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'Romeo & Juliet Project'

Northwestern, ETHS Drama Students Give Fresh Take on Shakespeare Tale

EVANSTON, Ill. --- When Northwestern University M.F.A. directing student John Michael DiResta proposed a project based on “Romeo and Juliet,” Diane Claussen jumped at the opportunity to connect him with students at Evanston Township High School (ETHS).

Claussen, the managing director of Northwestern’s Theatre and Interpretation Center (TIC), is always looking for ways to expand the University’s community outreach initiative and its commitment to partner with Evanston Township High School. And this project -- with its exploration of love, loss and conflict through the eyes of today’s teens -- was especially dear to her heart.

DiResta called the performance “part drama, part comedy, part dance, part spoken word, part carnival, part Shakespeare and like no Shakespeare audiences had ever seen before.”

The project featured 11 Northwestern undergraduates and 15 ETHS students. The creative process began in early April when ETHS participants broke into small groups that responded in writing to the issues and themes in Shakespeare’s famous play. In the course of a month, ensemble members wrote, rehearsed and refined the stage work before performing it in front of a live audience.

“We tackled everything that came to mind and edited it down,” said Northwestern senior Sean Brennan, who was they play’s producer. “I was very impressed by what the Northwestern and ETHS students brought to the table.”

“The Romeo and Juliet Project” touched on difficult topics including domestic abuse, one-night stands and gossip. The production featured a feminist’s response to Juliet’s dilemma and a selection from the balcony scene in Shakespeare’s original language.

During a poignant scene, a chorus of teenagers chanted, harshly, in unison, “You could do so much better.”  

“The high schoolers were willing to jump in and just go for it without fear of being wrong,” said Northwestern sophomore ensemble member Abby Pajakowski, a theatre major. “They reminded me that theater creation is playful and fun.”

The collaborative stage work featured ETHS students Melissa Burkhart, Zoe Crowe-Barnes, Noah Eisfelder, Emily Fishkin, Lucy Godinez, Natalie Jacobson, Dimitri Mareno, Eseh Omoghibo, Mairead Rosati, Peter Semla, Rebecca Suennen, Abbie Warhus, Talia Weiss, Alanna Williams and Anni Zuckert.

 “It was so cool to be able to use my own words and perform them rather than interpret someone else’s,” said 16-year-old ETHS sophomore Abbie Warhus. “I hope what people took away is that not all love is perfect but that it is still possible to get past obstacles and live happily every after.”

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