SF State News {University Communications}

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Reimagining the Bard in 'Juliet'

March 11, 2010 -- Mark Jackson, one of the Bay Area's most-sought after playwrights and directors, returns to his alma mater with "Juliet," a piece that takes the story of Romeo and Juliet and turns it on its head.

A photo of seven castmembers from Mark Jackson's 'Juliet.'

The seven Juliets from Mark Jackson's "Juliet."

Using Shakespeare's work as a jumping off point, Jackson cast seven Juliets -- including one male -- and set the performance in an Italian home for wayward girls. While keeping Juliet's emotional arc, Jackson sought to shake up the Shakespearean classic that has become standard fare in classrooms and performed on stages around the world.

"Actors stand there and speak, and it can be beautiful and nice, but for me it feels like a cliché," Jackson (B.A. '93) said. "'Romeo and Juliet' is about passion and love and hatred and these strong emotions that need a physical outlet. The goal is to release the fire in what Shakespeare wrote, and to be true to the impulse and not the letter."

To release that passion, Jackson challenged his actors to embrace the physical style that has become his trademark. The actors helped create emotion through movement and the rhythm present in Shakespeare's work. During rehearsals, Jackson challenged the cast to create choreography and gestures that expressed an emotion. In one scene, while an actor is performing a monologue, Jackson has other actors performing choreography to the words spoken.  

The process has been physically demanding of the Juliets. Jackson said three actors reaggravated old injuries, and parts of the choreography had to be reworked after a Juliet pinched a nerve in her lower back. Despite the aches, Jackson said he is pleased with the product. 

"Shakespeare's text is the source, but it's very much something (the students) created," Jackson said. "The vast majority of the movements, the students made. It was just my job to edit it and suggest a few things. You need people who have it in them to come up with crazy things."

That experimental spirit has made Jackson one of the Bay Area's rising stars. His work has been performed around the world and he has earned praise from local media for his daring work.  

He said that while "Juliet" may look unfamiliar to many in the audience, the challenge for his cast remains the same. "It gets back to basic acting, the issues are still the same. It has to be truthful no matter how abstract the movement or text is."

For more information, visit http://creativearts.sfsu.edu/events/1412/juliet

-- Michael Bruntz


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