Romeo and Juliet — theatre for a star-crossed year

15th January 2021

By Steven Krolak

(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–The show must go on.

Those words cannot be attributed to Shakespeare. But they encompass the persistence and passion that have combined to bring his tragedy of Romeo and Juliet to the stage at IU Southeast, in this most star-crossed of years.

In this production, Daniel Hill has re-crafted Shakespeare’s play as a one-hour virtual film for online distribution.

The play premieres tonight, January 15 at 8 p.m., on the Ogle Center website at and will remain viewable through January 31.

“Amid a global pandemic, I was given the daunting task and immense opportunity to create a piece of theatre,” Hill said. “It needed to be public domain, as we could not pay royalties or charge for tickets. It had to be done safely, socially distanced, and follow all COVID and University guidelines. And it had to be material students could relate to.”

No simple task.

In the end, Hill settled on Romeo and Juliet as the perfect vehicle for the time we are living in–“one of the oldest and most famous stories of teenagers who have been torn apart, just like our world today.”

To make this happen in a time of social distancing, Hill recognized at the outset that interesting times call for interesting measures. He conceived of a multimedia approach that would maintain emotional impact, push aesthetic boundaries and keep everyone safe.

“What audiences will notice that makes our production unique is that it blends theatre, video-conferencing, streaming, and film,” Hill said.

Hill also made this production truly a work by students: all principal roles were filled by students (besides one character played by faculty member Charles Nasby), and students also participated as extras, stage help and video production crew, operating cameras, editing video and supervising the wardrobe.

Starting in early October, the team rehearsed the play for a month. Filming began in November.

Bringing Romeo and Juliet to virtual life: IU Southeast students and faculty film the wedding scene from Shakespeare’s masterpiece, with Shawn Michael Lee as Romeo and Alex Bonza as Juliet. Photo by Rebekkah J. Meixner-Hanks.

The scenes were all rehearsed and recorded separately, and then the audio and video was edited, mixed, and assembled by the faculty and student technicians.

For Jim Hesselman, dean of the School of Arts and Letters, the production represents an astonishing feat of problem-solving under extraordinary circumstances.

“Going into any new the production is always exciting and a bit daunting, but going into a production with so many unknowns and with everyone already at an elevated stress and anxiety level–not to mention the technical restrictions in terms of rehearsing and performing and filming scenes in a safe environment that still met the artistic demands of the playwright and director–was truly uncharted territory,” Hesselman said. 

From learning the ins and outs of using Zoom for creative purposes and filming in multiple locations to the logistical challenges of distributing costumes, set pieces and lighting to students working from home, the students confronted and overcame obstacles while the clock seemed constantly to be ticking.

For Hesselman, these types of lessons are the building blocks of successful careers.

“The entire company learned so much by having to try things that didn’t work and then try something else,” Hesselman said. “It’s an experience that was incredibly challenging, but rewarding in that it will be paying dividends to all those involved for the rest of their professional lives.” 

Preserving the relevance of a classic tale while pushing the boundaries of theatrical conventions by seeing limitations as opportunities, Hill and his cast have produced a work that they are proud to share with the public.

And in these times it bears mentioning that as a result of Hill’s safety-first approach, all cast and crew remained virus-free during and after production.

“We look forward to audiences seeing this age-old tale told through a new lens, one we feel is extremely relatable in our world today,” Hill said. “The impact this pandemic has had on socializing, physicality and the mental health of our youth will be felt throughout our telling of Shakespeare’s timeless story.”

Homepage photo: Shawn Michael Lee as Romeo ponders poison in the IU Southeast production of Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Rebekkah J. Meixner-Hanks.

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