Twenty LMU Theatre Arts and Dance students, alumni, faculty, and staff intertwined their talents in a production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet titled Romeo and Juliet – Love is a Fire at the famed Santa Monica Playhouse, with productions throughout October and November. This reimagined version of Shakespeare’s original tragedy delves into the lingering mysteries surrounding the conflicts between the families of Romeo and Juliet, and the circumstances around their tragic fate.
The production was a collaboration between Santa Monica Playhouse, an off-campus theatre and education conservatory, and II Dolce Theatre Company, an organization owned and operated by Neno Pervan, director of the play and clinical assistant professor of theatre arts at LMU. When it came to casting, Pervan took a unique invite-only approach, resulting in a cast composed of mostly LMU community members, involving talent from both the dance and theatre arts departments. This intentional decision aimed to harness the skills that are developed specifically within the curriculum at LMU, creating a cast, crew, and production team with a shared understanding.
The production’s crew consisted of two stage managers, junior theatre arts major Maureen Beld, and theatre arts alumna Kavita Mehta ‘15, who is now a successful producer in a prominent animation studio. With this untraditional crew set up, the crew and actors were able to collaborate particularly closely, with the crew getting involved with the performance team and the actors becoming involved with every aspect of the production.
The production team, led by director Pervan, choreographer Rosalynde LeBlanc Loo, professor and chair of LMU Dance, and voice and intimacy coordinator Stacey Cabaj, assistant professor of LMU Theatre Arts, showcased years of experience and expertise. Pervan described the cast, crew, and production team as all falling under one umbrella: “The way we structured the teams, it really all blended together perfectly. We have the cast, we have the crew, we have the production team – but most importantly, we were all one team. And I think that intimate experience was reflected beautifully in the show.”
“Upon entering the theatre space, I was engulfed with the presence of multiple years of CFA community members there to support their colleagues and friends, as well as the wonderful LMU-trained performers,” said Bryant Keith Alexander, CFA dean, of the closing night performance. “The multi/inter-racial and cross-gendered casting of the show illuminated aspects of the famous narrative in new ways; forcing the audience to understand that love knows no boundaries, and that the false borders we build between people have consequences of indignity and despair. Bravo to the cast and crew, and to the director Neno Pervan.”
Overall, the collaboration offered the participating theatre arts and dance students an involved, unique opportunity to gain real-world experience. Through Il Dolce’s partnership with the Santa Monica Playhouse, students connected with alumni and faculty in a professional setting, providing students with insights into a performance career, as well as an understanding of how LMU’s curriculum provides direct preparation for professional work in the arts.
The show was also reflective of the university’s core values and the education of the whole person. Pervan described the students as “intellectually and emotionally mature people,” who successfully explored the themes of justice and injustice that were essential to the show. “I was impressed with the student’s ability to connect mind and body and whatever you want to call that spirit inside, with great awareness towards social justice,” Pervan said. “The big emphasis in the show was on the just and unjust and how we treat each other based on what we are, not who we are as we should.” This comprehensive understanding of the material fostered a positive and collaborative academic environment throughout the entire process of the production.
Looking ahead, LMU Theatre Arts is committed to bridging connections for students to the rich performance and entertainment world in Los Angeles. Pervan is a champion of this movement within the department, “We are developing many relationships around the city in order to ensure that the doors to core art organizations in Los Angeles are always open to our students. These professional experiences are so important to our students as they build their resumes for their lives beyond college.”
Chantel Adedeji, Juliet (understudy)
Annalisa Cochrane, LMU Theatre Arts alumna – Romeo
Alan Corvaia, LMU Theatre Arts alumni – Friar Lawrence
Madison Hansen, , LMU Theatre Arts alumna – Lady Capulet
Raquel Justice, LMU Theatre Arts junior – Juliet
Sika Lonner, LMU Theatre Arts alumna – Nurse, Lady Montague
Gavin Mulcahy, LMU Theatre Arts alumni – Lord Montague, Tybalt, Paris
Charlotte Williams Roberts, LMU graduate student MFA in Performance Pedagogy – Prince Escalus
Madeleine Shallan, LMU Theatre Arts senior – Benvolio, Balthazar
Tory Devon Smith, LMU Professor of Theatre Arts – Mercutio, Lord Capulet
Chris Smith – Dancer – Romeo
Laura Ann Smyth, LMU Professor of Dance – Juliet
STAGE MANAGEMENT and CREW:
Maureen Beld, LMU Theatre Arts junior – Co-stage manager
Kavita Mehta, LMU Theatre Arts alumna – Co-stage manager
Arnab Banerji, LMU Professor of Theatre Arts – Dramaturg
Stacey Cabaj, LMU Professor of Theatre Arts – Vocal Coach, Intimacy Coordinator, Fight co-Choreographer
Quinn DeVries, LMU Theatre Arts Junior – Promotions Director
Rob Hillig, LMU Master Electrician – Light and Sound Designer
Lisa Lawrence, LMU Theatre Arts alumna – Costume Designer
Rosalynde LeBlanc LMU Professor of Dance/Department Chair – Choreographer
Lada Pervan – Graphic Designer
Neno Pervan, LMU Professor of Theatre Arts – Co-producer, Director, Fight co-Choreographer
Radan Popovic – Professional Photography
F. Jason Sheppard, LMU Technical Director of Theatre Arts and Dance – Scenic Construction