This October, Technicolour Theatre Company is staging a contemporary production of Shakespeare’s classic ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Directed by Timothy Wynn, this reimagination of Shakespeare’s infamous star-crossed lovers features a cast of young actors from the Technicolour Youth Ensemble. Focusing on the challenges young people face in 2020, the adaptation showcases a modern retelling of characters who inherit a world divided by issues on gun violence, hateful political regimes, a global pandemic, and human rights atrocities.
Theatre Haus sat down to chat with the show’s four lead cast members – Ella Oliphant (Rosaline), Poppy Nowlan (Juliet), Jaryn Oliphant (Romeo) and Flynn Nowlan (Benvolio) – to understand their own personal challenges in rehearsing a new text, how Shakespeare fits in a modern world and how the pandemic has impacted their artistic practice. Read on to see how young artists themselves are adapting to this new theatrical production and environment.
Even for experienced actors, taking on Shakespeare can be a momentous task. Not only does the text have its own meaning, but adapting to new stage characters can be tricky. For Ella, Poppy, Flynn and Jaryn, the biggest challenge when interpreting ‘Romeo and Juliet’ came from understanding their characters intent and the script itself.
“Rosaline is obviously not an original ‘role’ in Shakespeare’s version of Romeo and Juliet, as she is only named during the beginning as Romeo’s forsaken love. Unlike the rest of the well-known characters throughout the play, Rosaline doesn’t have an already understood story by the audience previously. This by giving the challenge to myself to create a new name, a new story, and a new direction to the play.” – Ella Oliphant
“I think there were two big challenges with taking on this role. The first one was learning the script; Shakespeare is not the easiest text to learn. I also found it difficult to always be in Juliet’s emotional state. I personally have never loved someone as much as Juliet loves Romeo and I definitely have not been in a position where I would want to take my own life. It has definitely been challenging to portray a character with such emotional depth where I don’t have the exact personal experiences to draw on.” – Poppy Nowlan
“This is my first time performing Shakespearean text, and sometimes it is very difficult to understand the meaning of the words. Shakespearean text is also beautifully poetic, the pronunciation of the words often depends on how many syllables are in the line – the iambic pentameter. We needed to spend time on text evaluation and understanding. Translating the text was important so we could fully develop our characters and relationships onstage. It has been extremely challenging and rewarding. I wouldn’t hesitate to take on another Shakespearean role.” – Flynn Nowlan
“The biggest challenge has been combining all of the scenes, events and the tumultuous emotions of Romeo, through the way I speak and perform my lines, to convey his story effectively; particularly in the latter section of the play.” – Jaryn Oliphant
Embarking on this new experience with Technicolour Theatre Company, the cast will perform a four-show season at the Helensvale Cultural Centre from October 8. Getting into character proves to be a challenging but rewarding process for the cast, who each found similarities and differences between themselves and the characters.
“I would consider myself like my character. We are around the same age which makes her easy to relate to and the issues with respect to youth in the play that Rosaline and I share. Also, I feel I relate to Rosaline’s loss for love, as she will put her heart on the line for her loved ones (like Tybalt) in where the same energy or interest isn’t always returned.” – Ella Oliphant
“I think that there are more differences than similarities with Romeo and I. Romeo is quite emotionally immature and has quite a temper and he easily gets overly upset, angry or heartbroken. He is also anticipating the worst out of situations. One thing I think we have in common, is we tend to second guess ourselves, and doubt our abilities and perhaps not always make the best choices in how to effectively resolve an issue.” – Jaryn Oliphant
“I think I am like my character in many ways. I think I am easy going and I always try to avoid conflict. I often find myself trying to be sure my friends are being amicable when differences of opinion create friction in our group. It is ok for us all to have different opinions, but respect for each other is very important.” – Flynn Nowlan
“In some ways, I would say I’m like Juliet. I’m 14, I’m young and carefree, however, I don’t want to be married to someone at this age whom my mother and father chose for me. I am also different in that I can’t see myself dying for a boy.” – Poppy NowlanWhile some aspects of their personalities are similar to the characters they play on stage, other roles in the show are also relatable.
