17-year old Finnegan Howes and 14-year-old Maggie Stewart play the star-crossed lovers. Photo by Emily Jane King.
17-year old Finnegan Howes and 14-year-old Maggie Stewart play the star-crossed lovers. Photo by Emily Jane King.

For 27 years, Carousel Theatre for Young People’s Teen Shakespeare Program has been providing pre-professional theatre training for youth aged 13 to 18. Each summer session culminates with the performance of one of the Bard’s plays.

This year, fifteen teens take on the quintessential love story, Romeo and Juliet.

Playing the two star-crossed lovers are 17-year-old Finnegan Howes and 14-year-old Maggie Stewart. Their first year in the Carousel program, it is also their first time with Shakespeare.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” says Stewart who first heard of the program while taking another of the other drama classes offered at Carousel. “It is such an incredible opportunity.”

Finnegan agrees, although he did have some experience with Shakespeare, having read two of the Bard’s plays in school.

“I’m enjoying it a lot,” he says. “It is very different from regular theatre because of the language. You really have to understand what you are saying.”

While Shakespeare may not be the first thing that springs to mind when one thinks of teens and summer, Stewart and Howes jumped at the opportunity to hone their skills as actors.

“What else would I be doing with my summer?,” says Stewart. “I love acting, and will take any opportunity to get on the stage to do something I love.”

For Howes, who learned about the program from his father “as dad’s do”, it wasn’t just an opportunity to perform Shakespeare, but also about learning new skills.

“I would have would have found some other way to act, or maybe work on short films which I like to do,” he says.

Not far from the ages of Romeo and Juliet themselves, Stewart is finding it particularly easy to relate.

“I can definitely connect to her personality, as she is only 13 and still growing up and learning like me,” she says.

Finnegan talks in more general teen terms, but first points out Shakespeare is not specific about Romeo’s age.

“Most people think Romeo is 17, but Shakespeare never actually says that in the text,” he says. “He does go through some really heightened emotions, which is very teen thing.”

Finnegan goes onto say playing the young lovers as teens also makes it less creepy. “It’s still weird, but less so when he marries a 13 year old.”

Spending a great deal of class time exploring the meaning behind Shakespeare’s words, the two are up for the task.

“We’re delving deep into the text, why we’re saying what we’re saying and it sort of forces you to try a lot harder to learn you lines, and realize all the words have meaning,” says Stewart.

“I’ve never been a lead before which is really cool,” says Dawes. “There are a lot more lines than I’ve done before, but it is part of the challenge.”

But while Shakespeare may be on the menu in the short-term, both are also looking to the future. And even while the stage may not their first choice, there is little doubt the Carousel program is going to help.

“I want to go into acting,” says Stewart. “My first choice is film, but I love being on stage.”

“I really like theatre and acting, but film is the thing I want to do,” adds Dawes. “To be able to act in film would be especially cool.”

Romeo & Juliet plays the outdoor stage at Performance Works on Granville Island from July 28 through August 12. Visit http://www.carouseltheatre.ca for more information.