The Pioneer Theater Guild is preparing for a production of “Romeo and Juliet,” premiering Friday, Feb. 4 at 7:30 p.m., despite the loss of both Pioneer theaters this year to a mold infestation.
The ongoing construction of the Pioneer theaters has made PTG face a challenge: outsourcing to other theater locations to put on their productions. This time around, the Guild will be performing at Forsythe Middle School with showtimes Feb. 4 and 5 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 6. The production will also be live-streamed for anyone who cannot attend in person.
In addition to the lack of a home performance space, PTG has implemented COVID safety protocols following advice from the district. All performers and audience members will be masked and the audience will be reduced to two members per student involved in the play.
The mask mandate has proven to bring its own complications to the actors. “Obviously safety comes first, but as an actor, a lot of acting comes from the face. It’s hard to emote with just your eyes,” said Owen O’Connell, who plays the role of Mercutio.
“I’m just happy to be doing a show,” said junior Gabriella Miesel, who plays the starring role of Juliet. “(The masks) could go with the modern feel of it, it’s almost symbolic.”
Despite these less-than-ideal circumstances, PTG members look forward to a production that everyone wondered if they would see after last fall’s closing of the Pioneer theaters.
“I’m really excited to get back on stage and act again,” said O’Connell. “As a senior, I am sad to not get to do another production in Pioneer’s little theater since I have so many memories tied up in that space, but the show will still be fantastic.”
Director Alex Leydenfrost has decided to give the iconic play a modern spin. While still speaking in a Shakespearean language, the actors will be wearing modern clothing. The widely known Capulets and the Montagues will be portrayed by a wealthy country-club family and skaters.
“I think that a modern adaptation makes it easier for the audience to relate,” said O’Connell. “During Shakespeare’s time it would have been contemporary but today it’s not as relatable, so I think the shift helps.”
“I think it’s really fun to see what the director does,” said Miesel. “I have been studying a bunch of different performances to try to collect inspiration. Shakespeare is a process when it comes to learning your lines. You have to know what you’re saying in order to really embody it.”
A lot of effort has been dedicated to set design, lighting, and sound for the show. “It’s been great to get back in the paint shop and work on a project that will be on stage and be seen by an audience,” said senior Addy Lyons, the student head of PTG’s paint crew. “Our production has a pretty unconventional set. We’re all proud of it and excited to see it in the show.”
Students in PTG also say their roles in “Romeo and Juliet” have important messages for Pioneer students.
“The essence of Mercutio is the classic archetype of the clown or goofball who doesn’t take anything seriously, but also has a dark side,” said O’Connell. “There are a lot of people I know, especially in a high school environment, who act like everything is a joke, but deep down they know there is real stuff that matters. I’ve tried to look at those people and act how I think they act.”
After a year of being away from the stage due to COVID, students are ready to be back on stage.
“I have learned a lot about theater,” said Miesel. “This is my first high school lead, and it has been really fun and challenging. I remember always looking up to the leads, and now I feel like I have a leadership role for other people in the cast.”
Overall, PTG students are ready to show off their hard work and get back to doing what they love.
“We have worked so hard on this play, and it will be so great for people to see it,” said O’Connell.
“I just really love being on stage,” added Miesel. “Doing theater is amazing, and PTG is amazing.”