The Shakespeare Project Reimagines "Romeo and Juliet"


Artwork from the cover of the playbill, designed by McKenna Padgett.

by Buffy Lockette

Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is coming to a stage near you, courtesy of The Shakespeare Project in JSU's College of Arts and Humanities

The famous tale of star-crossed lovers has been abridged, with a run time of 60 to 90 minutes, and simplified to a "trunk tour," without stage lighting and with only a few actors playing multiple parts. This format not only allows the production to travel to multiple venues with ease, but is similar to how The Lord Chamberlain's Men originally staged the plays of William Shakespeare. 

The plot and setting of the classic play have also been reworked. The parents of today's high school and college students likely remember the 1996 blockbuster "Romeo + Juliet," featuring a young Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in a modernized retelling directed by Baz Luhrmann. Along the same vein, this  new production – adapted by New York theater professional Karl Hawkins and retired JSU English Professor Carmine DiBiase – is set in 1960s Anniston, Ala., in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, and features an interracial Romeo and Juliet fighting to be together in the face of prejudice and suppression. 

"'Romeo and Juliet' is required reading for high schoolers in Alabama, so the intent of these performances is to enhance existing studies and make elevated art easy to comprehend," said the show's executive director, Emily Duncan.

Hawkins said, “Merging the history of the American South with Shakespeare’s beautiful language will help us see this story that we know and love in a fresh, new way.”

JSU faculty, staff, students and the news media are invited to the show's dress rehearsal on campus Aug. 13, 2 p.m., at Stone Center. Local schools and organizations can schedule a free performance Aug. 15-27, or attend the following community showings:  

  • Aug. 18, 7 p.m., Pell City’s Center for Education and Performing Arts 
  • Aug. 20, 6 p.m., Elwell Park in Weaver 
  • Aug. 22, 6 p.m., Oxford Civic Center 
  • Aug. 25, 6 p.m., Piedmont High School
  • Aug. 26, 6 p.m., The Bridge at First United Methodist Church of Anniston
  • Aug. 27, 10 a.m., JSU's Stone Center

All performances are free, thanks to the generous support of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, Alabama Humanities Alliance, Knox Concert Series, Josephine E. and H. Brandt Ayers Foundation, Hillcrest Foundation, America’s First Federal Credit Union and the JSU College of Arts and Humanities. 

To schedule a performance for your school or organization, contact Emily Duncan at 256-454-2961 or For additional information, including new community performance dates as they are added and behind-the-scenes photos, follow @TheShakespeareProjectAL on Facebook or Instagram.

Founded in 2017, The Shakespeare Project’s mission is to provide free, accessible professional programs and performances of literature, under the belief that art is a human right. This program is a part of the JSU College of Arts and Humanities, which strives for academic excellence by providing a learning-centered environment where students cultivate critical thought, intellectual curiosity and an expansive worldview, and the JSU Foundation, which aids the university’s mission of excellence in education, research and service.

Cast and Crew:

  • Juliet: Kenli Doss, JSU alumnus 
  • Romeo: Nardge Francois 
  • Benvolio: Christian Watts, JSU student
  • Tybalt/Lady Capulet: Cheslee Duke
  • Paris: Cheyenne Oliver, JSU alumnus 
  • Mercutio/Friar Laurence: Darryl Jones
  • Prince/Nurse: Bridgett Rayburn, JSU student 
  • Director: Karl Hawkins 
  • Production Stage Manager: Cheyenne Oliver, JSU alumnus
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Laurellei Veasey, JSU student 
  • Costume Designer: Kelby King, JSU alumnus 
  • Scenic Designer and Charge: Jessica Gallahar 
  • Dramaturg: Carmine DiBiase, retired JSU English professor 
  • Artistic Director and Fight Choreographer: Carrie Colton, former JSU drama professor
  • Managing Director: Michael Boynton, JSU drama professor 
  • Executive Director: Emily Duncan, JSU alumnus and staff member