'Wild and raucous audience' encouraged at student matinees of Shakespeare's 'Romeo & Juliet'
School buses lined up outside the Strand Theatre in Dorchester on the morning of Friday, May 12, for a field trip matinee. Teachers organized students against walls of the lobby, so they could enter the theater and get to their seats in orderly fashion to watch the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Stage2's production of “Romeo & Juliet.”
When CSC associate artistic director Bryn Boice walked onto the stage for a pre-show director’s note, the house of middle and high school students erupted into boisterous applause. She encouraged the students to provide feedback for the actors in the form of cheering, laughing and clapping during this performance, and the audience followed her direction. There were audible “oohs” and gasps of anticipation as Romeo and Juliet shared their first kiss. All-out shouts for nearly half a minute during Romeo’s fight with Tybalt.
For students, the performance provided a new perspective on a text they had studied in class. After the show, they participated in a short Q&A with the cast and director Boice.
That’s the kind of engagement Boice hopes to foster through these student matinees.
“Being able to see a clear and concise telling of this famous play, it makes it less daunting in the classroom when they go back to read it or when they read it next year," she said. “When they get to see the Scottish play or they get to read ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in their next year, they’re not afraid, and they get into it. That’s my grand hope for the audiences of the Stage2 performances. That they leave their fear of Shakespeare behind.”
The matinee series is also an education for the actors onstage, many of whom are early in their careers. “They train with us," Boice says. “All of these actors are going to be in the show on the Common with us in ‘Macbeth’ this summer. And they get a sense of what it’s like to have a really wild and raucous audience when they perform in these shows. … And they are so excited by the cyclical energy that happens between the audience and the actor in a Shakespeare piece.”
Dylan C. Wack, who plays Friar Laurence in “Romeo & Juliet,” agrees with Boice. “Performing for these matinees and performing for these students is, I feel like, as close to being in the Globe with the groundlings,” he said. “They will let you know how they’re feeling. The energy is so palpable.”
The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company has been producing these student matinees for over a decade. For many in the audience at this matinee, it was their first time seeing Shakespeare performed live onstage. By the end of the show’s run on Friday, May 19, around 5,300 students will have seen this production.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated how many students attended the run of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Stage2's production of "Romeo & Juliet." We regret the error.
This article was originally published on May 18, 2023.