You would be forgiven for thinking that something had gone terribly wrong when students are dueling with books, clambering over tables and making a lot of noise in the library. But the audience of this year’s fall play, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, knew it was just part of the performance being enacted by the 20 King’s Players* among the bookshelves of the HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Library.
Inspired by the unique architecture of King’s Academy, and searching for an intimate space to perform the play that would allow the audience to be right in the middle of unfolding drama, theater teacher and director Alison Trattner decided that the library fit the bill.
“In the library — that nurturing, neutral zone — books open our mind to the ways of others,” said Trattner. “Over time we created this amazing symbiotic relationship with the library.”
Not only were the librarians involved, suggesting using books as props and even taking on minor roles in the play, but by using the library’s central spaces, the audience surrounded the cast, leading to a great deal of interaction. The cast invited the audience to do things with them, such as eat and dance during the party scene, and walk outside to Juliet’s grave in the penultimate scene of the play.
Trattner believes that the story of Romeo and Juliet — two young lovers whose romance and lives are doomed because of the senseless grudge between the families — is just as relevant today as it was in Shakespeare’s day. As violent clashes erupt in countries around the world where hatred, prejudice and anger is rife, Romeo and Juliet seemed like an obvious choice for the school play.
“It seemed like a good idea to do a play about young people dying for a cause that they don’t even understand,” said Trattner. “The families have hated each other for so long they don’t even remember why, it’s just become a way of life to hate each other. But it’s interesting that it is the young people who question it, and have an opinion about it.”
To Aya Arafat ’18, who played the wise, nature-loving and peace-making character Friar Lawrence, the play gave a new perspective on what theater and acting could be. “You build this intimate relationship with the character you are playing, you get to live in their shoes,” said Arafat, who added that she feels she has a lot in common with her character. “It’s really magical what it does to you.”
Although participating in the play was very time consuming for the cast and crew, particularly with three-hour daily rehearsals in the run-up to the show, Arafat had been eager to give theater a try.
“I’ve always loved acting, but never went on stage because I used to have stage fright,” she said. “When I came to King’s that all went away, because I’m doing choir and evening dance, and I’m not afraid of standing up on stage anymore. The experience has been wonderful.”
For first-time actor Sevan Balian ’18, who played Juliet’s father Lord Capulet, acting has helped him develop skills, such as learning to express and control emotions, and how to communicate and interact with his fellow actors.
“It’s not just about acting, I try to engage the other actors in my role and embody that character. It’s challenging to make it real and not just a play,” said Balian. “It’s about knowing how to talk and listen, to understand people and make people understand you.”
Having held many leadership roles at school, including his current role as head proctor, Balian said his character’s role as head of the Capulet family was easy for him to understand, but the dynamic of being part of a cast and performing on stage together was not without its challenges.
“It develops a skill of breaking down social barriers, which unfortunately we have in every school,” he explained. “But in theater, I feel, why should you care. Put yourself out there and see what happens.”
With around half of the cast new to acting, Trattner believes that the key to students losing their inhibitions on stage is to not think about themselves and how they look and sound, but rather to focus on what they want from the other characters. Throughout the process of bringing Romeo and Juliet to life, which started with them working on understanding and mastering the challenging Shakespearean script, she has seen a significant change in the actors, as a cast and individually.
“I’ve watched the self-consciousness fall away from so many students in this play who’ve gone from being terrified to being sure of themselves,” said Trattner. “They’ve gone from being terrified of the language to being able to command it and make it their own.”
Actors*: Zayd Lahham ’19, Nadia Salfiti ’21, Elyana Konsul ’18, Sevan Balian ’18, Fiona Hansen ’19, Esam Alqudah ’18, Abraham Ayed ’19, Rui Wen ’20, Tara AlShawwa ’20, Rakan Haddadin ’19, Qynaana Maurcot ’21, Ahmad Ismail ’21, Seif Albreizat ’20, Kamal Fakhoury ’20, Abdullah AbuOmar ’18, Dania AbuHashish ’20, Natheir AbuDahab ’21, Natasha Bakri ’18, Aya Arafat ’18, Celina Shteiwi ’21
Crew: Seokhyeon Hong ’20, Omar Talhafeh ’20, Rui Wen ’20, Letong Qian ’20, Quin Yi Lou ’18, Rayyan Atieh ’19, Zaid Hassan ’19, Nuo Lu ’18, Marita AlNimri ’21, Salma AlKaabneh ’20, Jessica Alsusi ’20, Kleobetra AlZoubi ’20, Seif Ariqat ’18, Alicja Borzyszkowska ’18