Jocelyn Lee / UC Irvine The portable New Swan venue--an open-air Elizabethan theater-in-the-round that seats 125--is reconstructed and prepared for the Shakespeare festival.

Shakespeare under the stars

UCI’s third annual summer festival to feature fresh takes on ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and ‘Twelfth Night’

Arguably William Shakespeare’s best-known and most iconic play, “Romeo & Juliet” has inspired countless adaptations on the stage and screen. Now the romantic tragedy will launch the third season of UC Irvine’s New Swan Shakespeare Festival, with M.F.A. students Adam Schroeder and Leslie Lank bringing the title roles to life and Calvin MacLean directing.

Lank, a third-year grad student in drama at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, is a bit of a New Swan veteran, having appeared in “King Lear” and “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” last summer. Schroeder is a first-year grad student in drama with five years of professional acting experience, including with the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

“Leslie and I got to know each other this past year, and having a history as friends is nice,” he says. “Onstage, we try to connect as Adam and Leslie. Cal calls the [process] a river. You just jump into the river and let it take you wherever it leads. Once you connect with your partner onstage, it’s going to be beautiful.”

Adds Lank: “It’s so much fun to work with Adam. He’s someone I communicate with very well.” Her interpretation of Juliet relies on a close reading of the Bard’s words.

“I think she’s so smart and passionate and has a very unique sense of self,” Lank says. “The trick was sweeping away the preconceived notions and stereotypes and looking at Juliet as a human being. Shakespeare gives us everything in the text. She’s not a spoiled brat or a naive child; she’s a young woman dealing with the experience of first love, which is something we can all identify with.”

In fact, rather than simply portray the title characters as petulant teens, the production examines the culpability of adults in “Romeo & Juliet.”

“Those of us responsible for young people must advise them wisely,” says MacLean, artistic director of the Clarence Brown Theatre in Tennessee and former artistic director of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. “Parents and parental figures in this play are responsible for how the tragedy unfolds and must bear the brunt of the pain and guilt felt in the aftermath.”

In addition to the classic tale of star-crossed lovers, the New Swan Shakespeare Festival will stage a reimagined version of “Twelfth Night,” helmed by UCI drama professor Eli Simon, artistic director of the festival.

“We’re setting the playin the silent film/early talkies era, and it will feature an original ragtime piano score to be played live on stage,” he says. “This is a high-spirited romantic comedy imbued with deep passions and probing truths.”

All performances – which run about two hours and 15 minutes – are at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays between July 10 and Aug. 30 in UCI’s open-air Elizabethan theater-in-the-round. The portable venue, seating 125, is on Gateway Plaza, next to Aldrich Park and near Langson Library, at the center of campus.

Free seminars on play-related themes will be held adjacent to the theater before select shows. Julia Lupton, professor of English, and Georges Van Den Abbeele, dean of the School of Humanities, will host one Saturday, July 26, called “Why Shakespeare? Why ‘Romeo & Juliet’? And Why UCI?”

Lupton will also conduct noontime seminars Aug. 13 and 20 in Langson Library, where guests can view early printings of the Bard’s works and explore his dramatic poetry.

The New Swan Shakespeare Festival, she says, is “a great opportunity for humanities and the arts to collaborate, and with the involvement of the UCI Libraries and administration, the plays and the theater really belong to the campus and the community.”

For tickets and more information, visit www.newswanshakespeare.com.

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