The annual Shakespeare production at University of the Fraser Valley is a proud theatrical tradition in Chilliwack.
A contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet opens this week at the UFV theatre directed by sessional instructor Paul Gélineau.
The play features UFV students Eli Funk (Romeo) and Rebecca MacEachern-Eastwood (Juliet) in the lead roles.
Gélineau directs a vibrant cast of 24, with another 21 working behind the scenes on design, sets and more for Romeo and Juliet.
“Stylistically it’s set in a post-apocalyptic world, but the script has not been changed,” he said.
What he did was edit the production down to a tight two hours, instead of a version that’s more than three hours long.
Chilliwack School of the Performing Arts student Bethany Meyers is in the role of Queen Mab.
In the classic Shakespearean tale, the famous pair of star-crossed lovers from feuding families take their own lives amidst a backdrop of chaos and violence.
One of the elements that makes this production especially interesting is the actors who play Romeo and Juliet are a couple in real life as well.
“I think it allows them a chance to explore their characters in ways that are both intimate and viable,” said the director.
There are love poems to be read and staged battles to mesmerize audiences in the UFV Theatre space.
“Everybody understands how much it means to love and how much it can hurt to love, and everybody understands feuding,” said Gélineau, who has garnered local, national, and international recognition for his fight direction.
Modern audiences are “hard-wired” to understand visual and auditory stimuli, even storytelling, differently than they would have in the Dark Ages.
“To experience Shakespeare in a contemporary context makes them see more in the text than if it was set in another time like 1920, or 1520,” he said. “I think it makes it accessible in a way that gets people excited about the language.”
While the original play was first written by Shakespeare around 1595, UFV Theatre’s production has been adapted for a more up-to-date crowd by setting it in a futuristic Verona.
“It’s always a good idea to find a theme that will speak to the audience, which in this case is a university or academic crowd.
“So by setting it the way we did somewhere in the future, with our world collapsed, people go back to living in clans again.”
The passionate themes that have thrilled people through the ages remain intact.
“The important thing to remember about Shakespeare is that its themes are timeless,” he said. “I’m so pleased with how they’ve taken the concept of this play made it their own.”
Preview performances March 5 and 6. Opening night and reception is on March 7 at 7:30 p.m. performances continue on March 8, 14, 15, 20, 21, and 22. The two Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. are on March 16 and 23. Student matinees at 12 p.m. are on March 12 and 13. Tickets $11 to $23 (plus service fees) 604-795-2814 and at www.UFV.ca/theatre.