ROMEO & JULIET Opens In Forest Park

ROMEO & JULIET Opens In Forest ParkElena Araoz, a critically acclaimed New York-based director of opera and theater, will bring to life the tragedy of star-crossed lovers "Romeo & Juliet" June 1-24 at Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park. The production will feature a garage band trio from Omaha, hanging lanterns and streamers in the trees, an ultra-modern and uniquely lit set, and of course, the infamous balcony and a colorful moon for the two teenaged characters. The show, which begins at 8 p.m., is scheduled nightly, excluding Tuesdays. Preview performances are set for May 30-31.

"'Romeo and Juliet' is such a timely story for today's audiences, both here in St. Louis and beyond," said Elena Araoz, director. "It's all about big love, and how we must take great care of our young people, and remind ourselves every day that our greatest duty is to provide them with a sense of hope for the future -- that our identity is not defined by the exclusion of another."

The set, designed by Peter and Margery Spack, is described as "omniperiod," meaning that it has a mix of both contemporary and Shakespearean elements, such as neon lights and a garage door coupled with a "Verona" style brick tower and Italian sign, for example. The set will consist of three layers: "Old Verona" designated by painted brick structures and a faded Italian welcome sign; scaffolding structures that show an attempt for the present community to restore Verona to its glory days; and a layer of unexpected explosions of light and color that represent the love, hope and power the young characters bring to the crumbling and divided community. The set will extend into the audience with a series of lanterns and bistro-style lights that will make the audience feel as if they are sitting on a hilltop in Verona. Costumes worn by the cast will have a classic contemporary look, with Renaissance features, including brocade patterns, floral prints, and doublets.

Show highlights will include an original score by Dust Ensemble, a percussion trio, featuring musicians Daniel Ocanto, Graham Ulicny and Sean Smith, all of Omaha, Nebraska. Araoz most recently worked with the group on a play by Mac Wellman titled, "Chronicles of Madness" at the New York Theatre Workshop. For the St. Louis production, the group will perform on the stage as Verona's resident garage band, playing up to seven instruments, including keyboard and drums.

In addition, a new larger Gift Shop tent that houses the Box Office and Will Call, will be located at the center of the upper lobby area in the Glen. The tent is funded by the William T. Kemper Foundation - Commerce Bank, Trustee.

The four Thursday performances - the May 31 preview performance and June 7, 14, 21 -- will be American Sign Language interpreted. Barnes-Jewish Hospital will sponsor the main stage ASL interpretations. Performances of the Green Show mini play at 7:15 p.m., Thursday through Sunday nights, will be interpreted by student volunteers from the St. Louis Community College American Sign Language & Interpreting Program. In addition, Mind's Eye Radio will audio describe the June 22 performance for the visually impaired.

The nightly Green Show will begin at 6:30 p.m. and feature local musicians, the Bard's Buzz (a synopsis of the play), and roving performers. Free backstage tours will begin at 6:30 p.m. in front of the main stage. A 20-minute mini-play of "Romeo & Juliet" will be performed Thursday through Sunday by the Festival's advanced teen ensemble, the Shakespeare Squadron.

Open lawn seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Premium seating, priced at $10 and $20, can be reserved online at www.sfstl.com until noon the day of the show, or purchased after 5:30 p.m. in the Glen. Festival souvenir picnic blankets, comfortable for two and pre-set in the blanket seating area, are also available for $40. Butler's Pantry and the Festival will offer "Shakespearean Epicurean" picnic boxes that will include a full dinner and dessert. Picnics must be ordered in advance online at www.sfstl.com.

Picnic fare, including sandwiches, snacks, beer, wine, soda, and water are available for purchase, provided by the Saint Louis Zoo. Audiences will be able to purchase Schlafly's Forbidden Ale, available exclusively at the production in Forest Park and Shakespeare in the Streets (June 15-16). Schlafly is the official beer of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis. Cash, debit, and credit cards are accepted in Shakespeare Glen.

Reynaldo Piniella and Sigrid Wise will play parts of Romeo and Juliet. Joining them are Festival veterans Gary Glasgow (Friar Laurence, cast member of Festival's original "Romeo & Juliet"), Michael James Reed (Lord Capulet), Cherie Corinne Rice (Lady Capulet), Antonio Rodriguez (Benvolio), and Pete Winfrey (Prince/Paris). Newcomers include Patrick Blindauer (Chorus/Pete/Apothecary); Patrice Foster (Lady Montague); Dakota Granados (Tybalt); Karl Hawkins (Balthazar); David Heron (Lord Montague); Jane Paradise (Nurse); Chris Ware (Friar John); and Terrell Wheeler (Mercutio); along with Webster Conservatory students Harrison Farmer and Esmeralda Garza.

In addition to the Spacks, creative team members include Dottie Englis (Costumes), John Wylie (Lighting), Rusty Wandall (Sound), Paul Dennhardt (Fight Choreographer), and Joanna Battles (Voice & Text), all of whom worked on previous Festival productions.

Since its inception in 2001, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has surpassed the one million mark in attendance through its work In the Schools, In the Streets and In the Park with more than 710,000 people attending the free main stage productions at Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park. The organization has reached an additional 300,000 students In the Schools through its educational programming. In 2010, the Festival launched SHAKE 38, a marathon participatory presentation of Shakespeare's entire 38-play canon community wide. In 2012, the Festival shut down its first street, Cherokee, to present a community-based play In the Streets. Leadership support for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis' 2018 season is provided by the Whitaker Foundation. The Festival is also funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts & Education Council of Greater St. Louis. For more information, please visit www.sfstl.com, or call 314-531-9800.

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