Wyoming Arts Council

Montana touring company brings ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to region’s rural schools

CODY – Thousands of Wyoming students this month will see a play that features bloody murder, drug use, forbidden teen romance and other themes that some parents have long denounced in popular culture as corrupting America’s youth.
The play’s author, William Shakespeare, was not available for comment. But the actors bringing “Romeo and Juliet” to 15,000 students in nearly 50 schools across Wyoming and Montana were happy to share the play on Wednesday with Cody High School students.
“Romeo and Juliet is their story. It’s about crazy-in-love teens who get into fights and take drugs,” said Eliza Stoughton, a Chicago-based actress who plays Lady Capulet in the Shakespeare in the Schools touring company.
The outreach program of Montana State University’s Montana Shakespeare in the Parks is in its 17th season, playing this week in Park County schools with funding assistance from the Park County Arts Council.
More than two-thirds of this season’s shows will be at schools in communities with fewer than 5,000 residents, ranging from Ten Sleep to Big Timber.
Actors present an abbreviated production, but with authentic period sets and costumes. They interact with students after each show in workshops that delve deeper into the play’s literary and theatrical elements.
“Hearing and seeing the actors made it a lot easier to understand what was going on. They did a good job of portraying what was going on with the characters, but doing it in the way that Shakespeare wrote it,” said sophomore Allyson Asay.
“For me, the exciting part of performing Shakespeare is that a lot of people say that the language makes it hard to find a way into the material. These plays were written to be heard and seen, not read,” Stoughton said.
Stoughton joined Peter Johnson – a Seattle-based actor who played Juliet’s father, Lord Montague – in a post-performance workshop with CHS theater students, exploring how minor characters play big roles in driving the play’s story.
Actors fielded questions from students about auditioning, memorizing lines, key plot points and even special effects on stage.
The eight-member Shakespeare in the Schools touring company performs today in Meeteetse and on Friday in Bozeman, before appearances next week in Ten Sleep, Buffalo, Sheridan, Basin and Big Timber.

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