Shakespeare Goes Steampunk


Actors Lydia Savelli and Alejandro Shydlowski pose as Romeo and Juliet

Sword fights, Victorian dresses, and skateboards are three things that appear to have nothing in common. Yet, the Valenzuela Theater is  currently home to all three. So what new show could possibly incorporate these mismatched objects?  The answer: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

This year’s spring play is Shakespeare’s classic tragedy with a new twist. Director Jim Houle has chosen to step-away from the star-crossed lovers’ romantic fantasy style and explore deeper themes via setting the play in the alternate world of  steampunk.

Steampunk is a fantasy genre usually seen in books, movies, or artwork that incorporates the aesthetics of the Victorian era and the industrial mechanics of the 19th century. Therefore, it crosses lavish elegant clothing seen in the Victorian era with raw materials of gears and machinery found in trains and clocks during the Industrial era.

“Steampunk is taking the Victorian era where steam was the only way to generate power and make everything in the future with only steam,” said Houle, “no technology, no computers, everything is very big, like a steam engine for a train.”

When most of us think of Romeo and Juliet we may picture Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo in the 1996 film version or the Renaissance style illustrations that covered the play’s script we all read freshman year. Yet, this style is completely original. It allows for actors to tap into deeper characters beyond acting as just another piece in a romance story.

“I get to explore the different parts of human emotions and feelings,” said junior Ankitha Neelavar. “I’m really excited to be playing Tybalt because he is such an angry dude and I think that he takes everything to the extreme and refuses to let go of grudges.”

Senior Orla Hannon, who plays the Nurse, added, “It gives all the characters a more rough edge.”

This eccentric style calls for elaborate costumes which the actors had the opportunity to create themselves. The apparel combines elegant Victorian gowns and suits with rough edgy accessories.

“We are actually doing a lot of our own work on costumes which is really kind of interesting. We were given pieces and we get to work on them, adding little details and things like that,” said Hannon.

This personalization allows for the actors to not only have a say in what they are wearing, but also how they imagine their part, which adds a whole new level to their portrayal of the characters.“I have more control over my costume in this show… and that has been really great to have my own creative character vision come true,” said senior Lydia Savelli, who plays Juliet.

“The steampunk is really enhancing the actors’ ability to take their characters to another level,” said Houle, “Because it is a fantasy world, we don’t have to deal with reality as much so there is a  lot more leeway for expressing themselves. Staging has also been enhanced by this style. We’re all pretty happy with how it’s turning out!”

This show is truly reaching new heights, both literally and figuratively. The set consists of tall vertical scaffolding and ladders with ropes so the actors can swing, climb and move throughout the dialogue. Large gears surround the set, thus incorporating the steampunk aesthetic.  Additionally, the actors have been working with a fight choreographer to enhance the Capulet vs. Montague feud and create an action-packed lively performance. A few key characters will even be traveling across the stage on scooters, skateboards, roller-blades, and even a unicycle!

“We are really focusing on what’s happening while the people are speaking so we have a second level for the audience to watch. Actions become very important to us, which is why we have so much moving, climbing, swinging, rolling,” said Houle, “Whenever we could think of an action we tried to incorporate it. It will be a very kinetic show, not static.”

Actors have been in rehearsal since early January learning lines, blocking scenes, and trying to get into character. All of the performers are dedicated to the theater and have a huge passion for the show, which will truly set this show apart from past high school productions.

“I feel so happy. I did the show in eighth grade and played Juliet. And now, playing it again in my senior year it feels like this beautiful ending finale before I move on to college. I’m really excited to take on this role,” said Savelli.

Savelli’s same passion is shared throughout the cast as the performers prepare to take the stage this month. This crazy action packed steampunk production of Romeo and Juliet will certainly be a memorable one, so be sure to buy your tickets now and don’t miss out on this steampunk Shakespeare.

Romeo and Juliet opens on March 12 and plays through March 20 at the Valenzuela Theater.