Q&A: Romeo & Juliet

James Wallis of Shakespeare BASH'd talks about directing The Bard's timeless love story at 3030 Dundas

Presented by Shakespeare BASH'd
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by James Wallis

Hallie Seline and Kelly Penner in Romeo & Juliet.

Led by actor and director James Wallis, Shakespeare BASH'd is known for creating immersive, site-specfic productions of Shakespeare's work with a talented group of up-and-coming young artists in Toronto. The company's fun and daring shows have included Toronto Fringe productions of The Taming of the Shrew (Best of Fringe 2012) and Much Ado About Nothing (Fringe 2013), both staged at the The Victory Café on Markham Street.

This month, Wallis and associate director Eric Double are preparing to mount a new production of Romeo & Juliet in another popular drinking spot3030 Dundas in the Junction.

We caught up with Wallis to find out more about this latest adventure in Shakespeare.

Theatromania: What inspired this new production of Romeo & Juliet at 3030 Dundas?

JW: I have wanted to direct this play for many years; at least a decade. So when we decided to do our first show outside of the Fringe festival, I thought it was only fitting to do Romeo & Juliet, as the universal theme of love overcoming chaos is very poignant today. To me this play is a poetic drama of reconciliation in the face of violent civil war, which I know resonates for our audience. Plus, it’s my favourite play. We continue to do Shakespeare’s plays in bars, as we want to take Shakespeare’s work out of the traditional theatrical environment and put it into a more fun, social, exciting venue. Our hope is that this will allow people to be struck by new ideas that the play brings forth. Also, you can drink beer while you watch! Which is awesome. The 3030 is a perfect venue, not only because of its size, but because the Junction, where it is located, is a very bright, new neighbourhood with a bourgeoning artistic culture. We wanted to be one of the first to engage that community with our brand of Shakespeare.

Theatromania: How would you describe the company’s take on this famous play?

JW: Shakespeare BASH’d is approaching this play with a bare bones philosophy. We as an ensemble hope to engage the audience’s imaginations as much as possible to illuminate the text and characters. To me this play presents Romeo & Juliet as outsiders in a violent world that they don’t understand and doesn’t understand them. My hope is to illustrate the “fearful passage of their death mark’d love” that the Chorus in the play so beautifully illuminates. Our goal, as always, is clear, fast-paced, exciting, thought-provoking Shakespeare with an emphasis on the text and story.

Theatromania: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced staging Shakespeare’s works in a bar setting?

JW: Well bars are certainly not built to be the most intimate places in the world, so you’re dealing with ambient sounds like beer fridges, heating fans, other patrons, etc. In the end, I think the experience we present is very close to the original experience that Shakespeare’s plays would have offered. In that time, there would have been people making noise. There would have been just as many challenges to get the audience’s attention as we have, if not more. Our hope is that the audience will be able to be entertained and enjoy themselves, and also take something away from what they see. Hopefully they’ll stick around after to discuss it with the cast, myself, or other audience members. In my mind, theatre should be about starting a conversation and I want to provide the social venue for such a conversation.

Theatromania: Best part of the experience so far?

JW: Working with the very talented cast and crew that I have. We have truly discovered some things in this play that I never knew about, which is so wonderful to me. The text is so very beautiful and we have really tried to mine it for every nugget of greatness it has. Also, the sword fights are awesome. Plus, I’ve been able to keep some things that I usually find are cut out of other productions like the musicians scene, which I’m happy that we’re keeping.

Theatromania: What’s next for Shakespeare BASH’d?

JW: We are back in the Fringe next year at The Victory Café! We will be doing Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare. Also, I’m hoping to find new venues across Toronto do more of Shakespeare and his contemporaries’ work.

Romeo & Juliet runs from November 19 to 23 at 3030 Dundas West. Visit shakespearebashd.com for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Tue, 2013-11-19 - Sat, 2013-11-23



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