Reimagining of Shakespeare explores trans issues

By Ellen Rossow

rossowel@mnstate.edu

But soft, what show from yonder theater breaks? It’s “Romi/eo and Juliet,” a contemporary adaptation of the Shakespeare classic.

According to its stars, sophomore Emily Carlson and freshman Alexis Schmitz, the famous story of love, tragedy and iambic pentameter has been transformed into much more than that.

MSUM’s version of the tale tells the story of young Romi, a transgender teen struggling to find acceptance. Identifying as male, but born in a female’s body, Romi strives to become Romeo. Schmitz plays this role.

“The show starts out with a kind of weird montage of awkward childhood memories and getting kicked out on the street,” she said.

But Romi finds acceptance in a gang of misfits, The Montagues, and finds a love that makes him feel whole.

The integration of this social issue into the show is a huge part of what makes it unique. While the show has been a challenge for the actors, they also believe it’s an important thing to do.

“It really takes Shakespeare and makes it deal with transgender issues, and the issue of figuring out who you are, being who you really are and being comfortable in your own body,” Schmitz said.

For her, the greatest challenge of the show lies in trying to portray a character vastly different from herself.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be kicked out of my own house, to not feel comfortable in my own body, to not have support through my entire life,” she said. “One of my biggest fears is not being able to portray that correctly for the people that this does emulate.”

Carlson agreed being in a production of this nature is challenging.

“It is intimidating to do a production like this, because it is such an issue in our society today,” she said.

Like many MSUM students, Carlson’s upbringing left her inexperienced when it comes to matters of sexuality.

“I grew up in a small town,” she said. “There weren’t any trans people around me. Learning about that and how to react to that has been interesting.”

While MSUM’s adaptation brings a lot of new ideas to the classic piece, it utilizes the original text.

“It’s intimidating to do the text because it is so famous,” Carlson said. “Especially with the balcony scene, people come to see that scene.”

Schmitz agreed.

“We have people coming and going throughout rehearsals for tech and from that first ‘but soft’ I can feel everyone thinking, ‘Oh! This is where I pay attention now.’”

Despite any challenges the show has posed for the pair, they believe they are ready for opening night tomorrow.

“It is going to be really entertaining,” Schmitz said. “There are so many great actors interpreting the text.”

While the show makes an obvious statement regarding a social issue, the production is filled with humorous moments as well.

“I think it will open a lot of eyes,” Carlson said. “It’s going to be sweet.”

Following each production is a Q and A panel for open discussion featuring professionals and the show’s cast.

“Romi/eo and Juliet” opens at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and runs through Saturday, Feb. 28 on the Gaede stage. All MSUM theater productions are free for MSUM students.

Both Carlson and Schmitz agreed MSUM students should take the time to see the show.

“I am sick of Shakespeare being done the same way,” Carlson said. “I think it’s cool to have this twist.”

Schmitz agreed. “It’s going to be sick.”

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