Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Balcony Scene

The famous Romeo and Juliet balcony scene appears twice in my play. The first time, it’s in rehearsal, and James/Romeo and Claire/Juliet still loathe each other, and basically fight the whole way through it. We staged it yesterday, and my two actors nailed the conflicts spot on.

In the second act, they perform it for real, with only a very few minor cuts to the original Shakespeare dialogue. The only thing on stage will be the balcony, a trellis covered with white roses and leafy vines, and the moon and the stars. And hopefully…that floaty mist stuff that ripples over the ground and sort of spills off the stage. I want it to be all about the words…the discovery, the profession of devotion…even though it’s between two kids who met each other only hours before, and are far too young to have any perspective whatsoever on what it means to turn your life upside down for another person at a moment’s notice.

That said…I do believe in love at first sight, first moment, first conversation, first shared cup of coffee. At thirteen? Questionable. But possible, I think. Even as an adult, though, it’s hard to know if that “moment” that you connect with someone is meant to be forever, or for a season, or just for the moment that it is.

The for-realsies Balcony Scene in Wherefore Art Thou? comes just as the two main characters are recognizing their real connection to each other, even as the boy knows that the girl is his through-the-mail sweetheart. He spends much of Act Two trying to win her over, and by the balcony scene, he’s done it, confusing her heart for the meeting with the through-the-mail boy the next day. A lot needs to be accomplished through this scene - Claire and James’ discoveries of each other, Romeo and Juliet’s discoveries of each other, and a conveyance of the timelessness and placeless-ness of that moment of love igniting - how no matter where you are, there is still moonlight and starlight and mist.

Shakespeare makes it so easy to say so much. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea/My love as deep; the more I give to thee,/ the more I have, for both are infinite.” I have always been a little bit embarrassed by my love of Shakespeare, feeling that if I were to profess it I would sound too snobbish or elitist or something. But my chances to “do Shakespeare” with kids lets me sneak in my own effusive adoration of these words words words - words that no one has ever been able to weave together to express so much about humanity and love and life and the colors of the light.

I have seen a lot of Shakespeare plays, some great, some horrible, and some botched by my very own sixth graders. (But at least they DID it, right? It's all about the experience, in the end.) The production of Romeo and Juliet that they did at UMass in 1992 was actually one of the best I've ever seen. (Could have had something to do with its well-timed underscoring of my own dramatically romantic life at the time...maybe.) I remember there was a lot of white in that play, and that it was clean and beautiful to look at, and that its starkness eliminated distractions from the plot and the words. The characters were colorful, and the backdrop was plain, and the acting was as good as any that I've ever seen anywhere else. I loved that, and it has stayed with me since. Ours won't get to that level, obviously, but in my own judgement, it's something to shoot for.

The winter play this year almost ended up just being Romeo and Juliet, but having just done Midsummer a few years ago I wanted to wait before I did another Shakespeare. Then it was almost The Shop Around the Corner, and then the two ideas just collided, and here we have it - one month from actually hitting the boards. As much as it’s been an opportunity to write something that has some semblance of originality, it’s been equally the opportunity to show yet another layer of Shakespeare’s genius…that 400 years later, what he said about love and connection and the yearning to fuse with someone is still true and real and inspirational.

Those are some of my thoughts on Shakespeare this morning. Now, I will go read Percy Jackson and the Olympians to my sixth graders and wish for a much bigger cup of coffee. Hope you have a lovely day.


  1. I liked your blog. Go Shakespeare for kids!

    I will tweet about it.

    Author of Shakespeare for Kids books

  2. Hi Brendan! Thanks for writing. I took a peek at your book series on Amazon.com. Looks really cool! I have my 6th graders do an activity similar to that - breaking down the "Shakespearean" into modern language. This would be a great model to launch them into that activity. I'm looking forward to checking out your website as well! ~Kelly