Shakespeare Actors Up for the Challenge

FULTON, NY – What will an actor do to give you, the audience, a memorable experience? Maybe better to ask ‘What won’t an actor do?’ It all looks so easy right?

CNY Arts Center actors are digging for answers to this question in rehearsal for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set to open Friday at 8 p.m. and run through August 24 at 3 p.m.

Romeo (Knate MacKenzie Roy) lies dead over his beloved Juliet (Nikki Bolio) in the final scene of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Romeo (Knate MacKenzie Roy) lies dead over his beloved Juliet (Nikki Bolio) in the final scene of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Think you’re unique or odd if you don’t like Shakespeare; or that anyone who does like Shakespeare is odd? Truthfully it’s hard even for actors who take the challenge head-on.

Learning the words is nothing compared to understanding the implied meaning and adjusting the way something is said to help contemporary audiences hearing the words for the first time grasp the plotline.

It helps to be familiar with the story and Romeo and Juliet is the most accessible of all Shakespearean tales. It continues to be reinterpreted on stage and screen, most recently in 2013 starring Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth in title roles. Ed Westwick, Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti also star in the film.

The MTV generation will remember Baz Lurman’s 1996 version starring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio which critics panned as gaudy and overemphatic. Franco Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet with Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting became a celebrated film in 1968 and was the most successful screen adaptation with four Oscar nominations and two wins, losing best picture and director to the film “Oliver.”

Without the closeup of the camera, actors rely heavily on the words, the dialogue, to deliver the message supported by appropriate mannerisms and physicality but not so with Shakespeare. When the language needs interpretation, the physical context becomes critical to the storytelling. If we can’t see something, we listen harder. If we can’t hear, or understand something, we examine visual cues closely for added meaning.

Such is the actor’s challenge and also what makes Shakespeare more fun. What more can an actor bring to his character to capture every nuance and subtlety of what Shakespeare is asking him to say? How big does my character need to be? What will translate from stage to audience so emotions and laughter and tragedy are shared in the immediate moment?

Done right, it’s magical and the audience is part of something greater than the individual.

This is why theaters do Shakespeare and why a culturally enlightened audience will support the effort. Shakespeare demands much of the actor and his audience. It reminds us, in a world of spoon-fed instant gratification and reality TV, an actor mounting valiant effort to draw us into Shakespeare’s world with every scene can be as exhilarating as watching an athlete go for the gold.

Cheers from the bleachers spur the athlete on to greater effort just as applause gives feedback to the actor giving everything he has worked weeks to create. Will he make the goal or fall short?

It’s just Shakespeare and we know how the story ends but we don’t know how the actors will get us to the all-too familiar ending.

That’s the journey CNY Arts Center invites you to take when Romeo and Juliet opens Friday at 8 p.m. and continues Saturday at 8 p.m., August 17 at 3 p.m., and again a second weekend, August 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. and closing August 24 at 3 p.m.

The production will be held at CNY Arts Center, 357 State St., through the designated theatre entrance on Park Street.

For more information, reservations or tickets visit or call 592-3373.