The Play’s the Thing

The classic tale of young love and loss comes to Shaker in a modernized production

Juniors Emily Kenville and Tony Jones rehearse a scene as Romeo and Juliet in the high school’s large auditorium on Oct. 25.

Mimi Ricanati

Juniors Emily Kenville and Tony Jones rehearse a scene as Romeo and Juliet in the high school’s large auditorium on Oct. 25.


The love story that has withstood the sands of time, the romance that bloomed in the desert sun, the movie that still did not win Leonardo Dicaprio an Oscar, is coming to Shaker Heights High School’s stage.

“Romeo and Juliet” is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays.

The story of the teenagers’ romance has been preserved since 1594, retold in adaptations ranging from animated gnomes to gaudy films set in the ‘80s.

Playwriting Program Director Christine McBurney is directing Shaker’s adaptation of the tragedy.

McBurney has directed three Shakespeare plays at the high school, including “Twelfth Night,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” and “As You Like It.”

“I made it a goal for the department that every four years we should do a Shakespeare play so that every student coming through the theatre arts program would have a shot at performing in this style,” McBurney said. McBurney hopes to make this production of “Romeo and Juliet” more intriguing to a high school audience by setting it in the 1950’s, delving into the culture, hair and music of the time period.

“It’s not the poodle skirts of ‘Grease’ and it’s not the hippies of ‘Hair’, it’s somewhere in between,” McBurney said.

Among McBurney’s goals for the production is a central theme of “transitioning.”

“If you look at U.S. culture, there was a big transition between the 50’s and 60’s,” McBurney said.

“I think the periodization will work really well because at the turn of the 60’s, the American teenage rebellion culture began to form and I think this fits perfectly into ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” junior castmember Gus Mahoney said.

“We’re also including a jig at the end of the play,” McBurney said. She’s excited for the audience to experience it.

At London’s Shakespearean theatre, The Globe, cast members of “Romeo and Juliet” perform a jig at the conclusion of each show.

It’s not the poodle skirts of ‘Grease’, and it’s not the hippies of ‘Hair’. it’s somewhere inbetween.

— Christine McBurney

Since Shakespeare doesn’t have an estate on his plays, there wasn’t a lengthy process to acquiring the rights to “Romeo and Juliet” — unlike Shaker’s adaptation of the opera Les Miserables last fall.

“We aren’t altering the text. Student actors will speak Shakespeare’s language even though we are setting the play in the early 60’s,” McBurney said.

By sticking to the original staging, the production stays true to Shakespeare’s intentions. This way, the audience doesn’t get confused when a cast member says “sword” but holds up a modern day weapon.

“There is nothing different about the ‘style’ of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ It’s your standard Shakespearean early modern English,” sophomore Samira Colbert said.

McBurney is confident in the strength of her cast, despite the lack of rehearsal time.

“Every time we rehearse, we make new discoveries and solidify choices,” McBurney said.

“I will say that it is increasingly difficult to schedule rehearsals. Everyone seems to be so overextended these days and of course everyone is also a high school student first and has school and home responsibilities even before co-curricular activities. I wish we had more time.”

McBurney anticipates a large audience turnout for this production mostly because Shaker’s 9 Honors English classes read “The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.” Plus, people love the story of “Romeo and Juliet.”

“I’ve seen it and performed in it at least six times,” McBurney said.

However, McBurney still finds the story timeless. When a student said, “‘Romeo and Juliet?’ That’s so cliché,” McBurney replied, “I don’t think people your age with big passions are cliché. Do you?”

The story of “Romeo and Juliet” continues to sweep audiences away with its language, humor and passion.

Performances start with a free student preview on Nov. 18, and official performances run from Nov. 19-21. Tickets can be purchased a week before opening night at

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