“I would say I most relate to Rosaline, Juliet’s best friend in our adapted work. She is such a loving and caring friend and I aspire to be as understanding to my friends as Rosaline is to Juliet when she goes through rough times. However, Rosaline can also be very emotional at times, which I can definitely relate to being a teen.” – Poppy Nowlan
“I feel I relate most to my own role – Rosaline – her emotional journey to finding herself and the way she will put herself on the line for her loved ones; as even in her hate, attempts to redeem forgiveness. Also in respect to her age, there is so much in the world that Rosaline doesn’t know yet – why her emotions tend to get the better of her – and how much it impacts her relationships; in likeness to myself, and that even nearing adulthood, there is still so much I don’t know.” – Ella Oliphant
“I think I relate most to Benvolio. He is very loyal to all his friends and isn’t one to get involved in other people’s fights or disputes with one another.” – Jaryn Oliphant
“Surprisingly, I feel like I can really relate to my own character Benvolio. I always try to remain level-headed and stay away from negativity. Benvolio is known as the ‘peacemaker’. I feel like a peacemaker sometimes when I am amongst my social circles. We are all at an age now where we are forming our own opinions and views and sometimes people do not see eye to eye. If we can learn to respect that people can have different opinions and that is ok.” – Flynn Nolan
While auditioning for a stage production can be a considerably anxious time, this young cast also had to face other obstacles that appeared along the way, including the ongoing threat of COVID-19, which significantly impacted auditions, rehearsals and performances. Australian Government advice and health guidelines restrict audience capacity for shows and the amount of physical rehearsal time is reduced. Not to mention, the blocking of scenes needed to be revised to accommodate adequate social distancing.
As such, the cast conducted much of the initial work from home including script analysis and learning lines – even hosting digital script readings. Conquering this feat, the young cast remained extremely adaptable and resilient. With the support of a wonderful production team and crew, they are excited to finally be presenting this modern adaptation of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in October.
“We are extremely lucky that we have been able to continue and I am grateful we have an amazing team of people working behind the scenes to be sure we are able to perform. I know it has not been easy.” – Flynn Nowlan
Perhaps most notably, the auditions for the production were done entirely through digital media. This presented a new digital space for the young actors and provided a valuable opportunity for growth.
“I was quite nervous originally about the digital audition process, not having done it before in a professional setting. However, I think it was extremely useful for myself in the future, now knowing how to prepare and present myself in a virtual manner.” – Ella Oliphant
The cast appreciated the new digital audition environment and the flexibility of a self-tape audition, which facilitated multiple videos takes and helped with managing nerves. But, on the other hand, there were also some shortfalls to the digital audition process.
“The one thing I didn’t expect however was how long it took me to produce the video. Compared to a normal audition, where you only have about a 15-minute slot and then it’s complete – for a digital process when you have to do retakes, fix lighting or camera issues, it ends up taking an entire afternoon.” – Ella Oliphant
“You may think it would have been easier to have an online audition process as you didn’t have to nervously walk into an audition room in front of a panel and you could have multiple attempts at the scene. But it proved to be quite the opposite as auditions are difficult to do on camera! You instantly become a perfectionist. In each take, the good and the bad seems to be amplified on film. Also, when you’re doing a face to face audition, you get an awesome adrenaline rush which can really help you in the audition. I also missed the human connection with the panel. You get to know them a little bit and they get to know you.” – Flynn Nowlan
“I did miss the immediacy of feedback and seeing the reactions of the panel.” – Jaryn Oliphant
Despite the new audition process and challenges with the Shakespearean text, each young ensemble member landed a leading role in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. This new production, devised and adapted by Timothy Wynn, presents a modernised version of the classic story that’s reimagined for a 2020 audience. With this in mind, the cast explained why Shakespeare’s work is still relevant today.
