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Arts: ‘Romeo and Juliet’ on stage for Valentine’s Day

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Join Juliet on her balcony. Cross swords with Romeo. Dance among the families of Verona. Celebrate Valentine’s day with “Romeo and Juliet.”

William Shakespeare’s tragedy presented by the acclaimed American Shakespeare Center comes to Georgetown’s historic Winyah Auditorium on Tuesday for one public performance. It’s part of the third annual Georgetown Shakespeare Festival organized by the Georgetown School of Arts and Sciences.

Romeo and Juliet, two young, star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families, was among Shakespeare’s most popular plays during his lifetime.

In a rare appearance in South Carolina, the traveling Shakespearian troupe offers audiences some of the same experiences that an Elizabethan playgoer would have enjoyed by following the basic principles of the Renaissance theatrical production. The professional company re-creates the staging conditions for which Shakespeare wrote, without the technology invented in the last 400 years.

Surrounded by universal lighting, (the same lighting both on and off stage) and minimal props and sets, the actors captivate with the play’s bawdy wit and soul-searing speeches.

“People come and expect to sit in the dark and be quiet and watch,” said Thomas Coppola, the touring troupe’s manager. “But with us the audience remains lit and the actors talk to all those in the room. There is direct interaction. Eleven actors perform the 30 characters in the cast.”

Coppola said kids and adults are often dumbfounded to find out they are able to understand a 400-year-old text and credits the incredible talent of the actors on stage for making Shakespeare’s words understandable. “And the costumes are incredible, really beautiful,” he added.

Coppola also reminds folks to come early for the two hour performance. “Our actors are also musicians and play live music before the show to set the mood, like they did in Shakespeare’s time. But unlike in Shakespeare’s time, they play, for example, Elvis, Springsteen and some original songs inspired by the play ‘Hamilton,’ ” he said.

This performance is a fundraiser for the Georgetown School of the Arts and Sciences, a private school located in the former Winyah High building. It has 46 students in grades five to 12.

Each grade is limited to 10 students, said Gary Gates, the head of school and co-founder. He and the other school staff all have doctorates in their fields.

The school’s math team recently won the S.C. Independent School Association state championship and its middle school students recently were named state champs at the association’s Literary Meet.

Funds raised from the Shakespeare festival ticket sales and sponsorships provide scholarships to the Georgetown School, where tuition is $7,500 a year.

Luckily the works of Shakespeare pack them in. The American Shakespeare Center’s matinee performance of “Romeo and Juliet” at the same venue on Wednesday for area middle and high school students is sold out.

Wade Razzi, who teaches literature and history, organized this year’s festival. “As an English teacher I know this is an amazing opportunity for our local students to see Shakespeare as he was meant to be seen,” he said.

Students at the Georgetown School have been memorizing and acting out some of the scenes in “Romeo and Juliet” and will hold a ball and banquet in conjunction with the play.

“The American Shakespeare Center is very well known. People love it and come here from all over to see them perform,” Gates said. “We first saw them at their own Blackfriars Theater in Staunton, Va., and knew we wanted to invite them here because of the way they reinterpret Shakespeare and interact with the audience. They are world class. We are bringing an amazing cultural experience to our community.”

Founded in 1988, the American Shakespeare Center touring troupe has appeared at more than 500 different performing art centers, colleges, and high schools and traveled more than half-a-million miles worldwide.

“I’d say we are No. 1 in what we do,” Coppola said.

If you go

What: American Shakespeare Center production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

When: Feb. 14, 7 p.m. Music precedes performance.

Where: Winyah Auditorium, 1200 Highmarket St., Georgetown.

How much: Tickets are $35 at georgetownshakespearefestival.org or 843-520-4359.

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