Shakespeare at the iron mills

We’re going to see a local production of Romeo and Juliet, staged in the fabricating shed at Sloss Furnaces. The former iron mill, active from 1882 to 1971, has become a Birmingham arts venue.

Elizabeth Hunter’s Shakespearean company, Muse of Fire, has been staging annual Shakespeare plays that draw on the city’s dancers, musicians, comedians, and other artists to swell the scene. The results can be quirky — the witches in Macbeth summoned belly-dancing familiars, for instance — but to me it’s part of the American tradition of appropriating and naturalizing Shakespeare as one of us. And I guess the belly dancers are an extension of the dancing and singing that Elizabethan performers did between the acts of a play, more to keep the audience friendly than to advance the plot.

This video gives you a sense both of the style of this Romeo production and the scenery at Sloss. Sharrif Simmons performs the Prologue.

Modern productions tend to make 13-year-old Juliet slightly older than Shakespeare created her. I gather that this show will buck the trend and situate both young lovers in middle school.

Social media will play a role in the staging. Juliet has a Facebook page, and the audience will be able to text or tweet messages that will appear on a scrolling on-stage display. That’s the plan, anyway. It’ll make for an interesting melding of 19th-century and 21st-century technology.

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