‘Romeo y Julieta’ Takes a Bilingual Variation to a Shakespearean Classic

‘Romeo y Julieta’ Takes a Bilingual Variation to a Shakespearean Classic

Audiences of all languages will enjoy this adaptation of the world’s most famous and tragic love story

The BYU Young Company presents “Romeo y Julieta,” a bilingual twist on the classic tragedy written by William Shakespeare. The show will premiere in the Nelke Theatre and runs for two weeks before touring throughout Utah from February until April 2018.

“While Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is commonly seen as a story of fate,” said director Julia Ashworth, “I have always seen it as a story of miscommunication and misunderstanding. I felt a bilingual adaptation would provide opportunities to expand those moments in the play. Introducing the Spanish-language and Latino cultures into the story, I hoped would focus on multiculturalism and provide numerous access points for young and diverse community members to engage with this production. From these ideas, ‘Romeo y Julieta’ was born.”

The production, which is untranslated, is filled with actors who are native speakers of Spanish.  Ashworth incorporated the individual actors’ cultures into the characters they portray. “The native-speaking actors in the play represent a wide variety of Latino cultures, from Mexican, to Peruvian, to Spanish, to Puerto Rican,” said Ashworth. “And many of the other students involved are either fluent in Spanish or bring seemingly endless acting, design, translation and dramaturgical skills. You will feel all of their influences in this play: their lives and experiences are intertwined throughout the language, sound, feel and look of this production. This truly was an enormous collaborative effort, and a labor of love.”

Ashworth emphasized the adaptation and translation of a traditional and monocultural script towards a nontraditional and multicultural script must involve diverse and varied artists. Ashworth taped many with this adaptation, from fifth grade students at Sharon Elementary School in Orem to Julia Ashworth’s father, Peter Ashworth, an emeritus professor from the BYU Spanish Department.

The cast and crew also had the opportunity to receive hands-on guidance and tutelage from José Cruz González, one of the nation’s most prolific Latin-American playwrights for young audiences. He gave the cast and crew feedback on how to best represent the show through music and stylized sounds.

Mariah Eames, the assistant director for “Romeo y Julieta,” said she immediately fell in love with Ashworth’s concept for the show. “I have spent a lot of time helping kids from a Hispanic background and I know the communication problems that happen when the parents primarily speak Spanish and the children primarily speak English. It is a hard situation and one that doesn’t often get represented in the theatre. The process of this show has been truly eye-opening for me as we have explored the complexities that surround the bilingual culture, especially through the text of Shakespeare.

“When asked about the show, I explain it is an interpretation of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ only Juliet’s family is Hispanic. Most people say ‘Oh, so it’s like ‘West Side Story’ without the music.’ But let me tell you, it is not at all like ‘West Side Story.’ We are highlighting the relationships that Romeo and Julieta have with their friends and family that ultimately lead to their death. We are using music and sounds to represent the biggest moments of miscommunication that could have changed the fate of Romeo and Julieta had things been better articulated. Expect suspense and heartache, but also love and forgiveness in this show.”

Eames shared that during a recent rehearsal, the cast members were trying to understand the depth of sorrow each character feels during the course of the show. Through workshops, they were able to see the complexities that those emotions entailed. By the end of the rehearsal, emotions were high.

“It’s moments like these when you feel love and empathy for the characters,” said Eames. “That is when we know we can touch the audience too. We are extending the invitation further than our normal audience. We want all to feel welcome to the show. We fear that some community members, namely those who speak Spanish, don’t feel welcome here, but we want to dissolve that barrier. The theatre is a place for everyone. We are working endlessly to diversify our audience so that we can all learn from each other and grow as friends.”

“Our hopes for your experience with this production are that you will see and hear the vital role that communication plays not only between young people,” said Ashworth. “But between young people and the adults in their lives. We hope you see ways to improve communication in your own life. We also hope that this production builds a more diverse and inclusive audience, as we try to expand the idea of who we are as a community, and what we might become one day.”

An ASL-interpreted performance will be held on Feb. 15.


Tickets and Show Details

Performance Dates and Times: Feb. 7–9, 14–16 | 7:00 p.m. and Feb 10, 17 |2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.

Location: Nelke Theatre, Franklin S. Harris Fine Arts Center, BYU

Price: $5-8

Tickets: Available in person at the BYU Ticket Office in the Harris Fine Arts Center or Marriott Center, by phone at 801-422-2981 or online at byuarts.com