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Romeo & Juliet performance stays true to classic tale
Dialogue and fight coaches push actors to the next level
Will Bradley plays Romeo and Sloane Shaffer plays Juliet in the classic performance of "Romeo & Juliet" by the Gainesville Theatre Alliance.

‘Romeo & Juliet'

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-April 18 and April 21-25; 2:30 p.m. April 19 and 25
Where: Ed Cabell Theatre, Gainesville State College, 3820 Mundy Mill Road, Gainesville
How much: $16-$18 adults, $14-$16 seniors, $10-$12 students

When you're putting together a production of a play like Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet," there's two ways you can take it.

It's a story audiences are familiar with, having seen it either on stage or in a movie theater. So, a director can either play it straight, staying true to the words of Shakespeare, or they can turn it around and put a different stamp on it.

Audiences at Gainesville Theatre Alliance's latest production, "Romeo & Juliet," can rest assured that director Brent Maddox won't be messing with the great bard. The play starts its two-week run with a preview performance Monday at Gainesville State College's Ed Cabell Theatre in Oakwood.

"Everyone's going to come into this theater with expectations of what it's supposed to look like," Maddox said. "So that was something we talked about early on. So I said, let's stay true to the story. Let's not try to do something clever or with a twist; let's just try to tell the story as best we can."

The set is restrained, with multileveled platforms for the stage. The action comes in from all sides, making the intimate atmosphere at the Ed Cabell Theatre great for the audience, but it forced Maddox and costume designer Fred Lloyd to set the story in a slightly different time period.

Rather than fit costumes to the 1500s time period when "Romeo & Juliet" was written, he said, they opted for the sleeker, thinner lines of Medieval times.

"Longer lines - length of lines versus fuller clothes," Maddox said. "That gives us more freedom to move."

Along with staying true to the Shakespeare story, Maddox said, is learning the language. But the cast also had a great coach to help get their tongues around the old English iambic pentameters: Joanne Camp.

An alumna of the Gainesville Theatre Alliance - who now runs the Pearl Theatre in New York City and has been nominated for a Tony Award - she spent the first five days of rehearsal coaching dialogue.

"She taught us ‘scanning,' which is hitting the beats in the dialogue," said Sloane Shaffer, who plays Juliet. "There's a lot of words or phrases we're not really familiar with."

And obviously, there's a lot of fighting in "Romeo & Juliet" - sword fighting, specifically. So the cast had the help of another professional, Scot Mann, to help with choreography.

Mann is a fight master and a director with the Society of American Fight Directors, and he also is chairman of the theater department at Mercer University.

"For him to be able to come up and work with our actors really took the production to the next level," Maddox said.

The experience was helpful said Will Bradley, who plays Romeo, and Trey Butler, who plays Paris.

While the actors have taken classes and a workshop in stage fighting, they said the chance to work with experienced choreographers opened their eyes to how it can be done.

"I learned how quickly you can get stuff done when you know what you're doing," said Bradley, who said the actors were paired up with professionals for the initial fight training. Before they knew it, they said, the fight scenes were figured out.

Shaffer said the chance to delve into Shakespeare in such a true form has been a great learning experience for her.

"It's been a lot of fun because we can work with this beautiful play," she said. "I love Shakespeare."