- Reporters Desk
By Stephanie Serna, RLn Contributing Writer
Elysium Conservatory Theatre Director Aaron Ganz speaks with passion when he describes his production of Shakespeare’s play about the young star-crossed lovers. It runs from March 31 to April 30 at the company’s new site — San Pedro’s historic Ante’s Restaurant.
“There’s no greater ‘juice’ when it comes to the poetry of theater and language than Shakespeare working at his finest with Romeo and Juliet,” Ganz said.
But Ganz is quick to note that such a production requires the extra juice of raw truthfulness because of audiences’ “gloss of familiarity” with the story.
“The thing about Romeo and Juliet is: Why would you do that again?” Ganz wonders aloud. “Everybody has done it! It’s not only theatrically performed, but it is so done that it has permeated other disciplines (music, dance, film) — and other aspects of culture.”
For Ganz and the entire Elysium company, the answer is: “Romeo and Juliet is the truth of Love.”
I’ve had the privilege to watch ECT rehearse their interpretation of the exquisite Shakespearean play and see it evolve over the past two months. What a beautifully alive experience it has become. My advice is to see it as often as possible to rediscover each time more intimately and deeply the love of Romeo and Juliet — and all the characters.
“This company is at a place where we want to tackle that raw complicated humanity that comes with the fullness of love,” Ganz said. “And not just the romantic love that Romeo and Juliet feel,” Ganz said. “But human love, family love, love of friendships, love of life, love of God, love of destiny and taking care of your family’s fate, standing up for loyalty.”
The play has many of the wonderful markings of an Elysium production — the delicious use of modern music, engaging choreography, interactive moments with the audience, and creative use of the now beautifully expansive space. The latter two attributes are the key ingredients of how they’ve been able to stage productions that felt real. And it doesn’t resort to gimmicks as has been found in “modern” productions in order to make the classic play more accessible to current audiences — like changing the setting to outer space or New York City or changing the language to modern vernacular. Instead, the company’s strength lies in the discovery of truth and aliveness in the moment.
Most people know Shakespeare as a brilliant playwright in history but few refer to the historical context of his time when the Church of England considered playwrights and actors to be of immoral character. As Ganz points out, “Elizabethan audiences stood at the ready for guards to burst in and shut down the production for questionable acts and/or words performed — It was alive! It tingled! The story was something that was felt!”
“Our mission here at Elysium is that theater needs to be FELT, it has to be experienced, not watched,” he said. “And so, we use that nature of trying to unlock the taste of love — the raw truth, the complicated truth of love. We try to unlock it theatrically here using the spine of Shakespeare’s language, embracing the story without changing it an iota but asking ourselves how do we as an audience today — how do we as performers today — taste love?”
Ganz assures his audience that they do not have to have complete understanding or even appreciation of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan poetic language, but rather just allow it to guide and speak to their soul.
“Shakespeare is the language of the human soul,” he said. “There’s nothing more satisfying than the poetry of Shakespeare’s words. They speak the truth he was able to anticipate. It’s the best dance partner that knows just what you’re going to feel in the moment and just gives you that ‘flick’ — that little jolt that shakes out your truth and lets it be heard in the most beautiful poetry possible.”