On a Thursday in early October, I had the opportunity to witness the impact of theater and Shakespeare on students from Circle Pines, Deer River, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Watertown, and Waconia. The vantage point was perfect as I sat in the last row on the main floor of the Wurtele Thrust Stage to experience the Guthrie Theater’s student matinee of Romeo and Juliet. It was a packed house with over 1,000 students in attendance.
Early in the production, gasps came from the audience as the play was brought to life and the set transformed with the fountain descending into the trap door and the town of Verona rotating and revealing Juliet’s bedroom. The famous balcony scene in Act 2 with Juliet’s (Kate Eastman) line “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name, Or, if though wilt not, be sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.” Was then followed by Romeo.
Romeo (Ryan-James Hatanaka) says to the audience, “Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?” Then a unanimous “speak, speak” came from the students.
As the play progressed, the audience verbally responded which confirmed that they were enthralled by the story.
This 2 hour and 15-minute production was one of many student matinees as part of Shakespeare in American Communities. Schools had the option to extend their field trip to the Guthrie and participate in a pre-performance presentation by Draper DJ Gramann who discussed his role in the theater and the creative process of creating the costumes and then a post-show discussion with members of the cast. In addition, numerous local schools received pre- and post-visits by teaching artists in the classroom and from actors in the production.
In 2015, the Guthrie Theater piloted their Minneapolis Public Schools Partnership to reach 9th graders across the district by providing free tickets and bus transportation. Of the more than 9,000 students who attended Romeo and Juliet, 2,700 were students from this ongoing partnership. It extended from beyond schools in the Twin Cities area to schools as far away as Sioux Falls and Harrisburg, South Dakota, and Edinburg, North Dakota.