Romeo and Juliet Blog #1 – Why This, Why Now?

The mere mention of a season containing any play that is sufficiently dated can, I think, prompt questions about the decision. Particularly with works that are as generally well known as Romeo and Juliet, the first question I always have is: why this play, and why now? I am sure that I am not alone in this impulse. So, with these blog posts, it seems to me that it would be best if I opened with a note on some of the thoughts that our director Ann M. Shanahan and our design team had on how Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet is particularly striking for our current moment in history.

Discussion around the play began with observations on the nature of binaries as they exist in society today. In U.S. politics, we can perhaps see the sharpest and loudest examples: an incredibly divided nation has been revealed in the fallout of this presidential election, with less and less middle ground for compromise than ever (for better or for worse). This type of modern political binary can be viewed from so many perspectives, too, with the ideas of Red State vs. Blue State, Trump vs. Hillary, Bernie vs. Hillary, and Trump vs. Never-Trump Republicans. But even within these breakdowns, most are resigned to believe that there is always a binary choice, one of two ways forward.

Another confrontational binary found in modern society is the generational divide–and all the tension it entails. I’ve heard millennials called inherently lazy and soft and heard older generations hit for trashing the economy and environment. Generational warfare certainly is not new, but for many it feels more contentious now than ever.

Gender and sexuality binaries still exist as operative elements in our society, too. Youth in the U.S. have directed particular scrutiny towards the legitimacy of a restrictive gender and sexual binary system. The ideas of necessarily being male or female, and the idea of standard heteronormativity, have never been questioned as loudly in U.S. culture as they are now.

Romeo and Juliet addresses all of these binaries and more, with the feud between the two houses of Capulet and the Montegue as the overarching conflict. Our production critiques a world that sees static binaries as the only options for humanity. The idea that the only way forward is adherence to one of two worldviews or visions of the future comes under harsh attack, as we witness binarisms onstage that result in the death of our two young lovers.

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Tintypes Blog #3: Meet the Characters

We made it, folks! With four shows in the books, our Underground Laboratory Theatre is brimming with the spirit of Tintypes. Our production warms an intimate cabaret atmosphere with stunning technical elements and the voices of five characters: Charlie, TR, Susannah, Anna, and Emma. While the characters take on a variety of identities throughout the show, they are chiefly inspired by historical figures of the late 1800s / early 1900s. Read more about them and view some stunning photos by Joe Mazza below!

CHARLIE CHAPLIN was an actor, comic, and composer who found fame in the silent film industry. Chaplin grew up poor and without parents for much of his rough childhood, but found enjoyment in performing at a young age. After immigrating to the United States from England at nineteen, he became a worldwide icon with his “Tramp” screen persona.

TEDDY ROOSEVELT famously led the Rough Riders during the Spanish–American War, after which he was elected governor of New York in 1898. He served as Vice President under William McKinley in 1901, then became the 26th President upon McKinley’s assassination. Roosevelt was known for his conservation efforts, trust-busting, and hot temper.

BERT WILLIAMS was a recording artist, comedian, and vaudevillian. An immigrant from the Bahamas, he was the first black American to have a lead role on Broadway. W.C. Fields described him as “the funniest man I ever saw–-and the saddest man I ever knew.”

ANNA HELD was a singer and Follies star born in Poland to a German-Jewish father and a French-Jewish mother. Held grew up in France after anti-semitism forced her family to move to Paris. There she pursued performing and received high praise for her talent and flirtatious stage presence. After capturing Florenz Ziegfeld’s attention in London, she moved with him to New York.

EMMA GOLDMAN was an activist, writer, and lecturer. Born in the Russian Empire to a Jewish family, she immigrated to the United States at sixteen. Goldman was a renowned anarchist and advocate for workers’ rights, women’s equality, and free speech. She was also an accessory in the attempted assassination of steel magnate Henry Clay Frick and was later questioned for potential involvement in the assassination of William McKinley.

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Tintypes Blog #2: Immigrants — We Get the Job Done

“Lights come up slowly, revealing CHARLIE — an immigrant just off the boat, taking his first look at the strangeness of New York City . . . Attached to his jacket is a numbered immigration tag . . . Exhausted from his journey and overwhelmed with emotion, HE lets his bags drop to the ground, breathes in deeply the air of the New World, then impulsively takes his cap off his head and drops to his knees to kiss the ground.”

This image is the opening moment of Tintypes, an immediate light on one of the show’s central themes — immigration.

The turn of the twentieth century was an era of mass migration, with over 20 million people moving to the United States between 1880-1920.  Europe was particularly plagued by political, religious, and economic conflict at the time, leading millions to seek a better life overseas. Tintypes emphasizes Italian and Jewish immigrants in particular; over 600,000 Italians immigrated to the U.S. from 1890-1900, and over 2 million Jews fled Eastern Europe for the U.S. from 1880-1920.

Approximately 12 million people traveled by ship and entered the U.S. through the gateway of Ellis Island in Upper New York Bay. Upon arrival, upper class passengers did not have to go through an extensive inspection process due to assumptions that they were less likely to pose a medical or legal threat. Steerage passengers, on the other hand, traveled in poor conditions at the bottom of steamships and underwent more scrutinous inspections upon arrival. Still, the process typically took less than 5 hours, and entry rates of the era were approximately 98%.

The journey was not simple for all, however. Legislation such as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, for instance, reprehensibly restricted immigration from China. Suspicion-fueled limitations continued to increase as World War I progressed, leading to laws such as the Immigration Act of 1917.

Still, Tintypes honors the struggle, contribution, and drive of immigrants. In fact, four of the five historical figures in the show are immigrants — Charlie Chaplin came from England, Bert Williams from the Bahamas, Anna Held from France, and Emma Goldman from the Russian Empire. In this spirit, I leave you with one of Emma’s lines from the show, a sentiment that — for many reasons — resonates in complicated ways today:

“How often I thought back to that last day of my journey to New York. Helena and I stood pressed to each other, enraptured by the sight of the harbour and the Statue of Liberty emerging from the mist. Ah, there she was, the symbol of hope, of freedom, of opportunity. She held her torch high to light the way to the free country, the asylum for the oppressed of all lands. We too, Helena and I, would find a place in the generous heart of America.”

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