by Jake Russell Thompson, Voices Found Co-Founder and R&J Director
The first question I have to answer when I start a new project is “what’s the soundtrack?” Even when the show doesn’t call for music, in order to get started I have to come up with a Spotify playlist. Music sets the tone and establishes the atmosphere. Silence is powerful, but so is music, and their balance is important.
Act I: Punk is Dead
Johnny Rotten broke up the Sex Pistols because punk had let him down:
“I felt cheated, and I wasn’t going on with it any longer. It was a ridiculous farce. The whole thing was a joke at that point.”
Disillusioned by the state of the genre, artists went back to their art school roots. They created new recording methods and integrated other mediums into their work – performance art and music journalism especially. The radical spirit of punk rock found radical new forms.
Act II: Post Punk's Dead, Too
It had a good run. Some of the most influential styles and sounds emerged from artists creating off-the-wall, unique work. They integrated performance art into their concerts, relied on fans and journalists to spread the word, and they created their own labels to produce and release their work. Between the years of 1978 and 1984 (in my estimation), post punk and new wave set a new standard for “smart” music
Act III: But Romeo and Juliet Aren't (Yet)
As just about all of us do, I know what happens to Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet. In less than 100 hours, it’s love at first sight and a balcony, three murders, and the most romantic double suicide ever written.
Not to say quality productions of Romeo & Juliet aren’t out there. I’ve seen several, one of them here in Milwaukee. But come on. For every brilliant production of anything, there are a bunch that flat out suck.
That's very frustrating because it's such a wonderful love story.
It’s unlikely we’ll– I should write in “I statements.” It’s unlikely I’ll find the exact human being who fits me 100% perfectly forever and ever, but I like to believe that soul mates exist, and that I’m one half of a whole. That can get depressing, because it means I’m walking around as only a piece of myself. It’s not about finding the person who completes, but rather compliments you. I think this play is so popular because we get to see two people find the one, the exact one, who fits the bill.
So how the hell do can something so perfect go so wrong so quickly?
I want to find out with this production.
ACT IV: OPPOSITION COLLISION (WHICH IS COINCIDENTALLY THE NAME OF MY NEW BAND…)
This play tells us that opposing forces can never coexist. Moon/Sun, Love/Pain, Montague/Capulet – they will never, and can never, play nice.
Romeo and Juliet both have monologues about this, my favorite being the scene in which she finds out he’s killed her cousin. Her relief at Romeo’s survival meets the hurt his actions cause, and turns into one of Shakespeare’s best existential breakdowns:
Beautiful tyrant! Fiend angelical!Dove-feathered raven, wolfish-ravening lamb!
The play tells us that there’s a defined line between black and white, yet constantly reminds us that things are never, ever that simple.
Act V: The Mixtape
Now we’re back to the original question: “what does it sound like?” and I want R&J to sound like the frustration of Joy Division, the mania of Gang of Four, the attitude of Siouxsie and the Banshees – with The B-52s' infectious fun and Devo‘s witty sarcasm. Post punk was a lot of things, but it started with a bunch of artists wondering why music couldn’t be better, more expressive, and not full of corporate punk artists singing songs about how terrible The Man is.
In fair Verona, the angst and violence of a generations-long feud has become the glossy covers of magazines and Urban Outfitters t-shirts. When they throw down (and they do, a lot), it’s because it’s what they’ve always done.
The greatest love story ever told is the story of two teenagers who grew up in a hatred reshaped by generations of conflict, to the point where no one really cares why they fight anymore. Romeo and Juliet are the first ones to challenge it. Because surely life can be more than this, right? There’s got to be something out there that’s more complicated, more intense, more passionate, right?
Romeo and Juliet are starcross'd post punks.
Romeo & Juliet will play during the second weekend of August, 2016 at the In Tandem Theater. Buy tickets here, and subscribe to our blog to follow the production and get updates on what we’re working on!
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