On July 13th, Trinity Repertory Company and Rhode Island Latino Arts will be transforming Burnside Park into an outdoor theater as part of their touring production of Romeo and Juliet. Although the well-known Shakespeare play is one of the most popular productions to be performed and adapted, this performance in particular is different than any you may have seen—Arte Latino of New England director Saúl Ramos reworked the original script into a bilingual piece, so the talented cast act in both Spanish and English.
Romeo and Juliet is the inaugural production of Trinity Rep and RILA’s new program, Shakespeare en el Verano (Shakespeare in the Summer). The play will be performed at various locations around Providence from July 9th to July 23rd. On Wednesday, July 13th at 6:30pm, the company will be bringing Romeo and Juliet to Burnside Park for a free ninety-minute show.
To find out more about the upcoming performance, DPPC’s Program Assistant Kalie Boyne sat down with Trinity Rep’s Associate Artistic Director, Tyler Dobrowsky, and Orlando Hernández, the production’s Romeo.
As an actor, what’s it like to read from a bilingual script, and how does the use of language affect the portrayal of the characters and the relationships between them?
Hernández: Well, for me, this play links up with my own experience—the use of different languages in my life. It’s been a nice process because I’m English-dominant. Shakespeare’s language is the reference point of the Spanish and everything comes back to that, but the Spanish opens up all these other registers and different kinds of positioning and relations between people, whether that has to do with class, race, or multilingualism in a city, and so the bilingual nature of the play ends up having some interesting things to say about Providence. The experience of working with other actors and finding this kind of shared, but not completely shared, means of communication is interesting. Some people come forward at some moments, while some step back as languages shift and English becomes foregrounded or Spanish becomes foregrounded. It’s a social process. We’re excited to see how this will fall on audiences, this language experiment.
Logistically, how do the languages switch off between one another?
Dobrowsky: We tried to format it into the world of the play—it’s not like one line is in English and the next line is in Spanish. We wanted to look at how the language differences could fit into the social dynamics within the play itself. The Montague family speaks primarily in Spanish, and the Capulet family speaks primarily in English, but the children of those families speak both—they go back and forth. Saúl, who did the translation and adaptation, experiences that shift a lot as a teacher, and in his life in general. That was part of the general concept of the piece, that we were going to fit the bilingual aspect of it into the structure of the play itself.
How do the different languages and the venue choices for the performances make the play more accessible?
Hernández: The question of accessibility comes up any time someone puts on a Shakespeare play, I think. Is it strange that we’re putting on a show in a language so distant from the way people talk now, how will that fall on people—especially people who don’t have a lot of experience with Shakespeare? The way we’re staging it and communicating it physically is a big part of our intention to make the play accessible in a variety of ways. The Spanish and English is one part of that—although it also raises more questions about the accessibility of certain languages—and then I think that the locations are also a big part of that. We’re performing in libraries on the South Side and in public parks. Even if people don’t understand every word, we hope they are immersed in the environment of it—including the location that the play is staged in.
Dobrowsky: It’s also ninety minutes, which is generally good for families with kids.
Is it difficult to switch between Spanish and English?
Hernández: It actually really speaks to my own experience in the sense that for me, language has never been either/or. Even though we’re in an English-dominant place, those of us who have cultural and national ties to Spanish-speaking places speak in Spanish in moments with family and friends. In the play, there are moments when Romeo is speaking Spanish with his bros, and when he and Juliet use Spanish as an exciting language to explore between them. I think it musically opens up the Shakespearean language in interesting ways as well. I think the bilingual acting opens up new opportunities for character depth, especially in a Shakespeare play full of monologues. To explore these different perspectives and parts of your voice, mapped across both Spanish and English, is very interesting. It also speaks to the complexities of interiorities within Spanish itself; how different generations adapt language and the evolution of a language.
Dobrowsky: It’s also been interesting to figure out why the characters are speaking in a certain language at certain points in the play. There are moments when Romeo and Juliet are speaking in Spanish romantically, there are moments when it’s used in a conspiratorial way—when Juliet and her maid are talking and don’t want anyone to overhear them, they speak in Spanish. Thinking about why a character is choosing to speak in Spanish or in English adds another layer to them.
What are some things you want to make sure audience members get from your performance?
Hernández: For me, it’s been exciting that in scenes that are angry, in scenes that are hopelessly romantic, we really play those emotions up. We really get in there, and I think this will really sweep the audience into the different zones that the play has. Even though it’s condensed, it still really keeps those arcs. Also, I’ve always loved to watch plays outdoors in the summer. You’re part of the environment in this different way.
Dobrowsky: Something that people don’t think about when they think about Romeo and Juliet is that the first half is really a comedy, it’s really fun. It’s romantic and it’s sweet, but it’s also so funny. It breaks your heart at the end, of course. It’ll be very family friendly, it’s the perfect play to take the kids to.
You can learn more about the program and view a full performance listing at Trinity’s website. You can find details on the Burnside Park performance here. Let us know you’re coming, and invite your friends!