Actors From the London Stage perform ‘Romeo and Juliet’
Courtney Becker | Thursday, February 2, 2017
The Actors From the London Stage (AFTLS) company debuted their production of “Romeo and Juliet” in Washington Hall on Wednesday night.
The company, made up of just five actors, visits Notre Dame every semester thanks to the University’s status as the “American home” for the organization, Aaron Nichols, Shakespeare at Notre Dame’s audience development manager, said.
“In the year 2000 the opportunity came for us to take a more active role in the organization,” he said. “ … It’s kind of exciting that every semester now we get to have this world-class Shakespeare group come to the University.”
Nichols said the University has played an active role in “determining the trajectory of the organization,” including introducing gender-fluid casting to recent productions.
“We’re not trying to flip it completely, but we’re saying any actor can play any role because we’re acting,” he said. “ … So as long as the audience goes with you on that journey and accepts that suspension of disbelief, there are some amazing actresses in the world who now have the opportunity to play some wonderful male roles.”
This gender-fluid casting becomes a necessity with such a small cast, Nichols said.
“Everyone is playing at least three roles,” he said. “Because Romeo and Juliet are such prominent roles those two characters don’t play as many other roles, but for instance, Jack Whitam, who is playing Romeo, is actually also playing Lady Montague. It’s really fun.”
AFTLS company member Sarah Finigan said in addition to playing multiple roles, each actor played a part in directing the show.
“So there are five of us and no director,” she said. “We are all the director. So that means you have to work in a different way. You have to be very collaborative, you have to accept everyone’s ideas and try them out. So it takes a long time.”
Audience members will be able to differentiate between the multiple characters each actor plays due to the care the company has taken in creating specific personas for each role, Nichols said.
“You’re so impressed with the virtuosity of these actors creating characters with just a flip of a scarf or a new hat or a cane,” he said. “And suddenly, you are believing. You forget what you’ve seen earlier from an actor.”
Finigan said this show is particularly timely considering the current political atmosphere in the United States.
“Keep an eye out for the signifiers for the two different families,” she said. “It’s quite a difficult time in America at the moment, and the play is about, really, the consequences of hatred and rivalry. We’ve tried to highlight that.”
In addition to performances Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, Nichols said, each of the actors will visit eight to 10 classrooms over the course of the week.
“We look for actors that not only have acting experience and world-class resumes, we also look for actors who are interested in the teaching aspect of what we do,” he said. “Because not only are we performing here at Notre Dame, we’re also going into classrooms all over the campus to bring the skill sets of our actors and the educational experience of our actors to bear in a lot of different classroom settings.”
Nichols said the educational side of the company has become as important as the performance aspect.
“We consider our organization dual-focused,” he said. “We consider the classroom work just as important as the performance work. … I think that commitment really expands the value of what we’re doing. Because not only are you seeing these great actors on stage, but you get them in your classroom and they awaken you to the potential of any text.”
Finigan said she appreciates the opportunity AFTLS provides for her to incorporate teaching into her work as an actor.
“This is the first time I’ve combined teaching and acting into one job,” she said. “It’s great. … It’s a brilliant experience here at Notre Dame, and the American university atmosphere — we love it so far, so we’re excited to get out to the other universities, too.”
The company will perform “Romeo and Juliet” at 7:30 Thursday and Friday in Washington Hall. Tickets are still available at shakespeare.nd.edu.