Love in the Time of Swordplay: 'Romeo and Juliet' at SJU

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

PHILADELPHIA (October 15, 2008) - William Shakespeare’s classic love story “Romeo and Juliet” opens the 2008-2009 theatre season of Saint Joseph’s University’s Cap and Bells Dramatic Arts Society on Thursday, Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. in Bluett Theatre.

Though the play is well known as the timeless story of the star-crossed young lovers named in the title, director Renee Dobson, M.F.A., had an unconventional reason for choosing the tragedy. She wanted to give the actors experience in fighting – or more precisely, the specialized moves of stage combat and swordplay skills that approximate real fighting on the stage.

“I wanted the students to learn the basics of rapier and dagger,” says Dobson, who is acting chair and associate professor of fine and performing arts. “Learning to create the illusion of intense and dangerous swordplay is great discipline for young performers. They need to be consistent and controlled in order to be safe. Such mastery gives them a sense of accomplishment – and confidence in themselves as performers.”

Some cast members will also learn hand-to-hand stage combat techniques for the opening scene of the play that turns into a bloody brawl between the feuding Capulet and Montague clans. Professional fight director Kenrick Burkholder was hired to train the students in stage combat techniques.

Everyone from the 20-member cast was invited to attend the initial training sessions. Though the melee does not involve the entire cast, Dobson was gratified that many of the performers took advantage of the opportunity to learn some technique. Burkholder is holding special rehearsals to teach intricate fight choreography to the actors playing the lead characters involved in the famous duels between Tybalt and Mercutio and Romeo and Tybalt.

The decision to use swordplay also helped determine the time period in which the production is set. “We considered setting it in modern times, but we would have missed an opportunity to stage the swordplay,” she says. In consultation with Burkholder and guest costume designer Mary Folino of the Walnut Street Theatre, Dobson chose to set the production in Italy during the mid-nineteenth century.

However, the set will not resemble “fair Verona,” circa 1850. In order to focus attention on the dramatic action and gorgeous language of Shakespeare’s text, Rob Carovillano, technical director of Bluett Theatre, has designed a spare environment of several levels – including the balcony – meant to convey the universality of the tragedy rather than a specific place. Lighting designer is Barrymore Award-winner Jim Leitner.

Along with the desire to train the actors in stage combat, Dobson had another reason to produce the play. Though Cap and Bells has a long tradition of producing Shakespeare – 33 productions during its 81-year history – she was surprised to discover that “Romeo and Juliet” was not among the mix of histories, comedies and tragedies staged over the years.

“It’s the perfect choice for young performers,” she says. “They can relate to the characters, because for the most part, they are portraying young people concerned with issues similar to their own: falling in love, maybe for the first time, and perhaps coming up against their parents’ disapproval. Because they feel close to the characters’ dilemmas, they bring a sense of immediacy to their roles.”

Playing time for “Romeo and Juliet” is under two hours. Performances are scheduled Thursday – Saturday, Oct. 30-Nov. 1 and Friday and Saturday Nov. 7-8 at 8 p.m. A matinee is scheduled for Sunday, November 9 at 2 p.m. For tickets, call the box office at 610-660-1181 or visit

General admission is $16; students, SJU employees and senior citizen tickets are $8. Children under 12 are $5. Group rates are available for parties of 10 or more. Bluett Theatre is located in Post Hall at 56th Street and Overbrook Avenue.

Media Contact

Patricia Allen, Associate Director of University Communications, 610-660-3240,

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