LAYTON — One thing we can tell you about this particular version of the classic love story “Romeo and Juliet.”
It’s a good bet there will be no embraces, passionate or otherwise. And definitely no kissing between our two star-crossed lovers.
“There are no kisses,” confirms Brandon Stauffer, executive director of On Pitch Performing Arts, which is staging — virtually — the Shakespeare classic May 15-23. “But there are moments that lend themselves so well to putting in some news stories about how wearing a mask is important.”
Due to the continuing COVID-19 restrictions, OPPA’s “Romeo and Juliet” — which was originally going to be presented in the theater at 587 N. Main St. — will be offered exclusively online. Audience members purchase tickets to watch a prerecorded, streaming version of the show on a specific night, then receive a code on the evening of the performance to watch at their leisure — anytime between 7:30 p.m. and midnight that day.
“Romeo and Juliet” tells the story of lovers from two feuding families, and that couple’s ultimate, tragic end. It’s one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. Running time is about two hours.
That this particular production shows up now, during the pandemic and social distancing of 2020, is something of a fortunate happenstance. A year ago, when the play’s producers first started meeting to discuss their concept of “Romeo and Juliet,” director Rachel Holdaway said she wanted to update the story by involving social media and similar technologies. With a story originally published in 1597, this new production includes contemporary topics like Zoom calls and cloth face masks.
“We’re lucky that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was the choice,” Stauffer said. “Because if it were a big musical we were doing now, we’d be struggling with all sorts of stuff. But Shakespeare is public domain, so we can let our imagination run wild with the production.”
Initially, producers had the idea of projecting text messages and other social media memes on the stage floor or back wall of the theater. When social distancing forced the play to go online, Stauffer says it was a relatively simple transition to move everything to a computer screen.
After the novel coronavirus came along, the cast of about 20 was suddenly forced into Zoom teleconferencing rehearsals. Then, more recently, when social distancing restrictions were eased somewhat, small groups of cast members were able to get in some limited rehearsals at the theater — rehearsals that were recorded on video.
Between those theater rehearsals and the Zoom, FaceTime and Marco Polo app chats among characters, OPPA was able to put together a unique and fitting Shakespeare play for the current times.
“So it’s a combination of in-person stuff filmed at the theater and a bunch of different platforms used remotely — from texts to Snapchats,” Stauffer said.
Director Rachel Holdaway confesses getting the show ready for production has been a wild ride.
“This show really took on a life of its own the past few months,” Holdaway is quoted in a news release. “We’ve dealt with online rehearsals, cast changes, and a ton of curveballs thrown at us. I’m excited to share what we’ve been able to create.”
One of those curveballs, according to Stauffer, was the sudden, unexpected death of a cast member. Becca Eskridge, who was cast as Friar Lawrence in the production, passed away earlier this spring. Stauffer says the production has been dedicated to her memory.
In addition, all proceeds from the upcoming production will be donated to Ronald McDonald House Charities, according to Stauffer.
“We talked about this a year ago and just wanted to give back this year,” he said. “We’re hoping ticket sales pick up.”
Stauffer said they’re also relying on the honor system among patrons, and he hopes the fact that the show is for charity will encourage each person to purchase his or her own ticket.
“I hope people don’t just buy one ticket for their whole family to watch,” he said. “Hopefully, they buy the number of tickets needed for everyone watching.”
Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for students, and $12 for seniors and military, available at www.onpitchperformingarts.com.
On Pitch Performing Arts bills itself as Layton’s only live theater.
For more information, call the theater at 385-209-1557.