From a steampunk-inspired The Comedy of Errors to a Love’s Labour’s Lost set in the Jazz Age, Vancouver audiences have seen Shakespeare pushed and pulled into a variety of times and settings already this year. As the opener of its 50th season, Studio 58 continues that trend with a production of Romeo and Juliet, set inside Andy Warhol’s The Factory of 1965.
“The Factory was an interesting place at the time because Warhol was openly gay, and hung out with people that were openly gay. There is an openness that was going on that was not widely spread in the rest of society, and these lovers find a safe haven.” – director Anita Rochon on casting Romeo & Juliet as women.
Produced in association with Vancouver’s The Chop Theatre and directed by Studio 58 alumna Anita Rochon, this version of the Bard’s most well-known tragedy takes inspiration from the Langara College theatre school’s beginnings.
“For this particular play, myself and Emelia Symington Fedy began thinking about what it would be like for students fifty years ago when Studio 58 first began,” says Rochon. “What would it have been like for these young people studying in 1965?”
Rochon says it all involved letting the play inform the setting.
“I start thinking about the themes and the issues that a particular play is grappling with, and then look at the world around me and the world in history and start looking for parallels,” she says.
For her production of Romeo and Juliet, Rochon saw 1965 as a moment in history when youth culture was burgeoning and drew an immediate parallel to Shakespeare’s love story.
“It was an interesting time at Warhol’s The Factory, with young people breaking out and reinventing what it meant to be young,” she says. “There was this old guard who grew up during the war who were holding onto a different set of values.”
Seeing a similarity between the old and new worlds that were colliding in the mid-60s and that of the warring Montagues and Capulets and the two young lovers in Romeo & Juliet, Rochon made the connection.
“It was a pre-hippy world, but the world was changing; sexuality was changing,” she says.
Indeed it was this sexual revolution that also informs some of Rochon’s vision for her production, casting the two lovers as women.
“It wasn’t so much about casting,” she says, which can sometimes be difficult depending on the makeup of each year’s Studio 58 class. “It was exciting for me to bring some stress and anxiety around these lovers for a modern audience.”
Rochon also saw parallels in how the old guard views same-sex relationships.
“There are these older attitudes around same sex marriage, and these people who would want to keep their relationship secret because of that. It adds an additional conflict for the young lovers,” she explains.
By re-casting Romeo and Juliet as two women, Rochon also sees it as a representation of the sexual revolution that began taking shape in the 1960s.
“The Factory was an interesting place at the time because Warhol was openly gay, and hung out with people that were openly gay,” she says. “There is an openness that was going on that was not widely spread in the rest of society, and these lovers find a safe haven.”
Going beyond time and setting, Rochon also promises “immersion-light” to help bring the story and its characters closer to the audience.
“There is an opportunity for interaction as the audience will walk through the action on their way to their seats,” explains Rochon. “The actors may interact with audience members, but after the party is finished that interaction will gradually become more minimal, and the play will be largely presented in the manner in which we know and love it.”
Romeo + Juliet plays Studio 58 at Langara College (100 West 49th Ave, Vancouver) October 1-18. Visit https://studio58.ca for tickets and information.