UNCSA students perform "Romeo and Juliet" with North Carolina Symphony

A creative collaboration continues between North Carolina’s premier arts conservatory and its premier symphony orchestra, when actors from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts join forces with the North Carolina Symphony (NCS) for a unique, semi-staged theatrical production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

NCS Music Director Grant Llewellyn conducts the orchestra, and UNCSA School of Drama faculty member Carl Forsman directs the actors for two performances in Raleigh and one in Wilmington. Raleigh performances are at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 27 and Saturday, April 28 at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East South St. The Wilmington performance is at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 29 at Wilson Center of Cape Fear Community College, 701 North Third St.

Carl Forsman

Carl Forsman directs student actors in a semi-staged production of "Romeo and Juliet" with the North Carolina Symphony.

Tickets are available online from Ticketmaster.

UNCSA and the symphony previously performed semi-staged productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” in 2017, and Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 2015.

“Grant (Llewellyn) often says that we’re creating a new art form,” Forsman said. “And I do think there is truth to that, as grandiose as it may sound. We’re trying to make something that is neither a concert nor a play – something different than either of them.”

Passion and poetry, dances and swordfights, comedy and tragedy, and a romance for the ages—the brilliance of Shakespeare is made even more powerful with evocative orchestral music by a dozen different composers. But merging the two fundamentally different art forms on stage is a balancing act for Forsman and Llewellyn.

“There are times when the music is telling the story, and times when the language is taking the show; moment by moment you’re choosing which takes the lead,” Forsman said. “We’ll do all the storytelling Shakespeare does, but we’ll do it visually and musically.”

We’re trying to make something that is neither a concert nor a play – something different than either of them.

Carl Forsman

For this adaptation, the North Carolina Symphony has selected a variety of pre-exist­ing musical excerpts as incidental music, to provide atmosphere and an emotive dimension to the play, transcending period and musical style. In support of Shakespeare’s drama, the orchestral selections provide a high-quality score: as entr’acte, accompaniment to the action, or background to the dialogue.

“Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ has inspired so much great music from so many of our finest composers, that we knew we would be spoilt for choice here,” said Llewellyn. “However, we were not looking just for beautiful concert music to reflect the play, but needed to get the right balance of words and music, so as to enhance the play rather than distract from it.”

Most of the music has been excerpted from works specifi­cally relating to the play: Berlioz’s symphonic poem Roméo et Juliette, Prokofiev’s ballet, Frederick Delius’ opera “A Vil­lage Romeo and Juliet,” and Dmitri Kabalevsky’s inciden­tal music. Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Rich­ard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde reference other star-crossed romances.

“In Carl Forsman, we are blessed with a fantastic director who completely gets the unique marriage of words and music we are presenting,” Llewellyn said. “With Carl, we have tried to identify the key dramatic moments, many of which need no help from music, but others of which we felt would work well with the orchestral contribution. This is necessarily a delicate process as we refine a fascinating new art form.”

Forsman directs 15 actors who are completing their third year in the School of Drama. Ben Weinswig of Mill Valley, Calif., plays Romeo, and Cricket Brown of Pittsburgh is Juliet.

Also in the cast are Malik Childs of Detroit; Noah Crandell of Minneapolis; Sydney Endicott of Los Angeles; Gracey Falk of Colfax, N.C.; Morgan Hahn of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Chris Holtkamp of Sasketchewan, Canada; David Lawrence of Mooresville, N.C.; Bailey Lee of Pittsburgh; Maddie Milligan of Irvine, Calif.; Claire Pruett of Columbia, S.C.; Dyer Rhoads of Portland, Maine; Katie Weinstein of Pennington, N.J; and Siena Werber of Lake Worth, Fla.

Abigail Holland, who is finishing her second year in the School of Drama, is assistant director. Emily Brink, a graduate student in the School of Design and Production, is costume designer.

by Lauren Whitaker

April 23, 2018