By: Katie Bandurski
“Hold please!” Ms. Amelia Figg-Franzoi, director, firmly states over the clamor of clashing swords and whirring lights. “Thank you!” a chorus of 18 high school students replies, momentarily ceasing their well-choreographed brawl. Ms. Figg-Franzoi voices a change into her headset, waits for the lights to dim once more and calls out “let’s take it from the top, one more time!”
It’s only 4:00 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, but this brief interruption is the first of many to come during this six-hour tech rehearsal for Homestead High School’s production of Romeo and Juliet.
Although it is safe to say that most theatregoers will be familiar with William Shakespeare’s classic plot regarding a pair of star-crossed lovers from Verona, they may have never seen a version like this before.
Ms. Figg-Franzoi chose to switch the genders of each of the iconic characters. This artistic choice roots from the drama department’s Theatre for Social Justice Season in which each show aligns with a specific societal issue. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, that issue is gender inequality.
“Today, most people acknowledge that women and men are equally capable of performing tasks and pursuing careers that previous generations thought were only suitable for one sex or the other. Yet even in the 21st century, we still live in a gendered culture, and many of us often do not question certain beliefs we have been taught about how women and men are supposed to interact with one another. With this gender flipped Romeo and Juliet we do a bit of exploration of some of these gendered assumptions.” Ms. Figg-Franzoi said.
This being said, the flip has posed an interesting challenge for the actors.
Danielle Goodman, senior, takes on the title role of Romeo. “I feel that being Romeo has taught me a lot about how society is so dependent on what’s expected of either sex,” Goodman said, “it’s definitely been a different experience!”
Mark Usatinsky, junior, plays Romeo’s counter, the dynamic Juliet. “At first I was worried about playing one of Shakespeare’s most recognizable female characters. I didn’t want to base my interpretation of Juliet on stereotypes, but neither did I want to ignore the presence of the gender switch.” Usatinsky explained. “Eventually, I decided to focus in on the text to create a character true to the words of Shakespeare regardless of gender. Because the language provides a great amount of interpretative liberty, I’m able to play a Juliet I enjoy. As to how the audience will view the role, I’ll have to wait and see.”
Alex Gieske, junior, portrays the role of Mercutio, Romeo’s best friend. “Playing a role that is designed for a male, particularly one as bawdy and joyful as Mercutio, has forced me to consider and redefine what I perceive as ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine,’” Gieske said. “The gender of the character lied not in Shakespeare’s words, but how we received them. As a cast we were able to redefine the classic play by simply entering into a different state of mind, which is rather remarkable.”
Romeo and Juliet will run May 2-4 in Homestead’s James Barr Auditorium, 5000 West Mequon Road, Mequon WI, with Friday and Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $7 for students, $8 for adults, and $1 of each ticket will be donated to benefit the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center at Marquette University.