BWW Interview: Kevin Austra of ROMEO + JULIET - A 21ST CENTURY TALE at Reedy Point Players
It is not uncommon for today's playwrights to take a classic such as Shakespeare and adapt it for the sake of modernization. The manner in which a classic is adapted varies as much as anything else creative. Today's modernization of Chekhov takes the form of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and Stupid F#%king Bird. Shakespeare has many adaptations, some with new titles (Taming of the Shrew = Kiss Me, Kate / A Comedy of Errors = The Boys from Syracuse) while some keep the original title (gender fluid Hamlet, glam rock Twelfth Night, Richard III set in 1930's). The desire to modernize is strong among those feeling the need to breathe freshness into what they believe to be stale, unrelatable stories of yore. The reasons for modern adaptations not hitting the mark is extremely subjective. Is it a lack of cleverness, an unsecure grasp of text, too over-the-top, or viewer's taste for a good old fashion production? I welcome adaption and modernization of classics, so long as the resulting product is creative, innovative, accessible, and most of all, entertaining.
Local actor/playwright, Kevin Austra, currently has his modern adaption of Romeo & Juliet running at Reedy Point Players in Delaware City. I was able to catch the troupe's final dress rehearsal and chat a bit with Kevin. (Since it was the final dress and I won't have time to return for a regular show, I will not post a review.)
Question: What compelled you to adapt Romeo and Juliet?
KA: Erin Miller (Director) has been telling me for years that she has wanted to direct Romeo + Juliet. But she always told me that if she were to ever direct it, she would want to modernize it. She planted the seed. After many discussions, I started to get fascinated of how something like that could be done. Before writing the show, I have never seen a modern staging of Romeo + Juliet, but I did see the 1996 modernized film. So I began to adapt the original text with RPP's staging in mind.
Question: How much of the language/meter/prose/poetry was changed?
KA: About 75% of the original text remains in the show. It was important for us to maintain as much of the Shakespearian language as possible. But there were several monologues that were either cut or shortened due to time constraints and to help with the pacing. The play is over 400 years old, and there was a different audience back then. We had no choice but to make changes to better assist the audiences today.
One of the biggest changes was the characters. There is over 30 characters in the original version (including ensemble). Our version tells the story with only 14 actors (16 characters, with doubling).
Romeo + Juliet originally played in five acts. In this version, we condensed it to four due to either characters being cut, lines being removed or merging some scenes together, all to help accommodate the modern setting.
Question: Do you feel your adaptation resonates with today's societal views / connects with today's generation?
KA: Absolutely! Especially for those who may have a hard time interpreting Shakespearean language. By modernizing the story, setting it in New York City, doing American accents, wearing modern clothing, using cell phones as props, etc. it gives a better visual understanding of what is happening in those scenes because we are channeling 2018.
Question: How long did it take you to complete the adaptation?
KA: It took me two years, on and off, to complete the script. There was never a deadline to complete it because I was never sure if we were going to actual do it. So I took my time with it.
Question: How did the Director approach the adaption?
KA: She was very delicate with the adapted script. She wanted to remain faithful to the original text, while at the same time she wanted to incorporate new ideas into the story. It was very important to her to keep the show fresh and make it more realistic and believable in the 2018 settings.
Question: Are Romeo and Juliet older in this version?
KA: Yes, the creative time was in agreement that the characters of Romeo and Juliet were NOT going to be minors. We tried to hold the story up to the 2018 standards. So a 13 and 15 year-old getting married was not acceptable to us. Instead, we decided to have the characters be in their very late teens/early 20's.
Question: What would you like audiences to take away from this production?
KA: I would love this show to inspire the audience! I hope this adaptation shows them that you are not defined by your past. Romeo and Juliet are from two different worlds, their families believe in different values. But they are able to defy expectations of what's expected of them and follow their desires.
Romeo + Juliet - A 21st Century Tale
Based on a play by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Kevin Austra
Directed by Erin Miller
Reedy Point Players
250 Fifth Street
Delaware City, DE 19706
Runs 8/24/18 to 9/1/18