by Samantha Della Fera
After months of auditions, preparations and rehearsals, WHS’s rendition of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet opened yesterday to a packed auditorium. Though it’s easy to get caught up in the passion of the talented actors and actresses on stage who bring the story to life, no production could ever succeed without the people behind the scenes.
Year after year, the WHS theater department is recognized by the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards. This year, all four of Westfield’s wins went to the production team for lighting, costumes and stage management. With this reputation for excellence, and the fate of the performance resting on their shoulders, it’s time to shine a spotlight on the people backstage who make our favorite shows come together.
Mr. Daniel Devlin is the director of all shows at WHS. He is also in charge of choosing every show and its cast. “The decision for the fall play and the spring musical I started thinking about years ago,” Devlin said. “Then in May and June of last year I started thinking of people who I knew were coming back and what material they would be challenged by and yet successful with at the same time.”
Though the past few plays, including Moisés Kaufman’s The Laramie Project and Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, were demanding if not well-known, this year Devlin decided to put on a classic.
Devlin said: “I picked Romeo and Juliet based in large part on the election and how metaphorically it represents the division in this country. It is Shakespeare and I want to stay true to what was intended, yet I believe that the reason great works of art last is because they have a message that continuously touches generation after generation.”
The persistent conflict that is a trademark of Romeo and Juliet is evident not only in the words and actions of the actors, but in the set that stands behind them.
Set Designer Mr. Roy Chambers was challenged with creating a backdrop that was not only ageless, but that also portrayed the infighting of the Montague and Capulet families.
“There is no particular time period, so it has been difficult to make it not look like Renaissance Italy or modern day and to just make it a timeless place,” Chambers said. “The set itself is playing a role because actors are working with it and taking it apart, which really makes it like another cast member.”
While Chambers presents the vision for the set, all building, painting and arranging are all done by students.
Senior Jane Krause is the assistant technical director of the show, and oversees the building and conceptual details of the set to make sure Chambers’ vision comes through.
“We have I-beams that are going to look like steel contrasting with the wood. We have all these angled pieces towards the middle so that one side is representative of the Montagues and the other side is the Capulets,” Krause said. “Throughout the show, set pieces are going to get torn off and used by the actors as weapons. It's a metaphor for how the play deteriorates and everything comes to a head at the end.”
On the characters themselves, costumes become an important aspect of the play that many people often look past. Yet creating articles of clothing that match the genre of the story while also conveying a particular message takes a lot of planning and hands-on work.
Costume Designer Katie Foley ‘17 works with Assistant Costume Designer Jordan Lipkind ‘18 to create costumes that match each cast member perfectly.
Foley said: “We read Romeo and Juliet again and again, making notes on character traits in the margins. We sketched ideal costumes for these characters that would guide us later on. We met with Mr. Devlin and the production team, to ensure that our ideas aligned with the production concept.”
And while building a successful play from nothing can be stressful and draining, the sense of pride that comes with it is not lost on any of the crew.
“By working behind the scenes, you have the ability to gain a perspective of how important each individual aspect of the production is, from hemming a pair of dress pants, to playing the lead,” said Assistant Stage Manager Will Collum ‘18. “It takes a lot of preparation and hard work, and there is definitely some exhaustion to come with it, but in the end, seeing how so many little parts of the pre-production process come together makes it all worth it.”