By Tamara LaPlante
Stratford Festival is taking Romeo & Juliet on a road trip, as the popular Shakespearean production travels to cities across Canada today. Originally part of the Stratford Festival’s 2017 season, the stage production ran from May 3 to Oct. 21, but today will be screened in three Cineplex theatres in Ottawa, among others across the country.
Romeo & Juliet is part of the Stratford Festival’s Stage to Screen series that aims to bring performances to Canadians who are unable to make the trip to Stratford for themselves. To maximize accessibility, the Cineplex screenings are often a more economical option compared to the original performances in Stratford.
Sara Farb, who portrays Juliet, describes these screenings as an “inescapable necessity” in today’s technology-driven society.
“To experience it while it’s happening is beautiful and romantic and certainly the purest form of the art,” she said. “But in a world where accessibility is at its premium, as long as it’s an accurate representation of that live performance, it’s a wonderful and bold step towards the future of theatre.”
Farb, and her Romeo, Antoine Yared, and the rest of their fellow cast members will attend a premiere screening in Toronto today. “We’ve seen bits of it, but we’ve been holding off,” said Fard. She shares that today’s screening will be the first time the cast has watched the performance in its entirety.
Barry Avrich, the film director of Romeo & Juliet, captured a matinee performance near the end of the show’s original run that was then edited for the screen. Each theatrical element is included, right down to the reactions of the audience who attended the filmed performance. What may be distracting for some, the reactions captured could complete the experience for others who see Romeo & Juliet in Cineplex theatres.
What is filmed is much more than a static aerial shot of the staged performance. Avrich captures the life of Romeo & Juliet through the variations in shots that were taken from all angles of the stage. He makes sure to include the reactions of other actors when appropriate but never takes away from characters while they’re speaking.
Farb and Yared recall honest accounts of each other’s performances, as they tackled what is arguably the world’s most iconic couple. Once rehearsals began, the production became unique from all the ones that came before, according to Yared.
“It was great to see Sara encompass both an open-hearted innocence, but at the same time what the part requires, which is a seemingly impossible wisdom,” he said. He describes how Farb brings intelligence to the role Juliet, who is typically seen as a fragile character.
“I think Romeo gets a bad wrap for being a kind of clumsy lover,” Farb said in response. “Antoine brought so much more to the perceptive of being a young man and the stakes of love. He captured that dimension of Romeo so gorgeously – he reminded me of Hamlet.”
While Romeo & Juliet only gets a one-time screening in Cineplexes today at 12:55pm, the value of film is that it continues to exist hereafter.
In the future, schools studying Romeo & Juliet in their curriculum, have access to a Canadian production, rather than having to rely on a production from the United States or the BBC, Yared said.
“It’s a great way for Canadian theatre to promote itself,” he said.