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Jan. 15, 2021

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Students put spin on ‘Romeo and Juliet’

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Jim Howard, a drama teacher at Westwood, Mass., High School, center, stands with his student actors outside the school's auditorium after working on their virtual performance of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."  From left are Ryan Kaplan, who portrays the friar, Lucy Vitali, who portrays Juliet, Howard, Cassidy Hall, who portrays the nurse, and Alex Mansour, who portrays Romeo.
Jim Howard, a drama teacher at Westwood, Mass., High School, center, stands with his student actors outside the school's auditorium after working on their virtual performance of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." From left are Ryan Kaplan, who portrays the friar, Lucy Vitali, who portrays Juliet, Howard, Cassidy Hall, who portrays the nurse, and Alex Mansour, who portrays Romeo. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press) Photo Gallery

WESTWOOD, Mass. — “Parting is such sweet sorrow” — especially for a theater troupe hoping to stage a live performance of “Romeo and Juliet” in the middle of a pandemic that has closed schools and required social distancing.

The solution, at least for high school students in the Boston suburb of Westwood? Make a movie version instead.

This fall, the Westwood Stage cast has been recording themselves reciting lines from William Shakespeare’s timeless story of star-crossed lovers. The audio tracks will then be set to images from a graphic novel version of the play.

Producing an animated film meant students didn’t have to worry about memorizing lines, costume changes or many of the other things that go into a live theatrical performance.

But it was still an interesting challenge to focus almost completely on their voice work, said Lucy Vitali, a 16-year-old junior who plays Juliet.

“This was definitely a good one to do Shakespeare for,” agreed Ryan Kaplan, a 15-year-old sophomore who plays the friar. “The focus is much more on the words and the terminology, which is what Shakespeare is all about.”

For Cassidy Hall, a 17-year-old senior who plays the nurse, the chance to remain active in theater, even in a modest way, has been a welcome dose of normalcy. She’s among the students who have opted to study at home rather than attend in-person classes this year, so her interaction with peers has been limited.

“It’s something I really look forward to,” she said. “Just to be able to rehearse with everyone.”

Cast members said there was never any doubt they’d find a way to perform this fall. After all, their musical production of “The Addams Family” last spring was canceled following its opening night performance because the state shuttered schools, businesses and many other institutions for weeks during the initial wave of the virus.

Jim Howard, the school’s drama teacher, said he turned to the animated film idea after it became clear that performing the play live wouldn’t be possible under the state’s current guidelines, which require 6 feet of separation between performers.

“How do you do Romeo and Juliet at 6 feet?” he said. “It’s a love story. They dance. There’s fighting. There’s a lot of physical interaction.”

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