Young Readers discuss ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ experience theater performance by CTC



Adam McKeown retells William Shakespeare’s tale of young love without the difficult prose and vocabulary of Old English in The Young Reader’s Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet.

Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Young Readers will discuss McKeown’s adaptation of the classic at 4:15 p.m. today in the Alumni Hall Garden Room. Representatives of Chautauqua Theater Company will visit the Young Readers to perform their own version of the play, which will be based on McKeown’s book and Shakespeare’s original work.

“We’re doing a lot of work physically, as well as textually on the verse, and trying to really make it accessible,” said Marlee Koenigsberg, directing fellow at CTC.

Five actors from CTC will interpret the classic story, each assuming multiple roles.

This performance differs from Saturday’s The Romeo & Juliet Project; the CTC actors participating in the Young Readers version will not be in this weekend’s performance.

CTC has spent time thinking about how to represent the text in a way that makes sense, while simultaneously exposing the Young Readers to Shakespeare’s language.

“It’s really taking from that page and bringing it to life,” Koenigsberg said. “We’ve taken the text from the book, but then also layered in the Shakespearian verse.”

McKeown’s adaptation goes beyond the traditional text by adding in scenes that make it easier to understand the storyline.

“I wanted to honor that, because I think [McKeown] does it so beautifully and it is so helpful to read it in that way,” Koenigsberg said. “We have a William Shakespeare-type character who is setting the framework and guiding the action along as we add in [McKeown’s] story with this narrator.”

McKeown structured the story this way to make up for the lack of character development in the traditional text. McKeown, an English professor at Tulane University, used his familiarity with the text to fill in any gaps.

“When I sat down to write it, I thought, ‘Well, I’ve imagined how this play works as a story a thousand times from teaching it and seeing it performed,’ ” McKeown said. “So I just filled in the details that I have been marinating over the years.”

Also lacking in the original text are stage directions for actors. McKeown found this difficult in each of the Shakespeare adaptations he has published, but especially so in Romeo & Juliet. He has also adapted Hamlet,  and The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. 

“You have to read it on some level like you are a stage director,” McKeown said. “You have to imagine how this is put together, because Shakespeare doesn’t tell us.”

Adapting a play with such mature subject matter for Young Readers while still staying true to the story was a challenge. But McKeown was able to work around these difficulties without creating a story that diverged from the play’s original intent.

“I didn’t want to mess with it too much,” he said. “I didn’t want to turn it into ‘Adam McKeown’s personal riff on Shakespeare,’ I wanted to pick up that book and say, ‘OK, that’s a lot like the play.’ ”