Lawrence, Veronica Everett as Sampson and a Capulet servant, Evan Dalzell as Gregory, the 1st Watchman, and Friar John, Corlina Kiernan as Peter, a Montague Servant, and the 2nd Watchman, Abram Klassen as Abram and a Page, Ann Roylance as Chorus/Apothocary, Lisa Foster as Lady Capulet, and Mary Beth Lindsey as the Nurse.
Patrons wishing to make a donation to the Santa Fe Classic Theater or to sponsor an actor may go to http://www.santafeclassictheatre.com/.
Romeo and Juliet runs May 31-June 9 (dark Monday, June 3) at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden (715 Camino Lejo). Tickets go on sale April 1.