The show must go on: Students put a spin on ‘Romeo & Juliet’

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WESTWOOD, Mass. (AP) — High school students in a Boston suburb are making an animated film version of “Romeo & Juliet” after their plans to stage a traditional performance were scuttled this fall by the ongoing pandemic.

The cast at Westwood High School has been making voice recordings of the scenes, which will then be set to images from a graphic novel version of the timeless Shakespeare play.

The school’s drama teacher, Jim Howard, says he turned to the animated film idea after it became clear that performing the play live wouldn’t be possible under the state’s current guidelines, which require 6 feet (two meters) of separation between performers.

Howard says he found an illustrated version of the play by Classical Comics, a British imprint, while searching online, and the creators readily agreed to let the students use the images for their project.

Over the last few months, the cast has spent three days a week rehearsing their lines and getting acclimated to the quirks of the Bard’s English before laying down audio tracks in the school’s closet-sized, soundproof music rehearsal rooms.

They wrapped up recording last week, but not before a small setback: The school was forced to close for in-person classes recently after some students — none in the cast — contracted COVID-19.

Cast members said there was never any doubt they’d find a way to perform this fall.

After all, their musical production of “The Addams Family” last spring was canceled following its opening night performance because the state shuttered schools, businesses and many other institutions for weeks during the initial wave of the virus.

The students just wrapped up their recording sessions and hope to produce the finished product next month.

Lucy Vitali, a 16-year-old junior who plays Juliet, says the challenge for the cast was concentrating on their voice work.

For Cassidy Hall, a 17-year-old senior who plays the nurse, the chance to remain active in theater, even in a modest way, has been a welcome dose of normalcy.

She’s among the students who have opted to study at home rather than attend in-person classes this year, so her interaction with peers has been limited.

Howard says he’ll now send the best of the audio tracks to a technician who will merge them with the comic book images. He expects the finished product will run about an hour long and be ready sometime next month.

Since a proper premiere isn’t possible under pandemic restrictions, the cast of 20 is planning to gather in the school’s auditorium for a viewing.

The film will also be posted on the troupe’s website, where Howard hopes it can replicate some of the joy and community of live theater.

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