Setting the Scene

Kate Evans | September 27, 2016 | Story Galleries and Performance National

In a forthcoming production of Romeo and Juliet, Montalvo Arts Center promises to take the concept of audience participation to another level. A series of performances by We Players, the innovative theater troupe formed by Ava Roy at Stanford University in 2000, will capitalize on the magnicent setting in Saratoga: Theatergoers will follow the Shakespeare characters throughout the grounds, immersing themselves in the scenery and storylines—from donning masquerade masks at the Capulet’s ball held in the Italianate mansion Villa Montalvo to surrounding the sword-fighting action that takes place on the Great Lawn to witnessing the heartbreak in the Love Temple, where Juliet’s tomb will be on view.

“The first time I saw Villa Montalvo, it was talking to me—screaming at me,” recalls Roy, whose company famously presented an islandwide staging of Hamlet on Alcatraz in 2010. “I’d been looking for a home for Romeo and Juliet for years. I had to get out of the fog and mist of San Francisco and, here in the South Bay, I found Italy.” Nestled within acres of wildwood and sculptured gardens, Villa Montalvo—built in 1912 as a country home for former U.S. Senator and San Francisco Mayor James D. Phelan—sits on a gentle hill, overlooking the Great Lawn, which stretches down a slope to the cypress tree-lined formal garden below. “Because we create depth of perspective and a larger sphere of performance,” Roy continues, “the audience is encouraged to look around them at all of the multidimensional elements: what other characters are doing over on that hill, or watching a servant set up for the ball.”

According to Angela McConnell, Montalvo’s executive director, “This is unlike anything we’ve ever staged here,” she says. A production that involves open-air sets, as We Players’ does, comes with its challenges—including seemingly simple logistics such as where to store costumes and props—as well as its rewards. “We will experience this classic in a new and intimate way,” McConnell adds. “Where we, as the audience, are usually removed, here we will see every expression, share experiences and feel a connection to the artists.” Oct. 6-16, Thu.-Sun., tickets $40-$80, 15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga, 408.961.5858

Originally published in the September issue of Silicon Valley

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