Actors From the London Stage come to South Bend

For the second time this year, Actors from the London Stage [AFTLS] visited the University of Notre Dame for a three-day tour featuring Shakespeare’s classic play Romeo and Juliet. The show was performed in Washington Hall and ran from March 1–3. 

For those new to this type of production and Shakespeare experts alike, “the AFTLS company ethos and mission is simplicity at its finest. Five actors take the stage, with minimal props and costumes, and direct themselves in a performance of a complete Shakespeare play, with each actor portraying multiple roles … [The AFTLS company] arrives at your school on Monday, and leaves on Sunday. During the week, they present up to 3 full-length performances of a Shakespeare play.”

AFTLS hopes “to interpret Shakespeare’s text as a blueprint for performance, lifting the words off the page as Shakespeare originally intended.” The minimal nature of the performance allows for the narrative to be clearly communicated in a way that opens a space for imagination and creative interpretation. Their company attracts students, faculty, and staff from across the tri-campus, as the AFTLS is a staple performance each semester.

Romeo and Juliet portrays the saga of young lovers, forbidden to be together due to their families being overtaken with bitterness and rivalry. As two teenagers in 14th century Italy, they are overcome by passion and driven to be together by whatever lengths necessary. In the end, Romeo commits suicide, secretly coming out of his exile from Verona, Italy, as he is held under the false pretense that Juliet took her own life, unable to bear his exile alone. Yet, finding what Romeo had done for her, Juliet, too, kills herself, joining her lover in death.

The Director of Student Success at Holy Cross College, Catherine Ficker, commented to the Rover, “All that comes to mind is how well they depicted love looking upon money as poison, and death as relief from the agony of heartache. They had minimal props, yet they were able to communicate the story based on emotion, facial expression and body language. It was impressive.”

Junior Christina Young adds, “They engaged with the audience like I’ve never experienced. The actors came off the stage, ran around the audience, even sat in the chairs. They even cracked some jokes in the front row. It made you feel like you were inside the story.”

AFTLS’s ability to welcome a diverse range of emotion, allows the audience to enter into the drama and tragedy of a classic Shakespearean play. The troupe’s personality and vitality on stage paved an entrance into the life, love, and sorrow between Romeo and Juliet. 

In an interview with the Rover, sophomore Danny Martin said, “AFTLS’s performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was incredibly engaging and artfully executed. The troupe’s integration of innovative elements like music and stage directions, served only to enhance my experience as an audience member, not detracting from Shakespeare’s work but further captivating me in the famous love story.”

Twice a year, AFTLS travels around to different colleges and universities throughout the United States to perform and teach Shakespeare’s plays. Organized by “Shakespeare at Notre Dame,” the goal is to “interpret Shakespeare’s text as a blueprint for performance, lifting the words off the page as Shakespeare originally intended.” 

One actor, Tom Wingfield, visited the classroom of Dr. Stephen M. Fallon, the John J. Cavanaugh Professor of the Humanities. Professor Fallon is currently teaching a course on Shakespeare and Milton for students in the Program of Liberal Studies. For the class, each student was asked to prepare and perform a scene from either Shakepeare’s Hamlet or Much Ado About Nothing.  

Danny Martin, a student in Fallon’s class, said of the experience, “Romeo actor Tom Wingfield was generous enough to workshop scenes assigned to us, giving us insider tips to engage our own audience in our performance. It was rewarding to see the advice he offered us so expertly displayed in his dynamic performance on stage.”

AFTLS will be touring again next year, performing As You Like It in the fall and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in spring 2024.

Carmie Cataldo is a junior at Holy Cross College studying theology.

Sophia DiPiazza is a senior at Holy Cross College studying theology and biology.

Photo Credit: AFTLS promotional material

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