Some 25 Westfield Theater students performed at the 25th annual Emily Jordan Folger Secondary School Shakespeare Festival on March 14 in Washington, D.C.
Although the Folger Shakespeare Festival is emphatically not a competition, a variety of recognition awards are presented at the end of each day of performance.
Westfield students Will Quinn (Romeo), Michelle Polera (Juliet), Chris Ercolano (Mercutio) and Chelsea Stenger (Benvolio) all received Distinguished Acting Awards, and the entire cast of "Romeo and Juliet/Slashed!" received the Peggy O'Brien Award. Instead of trophies, students received Shakespeare books.
Part of the fun of the festival lies in the variety of interpretations of the Bard's work performed on any given day — and yes, Shakespeare can most certainly be fun! Approximately eight D.C. metro area schools each present 30 minutes of Shakespeare's work on each day of the festival. The creativity, efforts and enthusiasm of each group performing are applauded, cheered, valued and recognized, and students have the opportunity to perform on the Folger Theater stage, which is Elizabethan in design.
The rules of the Folger Shakespeare Festival require that only Shakespeare's words are used, without modern paraphrasing. After that, creativity reigns. The Westfield director for this Folger performance, Zoë Dillard, chose to edit the classic "Romeo and Juliet" down to the obligatory 30 minutes, essentially turning a long tragedy into a short comedy, while preserving the characters and most dramatic moments of the play — hence, the title: "Romeo & Juliet/Slashed!" While this short version madly dashes through the family feud-induced plot between the Capulets and the Montagues, the actors and audience are obliged to make unlikely transitions from tragedy to parody. Just when we settle in to the reality of Juliet's impending death, we hear the squeak of a rubber alligator instead of seeing the expected dagger. As the immortal "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" fills our ears, an ensemble cast member (Sarah McNicholas) leaps across the stage with a sign reading: "Famous Line." Tybalt (Jonathan Goldsmith) duels with Mercutio (Chris Ercolano) using a plastic light saber. Instead of displaying ongoing compassion, the Friar (Ryan Day) tends to (stage) slap every other cast member with whom he comes in contact. Though students wore mostly traditional Renaissance period costumes, Romeo's family (the house of Montague) wore Chuck Taylor athletic shoes, to indicate a more playful personality, compared to the more somber, occasionally abusive, house of Capulet. Throughout the performance, Stage Manager, Heather McGrath, skillfully plays an unlikely "soundtrack" of modern neoclassic/heavy metal music. The Shakespeare-loving audience at the Folger roared with appreciative laughter that would have made William proud, after he finished rolling over in his grave. As Westfield student, Paul Bozzo (Paris) stated after the experience: "It was unlike anything we have ever done before."