Neon lights and the colors of young love will brighten Forest Park over the next three weeks, when Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents the bard's "Romeo and Juliet" for the first time since 2001.
The play runs June 1 through June 24 at 8 p.m. every night except Tuesdays. A prelude performance starts at 6:30 p.m. before each show. All performances are held on this year's outdoor stage in the Shakespeare Glen, near the St. Louis Art Museum.
The set this year mixes modern pop sensibilities with architectural features inspired by Verona, Italy, where the love story and tragedy play out.
“I wanted the set to overflow with love, to feel like the audience is impacted by the visual idea of love,” said Elena Araoz, the New York–based director, actor and playwright chosen to direct the play for Shakespeare in the Park. “It really smacks you in the face with this idea of love and exuberance.”
To develop the details, scenic designers Margery and Peter Spack used virtual reality glasses to walk through modern-day Verona on Google Earth. The two-story stage houses a stylized tower, a network of metal scaffolds, stairs painted extravagantly with flowers and a fake moon that changes with the scenes. Industrial elements mix with architectural notes inspired by buildings from the first century A.D., Margery Spack said.
Araoz said the set is designed to remind the audience of “that first love that you have in middle school, high school — that when you think about it now, you smile, partly embarrassed, and partly excitedly in remembering it.”
Fun facts about the set
There’s no red. The set bursts with pink, gold, fuschia, blue, green and purple. But red, Araoz said, evokes “adult love” and blood, making the tone too mature and too tragic.
It has tidbits of Verona. The neon curlicues take their shape from street lamps in the Piazza Bra, the largest plaza in the city. The giant flowers painted on the tower were inspired by a gate of locks at La Casa di Giulietta, where tourists now go to profess their love to Juliet. And architectural elements throughout the set mirror the Scala della Ragione, a gothic staircase in a palace that once housed Verona’s city hall.
It’s in aesthetic disrepair. Parts of the tower are crumbling; metal scaffolding surrounds it. The tower represents “disarray” and the “deconstruction of society at Verona,” caused by strife between the Montague and Capulet families, said Araoz.
It moves. The glen’s trees are covered in colorful streamers, which catch the wind. The set highlights the trees behind it. The moon at the center of the tower changes as time passes in the play.
Follow Kae on Twitter: @kmaepetrin