When the now-defunct Self Produced Theatre announced it was closing its doors with an unrealized production of an all-female production of Romeo & Juliet in the works, it took the spirit of collaboration to help bring the story to life
Players by the Sea partnered with Tyler Lewis, artistic director of Self Produced Theatre, Romeo & Juliet Director Amy Canning Love and Assistant Director Ashley Jones to create a space for this groundbreaking production. Romeo & Juliet will be staged Feb. 20-23 at Players by the Sea in Jacksonville Beach (www.playersbythesea.org).
“I knew the directors and the leads were passionate about the project, so I never had doubts that they were going to do everything possible to make it happen,” says Erin Barnes, who plays Lady Capulet. “Also, I like to think that our theatre and arts community here in Jacksonville is full of talented, hardworking, inspired people who, when it comes down to it, truly support and lift up one another. I was thrilled when Players by the Sea offered us a home, but not surprised. I’m so proud to be a part of a community that values its artists and takes care of them.”
In this all-female retelling of the classic tragedy Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare, young noble Romeo is heartbroken over a lost love. This sorrow is quickly forgotten upon meeting and falling for Juliet at a rival family’s party. The only problem arises when it is discovered that she is a member of that same rival court. The two teenagers defy their families and all odds in order to find love with one another through any means necessary.
“We keep the narrative as is, but change all pronouns, titles, and references to other people to the female pronouns and names. Therefore, we have a Prioress instead of a friar, Countess Paris, and the Princess who eventually banishes Romeo and chastises the feuding families,” says Barnes. “I was personally hoping for a male role – would love to play Mercutio! However, my part is Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother.”
For Barnes, it’s special because she’s performing for the first time alongside her 10-year-old daughter, Clara. “My kids have taken classes, camps, and been to school with me since they were born, so we’re using to creating art and theatre together,” she says. “In this case, it’s so wonderful for me to have this experience with Clara in particular, because it feels empowering and important to do an all-female take on a classic theatrical masterwork. I love her coming to rehearsals with me, and I love watching her work and learn and create something that I get to be a part of, but not in charge of, for a change. Mostly, when I’ve worked with my own kids, I’ve been a director, a musician, or a teacher.”
The entire Barnes family is involved in community theatre – dad Matt starred as Mr. Mushnik in Players’ production of Little Shop of Horrors, Erin was recently seen in Bridges of Madison County and son Cason appeared with his mom in 5 & Dimes’ Falsettos last year. She’s also expecting a new baby with husband Matt, who is also a member of the local theatre community.
“Mostly with the kids I’ve done camp shows and school shows. When they were little, they would tag along with us to the theatre for our shows. My oldest did Cinderella and Oliver! with me in Orange Park, and then the first show we did together as a family was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Northeast Florida Conservatory in 2016,” says Barnes, “This is my first one on one with Clara and we’re loving it! My favorite part of this show is just that we are castmates. We run lines, we talk about our props and costumes, we gossip on the way to and from rehearsals. It’s a treat.”
Clara, who plays Balthasar, is excited to be working with her mom and a cast that includes so many talented women. “I thought it would be cool to do an all-girl play. I’m playing Balthasar, who was a boy in the original script. He’s Romeo’s servant and friend. I didn’t really care if I was a boy or girl. I am just trying to memorize the lines,” she says.
“My mom has kind of a big part, so I like to watch her work really hard and we practice lines together. Since we have to do so much work, we get to spend lots of time together. She’s taught me to memorize my lines,” she says. “It’s kinda cool. I’ve worked with her for many years, so it’s not, like, surprising anymore, but it’s fun to be with her and all the other girls too.”
While she was familiar with the story’s basic plot points, mastering the Shakespearean language has been an exciting challenge for Clara. “I never read the book or anything, but I knew that Romeo and Juliet both die, and that it was because of poison or something. My favorite scene is the last one, after they die, when everyone is standing around sad and it’s kind of my character’s fault,” she says. “The language is really hard – trying to memorize my lines I actually have to figure out what I’m saying first!”
But ones of the best parts of playing Balthasar? Clara is learning to wield her character’s mighty sword. “I was not nervous! I’m really happy that get to use them. They’re pretty cool. One of the girls in the cast does sword stuff professionally, so she’s teaching us all about them,” she says. “I have a belt and like a big dagger that I get to carry. The swords are as tall as me and kinda fancy so I can’t really carry them in my belt.”
Barnes is hopeful that audiences will experience a “fresh perspective feeling that they’ve seen a completely different and worthwhile twist on a well-known and beloved story. I hope we surprise a few people!” Says Clara, “I hope they take away that all genders can do any kind of play they want to.”