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Image: Photos of SF State alumna Bonnie Rose Hough, professor Frank Bayliss and other images from Fall/Winter 2009 issue of SF State Magazine

Campus Beat

Reinventing Romeo and Juliet

Critically acclaimed director Mark Jackson returns to SF State with a fresh take on the Bard's best known story of woe


Mark Jackson (B.A., '93) doesn't know yet how much of Shakespeare's formal plot or text will end up in "Juliet," the provocative adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet" he's directing at SF State in Spring 2010, with six women and one man sharing the title role. But whatever shape this dance-theatre piece takes, the Bard's essence will remain.

"We're going to follow Juliet's emotional arc, her emotional journey. How we do that, we'll figure out in rehearsal," says Jackson, the inventive playwright, actor and director who graduated magna cum laude from the University in 1994. He earned the Theatre Arts Department's Outstanding Achievement in Directing Award and now teaches movement classes and directs student productions as a guest artist. Jackson's daring spirit and focused intensity have made him one of the most acclaimed and sought-after theatre artists in the Bay Area and on the experimental European scene.

Photo of Mark Jackson performs in "Faust, Part I" in May 2009. Photo courtesy Art Street Theatre.In May, Berkeley's Shotgun Players produced Mark Jackson's "Faust, Part I," his creative adaptation of the Goethe classic. He directed and performed in it alongside SF State students, alumni and faculty.

"We'll always return to the text as source material. But we may not need all the scenes," says Jackson. "The actors might create original text that they write. We might pull text from other sources. It could be we just do something with movement, or they sing a song, and that expresses that moment of Juliet's journey."

Perhaps a chorus of six Juliets will speak Romeo's balcony-scene lines to the seventh Juliet. Over-familiarity with famous works "can sometimes bury the fire inside these classic plays," Jackson says. "I want to reawaken that fire in a way that will be meaningful for people today. Part of the way to do that is to come at it from a different angle." A male Juliet surrounded by female Juliets "will create something," Jackson adds. "I don't know what yet."

Last May, Berkeley's  Shotgun Players produced Jackson's dazzling "Faust, Part I," his adaptation of the Goethe classic, which he performed in as well as directed. Half of the cast, designers and crew were alumni, students or faculty. Jackson calls SF State "a great training ground for the do-it-yourself ethic. Because resources are limited, you have to take the initiative.

That's why so many theatre companies have come out of State. You have to get out and just do it, make your own career. And there's pride in that. There's a scrappiness, this ethic of, 'We can do it, we can make it happen,' that gets fostered here." Allison Combs, a Theatre Arts major who acted in the stark production of Sophie Treadwell's "Machinal" that Jackson directed in 2008, is inspired and challenged by the director. "Mark is really good at pushing you slightly outside your comfort zone and helping you grow," Combs says. "He's very specific in what he wants, but he asks you to create it. Then he makes it what it needs to be at that moment in the play. It's a collaboration."



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