Searching for Romeo and Juliet

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Chelmsford’s version of one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, comes to the Civic Theatre in July. Open auditions are being held for young people to take lead roles in this professional production of the play. ‘R4J’ is a collaboration between Chelmsford City Theatres and storyteller and consultant Mike Dodsworth. Mike specialises in productions in unusual theatre spaces and audiences will experience an immersive start to each performance at the Civic Theatre. If you’re aged between 16 and 25 and you’d like to join the cast, open auditions are being held at the Civic Theatre this weekend on Sunday 2 June between 10am and 5pm. There’s no application process and registration will open at 10am and close at 11am. ‘R4J’ will run from 4-6 July at the Civic. Further details are available on the website www.chelmsford.gov.uk/theatres

We caught up with Mike Dodsworth to find out more.
Q. “Mike, you’re directing ‘R4J’. What are you hoping to do with this production?”
MD: “We’re giving young performers who may still be students the opportunity to perform on stage in the largest professional theatre in Chelmsford, this is a chance for these young performers to really raise their expectations of what they can achieve.”

Q. “Why did you choose Romeo and Juliet for this particular production?”
MD: “It’s a well-known play but it also has a universal quality; the idea that people fall in love, often across borders, sometimes in the most extreme cases, and that love will prevail beyond politics and beyond conflict. I also love the idea that the young can teach an older generation who may be stuck in their ways and may even be perpetuating conflict how to take stock and change before it’s too late. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, it is the tragic death of two young people that finally instigates change in the establishment and the older generation to look at themselves and think ‘what are we doing?'”

Q. “What are you aiming to achieve with this version of Romeo and Juliet?”
MD: “Every generation has a Romeo and Juliet, in every corner and patch in the world, and I think the idea here is to discover a local Chelmsford-based Romeo and Juliet and reflect their existence. I’d love to find out about the things they’re interested in; as we tell Shakespeare’s story, reflect their music tastes, their aspirations, their thoughts about the world and their place in it – all encapsulated in their understanding of what love is. On a pragmatic level, we’d also love to show young people that the Civic Theatre is interested in making this kind of production to develop our audiences and that this sort of exchange between our community and our theatre can be fruitful and long-lasting.”

Q. “Who are you hoping to find at the open auditions?”
MD: “We’re trying to find people who excite us and who are excited about this story. We’re giving them the opportunity to perform on a professional level – to tell the story and express themselves and maybe even kick start a career that they’re anticipating developing.”

Q. “You’re planning to start the production in an unusual way, different from what theatre goers are used to – tell us more.”
MD: “The main battleground of the conflict in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is in the piazza in the town square, a space that two wealthy and powerful families of Verona use to play out a series of conflicts of displayed power and try and establish who’s in control of the town. The first scene is very explosive; there has been a law recently set in motion that any fight between the two families will result in punishments. But unfortunately, with an ‘airy word’, to quote the play, a mere gesture, a mere insult kicks off a very, very big conflict. For the opening scene we’ve chosen a space to show us the city and to announce a little bit of Chelmsford’s history and legacy giving the audience a feeling of what it must have been like to have seen this pageantry, this posturing by the two powerful houses, actually happening in real time. Theatre goers in larger cities are used to promenade productions; but it may be the first opportunity for some audiences in Chelmsford to experience this type of theatre.”

Q. “Are you excited that this kind of production is being done by Chelmsford’s main theatre?”
MD: “Creating this kind of production should attract a plethora of theatre-makers, who will be interested in collaborations of this kind. We’re used to the theatre having a great, established programme of shows and this is a really exciting move into new territory.”

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