“There’s something really magical about being on the Boston Common — watching nature change around you as it goes from dusk to night — and when Romeo says ‘I swear by the moon’ to look up and see the moon,” said Steven Maler, founding artistic director of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company talking about this summer’s performance of Romeo & Juliet.01-comm_shakes_transparent

A highlight of the summer for Bostonians and visitors, and a tradition for Shakespeare lovers are the free, fully staged productions of Shakespeare plays on the Boston Common by the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company.

A tender moment between Romeo and Juliet.
A tender moment between Romeo (John Zdrojeski) and Juliet (Gracyn Mix); photographer Evgenia Eliseeva

This year, the company is performing Romeo & Juliet from July 19 – August 6, 2017 at the Parkman Bandstand on the Boston Common. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sundays at 7 pm. Performances are free and open to the public.

Shakespeare’s drama is a story of doomed teenage love. The Capulet and Montague families have been engaged in a multi-generational feud, causing much distress and havoc in the city of Verona; but when young Romeo, son of the Montagues, meets Juliet, the daughter of the Capulets, their immediate love blossoms and accepts no barriers, with tragic results.

Steven Maler
Steven Maler, founding artistic director of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

“There are many exciting aspects to the performance,” Maler continued. “Our director, Allegra Libonati, likes to break boundaries, especially boundaries between audience and the stage. Being outdoors and not in a conventional theater gives the cast the ability to engage with the audience in a different kind of way. It’s also an extraordinary talented group of actors who were very carefully selected for the roles they’re in. It’s also an incredibly diverse cast.”

“We’re setting the play in the time it was written and we’re sticking close to the original text, yet it continues to resonate with today’s audiences,” explained Allegra Libonati, director. “The themes are timeless, and we are giving it a fresh and modern feel. I like to hear different ideas from the actors, and then edit the ideas so the audience really receives the story.”

Allegra Libonati
Allegra Libonati, director, Romeo & Juliet

The cast of Romeo & Juliet includes John Zdrojeski as Romeo, Gracyn Mix as Juliet, Brandon Green as Benvolio, Kario Marcel as Mercutio, Ramona Lisa Alexander as Nurse, and Equiano Mosieri as Friar Laurence.

Members of the ensemble of Romeo & Juliet are Alex Deroo, Adam Ewer, Cassie Foote, Tim Hackney, Keith Hale, Kaci Hamilton, Jamil Joseph, Stephanie King, Sarah Mass, Andrew Prensky, Kai Tshikosi, and Joey Tyler.

Beginning in 1996, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company presented productions of Shakespeare plays during the summer when local theater companies tended to be on hiatus from their regular seasons. The company’s productions were extremely well received and CSC has grown exponentially. Each season, close to 100,000 people see the performances on the Common.

CSC is now the Theatre in Residence at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and they have developed a number of outstanding programs including CSC2, a young company of 12 early-career actors who work with CSC for approximately six months, and the Apprentice Program, an intensive eight-week summer training program for young people actively pursuing a career in theater.

Adam Sanders
Adam Sanders, associate artistic director, CSC

“CSC2 participants are involved with the main production, they perform their own production, and participate in our outreach programs to middle and high school students,” said Adam Sanders, associate artistic director. “We hold a rehearsal at a school so students get a chance to talk to the actors and me about how we make choices. They’re fascinated — watching actors try new things and fail at things. For the actors, it also opens up prospects of teaching and service as part of their career.”

Outreach is in CSC’s DNA. In May, CSC2 performed student matinee performances of Julius Caesar in Babson’s Sorenson Theater and an evening performance for the general public. They are full productions using Shakespeare’s text, costumes, and sets. After each matinee, there is a “talk-back” with members of the cast.

For Romeo & Juliet, CSC2 members play the smaller roles and they understudy the main roles. They also mentor apprentice program participants. There is a real sense of community among the different groups.

“Twenty-eight apprentices are enrolled in this year’s program. In addition to classes in voice, movement, and text analysis, one-half of the group each night is on the Boston Common. We call them our Apprentice Ambassadors,” Sanders said. “They welcome the audience and help them get into the play by engaging them in a variety of ways. The audience starts arriving as early as 4:00 pm to get the best spots on the Common.”

“The partnership with Babson College is allowing CSC to expand even further with productions in the September to May timeframe,” Maler said, speaking of the company’s future plans. “We are working on a year-round plan two-to-three years out. We’re very excited about all the possibilities.”

Although Romeo & Juliet performances are free, there is a limited number of “Friends’ Section” reserved chairs are available for $60-75 donation per chair. For more information and to reserve chairs visit commshakes.org or call 617-426-0863.

To learn more about Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, visit its website: http://commshakes.org.