William Shakespeare would not recognize some aspects of the upcoming Canyon Crest Academy Envision Theater presentation of Romeo and Juliet, as director Steve Lipinsky has chosen to set it in modern times complete with texting, tweeting and punk music during the transitions.
Still, the backbone of the play, Shakespeare’s poignant language, isn’t changed because it doesn’t need to.
“This story is so relevant today, when it comes to relationships, insecurities, parents trying to tell kids what they can and can’t do and trying to do the right thing,” said Lipinsky, whose version opens Oct. 28 for a five-night run at Proscenium Theater on the CCA campus.
“Juliet and Romeo find each other at a time when they need someone to understand them, and that’s what we are all looking for — even as adults — trying to find that person who sees us for who we are and accepts us for who we are.”
Lipinsky, 42, is a guest artist directing his third play at CCA. A San Diego native who spent many years as an equity theater actor, he has been teaching acting for the past 19 years. He teaches at Canyon Crest, privately and has previously worked as the head acting coach at the San Diego Shakespeare Society and with the North Coast Rep Theatre School.
“(For this job) I am teaching Shakespeare, I’m putting on a play, but I also see it as an excuse to teach confidence,” Lipinksy said. “These kids are going into the world and they may not become actors, but if they can stand on a stage and say these things with confidence, you can use that anywhere.”
While the content is relatable today, that relatability is enhanced by Lipinsky’s use of modern technology, an idea that came from his 23-year-old cousin and is being integrated correctly into the play thanks largely to assistant director Constantine Mickens, who graduated from CCA last year.
“They are using their cell phones, they are texting, they are tweeting,” Lipinsky explained. “We have some of those (texts/tweets) projected on the stage. But everything that is tweeted or texted on the screen is the actual Shakespearian language.”
He added that the punk music during transitions is relatable to modern times while also fitting thematically with the play, which deals with teenage rebellion.
Meanwhile, the bare bones set shifts the focus even more to the actors, including sophomore Cameron Lee-Bellows as Romeo and senior Aly Charfauros as Juliet.
“I spend a lot of time with these kids in terms of telling the story,” Lipinsky said. “When I put together the play, a lot of it has to do with the cast that I have and how they start to interpret the language and take on the characters. I shift the play a little bit to work with who they are and what they are bringing to the table.
“The reason I chose (Cameron) was his emotional accessibility. There aren’t a lot of high school boys who can connect to their heart in a public way. When I saw his ability to show his vulnerability, I said ‘you’re in.’”
Lee-Bellows, who has played The Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz and Biondello in Taming of the Shrew along with roles in 13 The Musical and The Secret Garden, has brought a little of himself to this classic character.
“Romeo is definitely someone I’ve never really played before and is a difficult character to establish,” Lee-Bellows said. “I kind of put myself in the character by relating my own experiences with his and finding a middle.”
For Charfauros, whose first lead in a musical was Shen Te in The Good Woman of Setzuan and has also acted in Evita and Twelfth Night, playing Juliet was out of her comfort zone at first.
“Juliet is a role where I’ve been able to break my type cast,” she said. “Usually, I play the role of the seductive, sensual, very mature leading lady. I didn’t even know I was capable of playing Juliet because she is a very rash, immature and just childish, young girl.
“One of the most fun parts for me when I was finding the character was finding that I was that young girl … to a point I’m still maturing. It was difficult to be something that I already am. It’s easy to act as something that you aren’t and know the difference between yourself and the character. This role has really allowed me to open up my potential as an actor.”
With those two in the leading roles, and many talented CCA students rounding out the cast, the show opens Oct. 28 at 7 p.m., with other performances on Oct. 29 (7 p.m.), Nov. 3 (4:30 p.m.), Nov. 4 (7 p.m.) and Nov. 5 (7 p.m.). All shows are at Proscenium Theater and tickets are available at cca-envision.org/events.
“The show is definitely not the run-of-the-mill Romeo and Juliet. It’s much more modern and contemporary, and people can relate,” Lee-Bellows said. “And there is a lot of stage combat … so it’s a really fun show.”