“Just by putting a contemporary twist to his words, you can create something so recent to the viewers and the people of 2020. To the issues explored in his work, whether it be for power, love, hate, revenge – each of his plays intends s a broader message that can translate to any time.” – Ella Oliphant
“His language may be poetic, but then again, so is rap. People, no matter which era they come from, will always experience the emotions of love and hate, there will always be issues and problems in life to overcome. Time doesn’t change that.” – Flynn Nowlan
“Not only does it still convey and represent modern-day relationships, problems and politics, but he also created over 1,700 words we use today!” – Jaryn Oliphant
“Many contemporary issues within that make it relevant today like gun violence, school shootings, the hate and the death of Romeo and Juliet that are provoked by the carried feud by generations of Montague and Capulet with only the youth that is able to see the love within.” – Ella Oliphant
“Drugs are a major issue in today’s world, firearms are a major issue in today’s world. Senseless murders and suicides occur on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be that way. Romeo and Juliet’s death was senseless and didn’t need to occur.” – Poppy Nowlan
“There are many groups of people engaging in brawls and fights; we see it every day on the news and in social media, our politicians, groups at school or families in the suburbs. We regularly see through the news riots on the streets and many people dying senselessly. We all need to learn to love one another and not hate. We should be helping each other.” – Flynn Nowlan
“It represents the amount of destruction meaningless anger can cause, and the social dilemmas that create ruptures in relationships and disrupt everyday life.” – Jaryn Oliphant
With timeless themes of fate, love, death and hate it is easy to see how a modern adaptation of this work could have much to contribute today. Most importantly, the young artists believe that any modern-day audience could learn from their upcoming rendition of this classic tragedy:
“I think we can learn that there is no need to have enemies in the world, hate generates more hate. Happiness and kindness is the key to success in life.” – Flynn Nowlan
“We can learn about the idea of ‘hate’ and how the actions it inflicts only leads to disaster, as well as how we shouldn’t judging people by a name – Capulet or Montague – (not a book by its cover), that if everyone was more accepting and didn’t look at what you were born into, we could look at the true in people – relevant also to the social issues of race, status and sexuality still today.” – Ella Oliphant
“I’ve learnt that arguments and rash decisions are never the way to solve a problem or issue because it will only lead to more hatred and conflict.” – Jaryn Oliphant
“Romeo and Juliet present many strong points we can learn from. One of the most important ones that our production cleverly demonstrates is that adults and parents really need to listen to children and not allow their past to affect our future.” – Poppy Nowlan
As young actors juggling school, family, social lives, performing and now the coronavirus, it’s no doubt there would be some challenges along the way. For Ella Oliphant, this proved particularly testing as she is currently studying in Grade 12 at school. Ella said she balanced her ATAR mock exams with research and learning lines (a nice distraction we’ll admit!).
“It depended on the day but sometimes I would focus only on schoolwork to the best I could and other times I was learning lines during class. But it is so definitely worth putting in that extra effort for something that you love.” – Ella Oliphant
By taking part in this new adaptation, the cast learned and practised valuable time management skills that will surely serve them well into adulthood as they progress their careers. Of course, it also helps that they have such supportive family members that help them succeed:
“I am also lucky to have an amazing mum who is always on top of everything.” – Poppy Nowlan
Despite the challenges associated with balancing commitments, it seems that they still find time to enjoy themselves. With the rise of the new social media platform, TikTok, it’s not surprising these young artists used social networking to express their creativity online. Jaryn very eloquently explains how he enjoys using his break time “just hanging out with the other cast members, eating or singing songs with everyone to get the vibe going.”
There’s no doubt that Technicolour Theatre Company’s upcoming production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ will be a show that audiences won’t want to miss. These young artists have poured their hearts and souls into some challenging characters in the hopes that audiences will leave the production taking away something important about the state of the world in 2020.
Ella, Jaryn, Poppy and Flynn are so very excited to share their production with audiences for four shows only at the Helensvale Cultural Centre from 8 – 10 October 2020.
Ella (17) is taking on the newly-created role of Rosaline. Ella’s dream role is Liesl from ‘The Sound of Music’. She has always wanted to perform as one of the Von Trapp children and harmonise to the song ‘Eidelweiss’.
Poppy (14) loves theatre, dance and musical theatre and is excited to be performing the role of Juliet. Poppy’s dream role is the carefree Sophie from Mamma Mia.
Flynn (12) can’t wait to perform Shakespeare for the first time as Benvolio. Flynn’s dream role is Albus from J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’.
Jaryn (13) is very excited to be playing his first major lead as Romeo. Jaryn’s dream role is Aaron Burr from ‘Hamilton’.
For more information about this new production and to purchase tickets, visit Technicolour Theatre Company’s website.