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London's Chris Hayes directs Grand Valley's 'Romeo & Juliet'

  • Grand Valley students Sean Kelley and Anna Walters perform as Romeo and Juliet

Posted on September 21, 2009

London’s Chris Hayes is guest director of Grand Valley State University’s production of “Romeo and Juliet.” The play is just one element of Grand Valley’s annual Shakespeare Festival, now celebrating its sixteenth year.


Performances are scheduled October 2-11, at Grand Valley’s Louis Armstrong Theatre, in the Performing Arts Center, on the Allendale Campus. See ticket information below.


Hayes has enjoyed an international career as a theatre director for more than 40 years and has more than 200 productions to his credit. He directed the U.K. premiere of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in the early 1990s, working with a mixed American and English cast. This led to the establishment of London Theatre Exchange, with a group of colleagues, to promote international productions, new writing, and cross-cultural training.


“It is easier to work with American actors learning the language of Shakespeare than with English actors learning how to loosen up their stiff bodies,” he said.


In August, Hayes came to campus for auditions and workshops with Grand Valley students. He said they covered practical aspects such as “tasting the language of Shakespeare.”


“It’s akin to singing a musical. You don't use your every day voice; you sound the words in a different sort of way,” he said. “You have to do the same with any theatre, but especially Shakespeare, and to do it in a way that seems natural.”


Hayes said he doesn’t get overly technical, but draws students’ awareness to Shakespeare’s choice of words and how their very sound carries the hardness or softness of the scene. “The audience isn’t aware of it, if it’s done well. It is just one of the many subliminal messages the actors send out – the way they physically embody the words. In a good production it all melds together, and with the set design and lighting, into a seamless whole,” he said.


Though not a modern adaptation, this production of Romeo and Juliet resonates with today’s audience as a play about a society at war, a couple in love, and the affect they have on the war and the war has on them.


The set was designed with Hayes and John Despres, over a period of three months, via Internet discussions on Skype, since Despres was in Grand Rapids and Hayes in London. “We had never met before doing that,” said Hayes. “It was a strange way to do it, but it worked. He’d hold up sketches and we could see each other. In the end it was a great collaboration. The set is very chameleon and transforms in some unexpected ways as the play unfolds.”


All actors in this production are Grand Valley students. Sean Kelley plays Romeo and Juliet is played by Anna Walters. Stage Manager Ronda Lehan is a Grand Valley graduate. Pre-show discussions will precede the evening performances on October 2, 3, and 10. Beginning at 6:45 p.m., Jo Miller, production dramaturg and Grand Valley associate professor of English, will speak in the Van Solkema Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center.


Tickets, from $6-14, are now available. For more information about performances, tickets, or additional Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival events, call (616) 331-3066, or visit Other Shakespeare Festival events include a conference with keynote address by Curt Tofteland, a screening of the film, “Shakespeare Behind Bars,” a Renaissance Faire, and more.




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