Last year the Kings Theatre Portsmouth and Teatro Nuovo-Verona, Teatro Stabile Veneto joined forces to present Italian and English language productions of Shakespeare's famous romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet in its original setting.
The play's greatest scenes were performed in some of Verona's most beautiful locations, including Juliet's courtyard, the Cortile Ex Tribunale, the Cortile Mercato Vecchio and Teatro Nuovo.
Grant Reeves, who graduated from our Three Year Acting BA (Hons) course last summer, played the role of Romeo in this interactive promenade production. We had the opportunity to catch up with him about the play, his role and overall experience. Here's what he told us:
ALRA: Hi Grant! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us about your exciting experience playing Romeo in Verona. Could you tell us about how you landed this role?
Grant Reeves: My pleasure, thanks for having me! I was recommended by a friend, Joe Parker, whom I went to college with in Manchester. He had previously performed in the show in the summer of 2015. The artistic director of the Kings Theatre Southsea asked Joe to be on the panel to cast Romeo and Juliet.
After many auditions and BBC South documenting the process they still couldn’t find an actor to play Romeo. Joe then suggested actors he had worked with in the past, which included me. I was then called the day before to prepare for the audition.
ALRA: What did you have to do during the audition?
GR: I had to perform a Shakespeare monologue of my choice, then proceeded to work on the Romeo and Juliet text. The director, Paolo Valerio, asked me to perform a variety of scenes, such as Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech and the scene where Romeo and Juliet see each other for the first time.
I was then asked to perform the scene where Romeo discovers Juliet dead in the tomb. Paolo said to me “Romeo has been running, he is out of breath; desperately wanting to see his Juliet”. I decided to be bold - I left the room to run down four flights of stairs and run back up to engage my breath and embody Romeo's physical journey.
ALRA: In what ways was it similar to and / or different from auditioning at drama schools?
GR: The stakes are a bit higher because there is a prospect of a job at the end of it, though both are equally as terrifying. When I auditioned for ALRA I thought to myself, "I must get it right".
I remember Rob Swinton in my second year of training said to the group, “Grant makes many mistakes but he makes mistakes very well”. I continue to do so. I enter an audition knowing I’m halfway there, that I will be the best version of myself and take risks to discover new things.
ALRA: What did you have to learn to play Romeo and what were the main things you had to focus on to make it a successful play?
GR: Because it was an abridged version I had to show Romeo's journey physically and emotionally, so thought changes had to be quicker to move the audience along with the story.
I found Romeo’s physical journey fascinating and magical because the nature of the historic buildings, changes in temperature and the proxemics all affected me differently each night which was exciting and refreshing.
An example of this was when Romeo says “Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear!”. I would have to search for the moon as its position would be totally different. It was amazing to have the concoction of imagination mixed with actually seeing, touching, smelling and living in the environment within Verona’s walls.
I know I really discovered the art of listening, appreciating, giving space/time for words and then responding. Each setting pushed us to change and adapt with it vocally and physically. Warming up was an essential part of the process.
ALRA: Was this your first time playing in an arena or outside?
GR: Not the first time but it was the most testing as the acoustics would change show by show. The number of bodies in the audience and positioning kept you on your toes to vocally be clear and share the story physically as well.
ALRA: Can you tell us a little bit more about your experience of acting in such a historical location as Juliet’s courtyard?
GR: Juliet’s courtyard is covered in padlocks, signs, symbols, languages, messages, pictures, names and so much more. Love oozed from those walls from all around the world. There was a constant cycle of history and culture that overlapped day in and day out and they all have something in common: love.
ALRA: What did you think of acting in the iconic balcony scene in Verona?
GR: It was pretty surreal to be honest. It’s every young actor’s dream to play such a scene and to do so in its natural environment, I was honoured and blown away. It was so playful each night which I loved and I really found the importance of maintaining energy/stamina throughout. It’s a scene that flirts with the audience, makes them laugh and lets them into a private moment, creating an intimacy that’s electric.
ALRA: Can you share some of the best moments and maybe some of the most difficult ones? What did you do to overcome the difficulties?
GR: There were so many amazing moments and experiences, the obvious one being actually performing Shakespeare's classic in its natural environment. The other highlight was being asked to perform The Merchant of Venice at The Hotel Danieli in Venice.
Although the news was exhilarating, we were aware of the mammoth task ahead. Even though we had found our feet with Romeo and Juliet, it was still fairly fresh.
Alongside the show, we had less than a week to unpick and research The Merchant of Venice and two days would be spent trying on the costumes handmade in Venice by a costume maker who had previously worked with Heath Ledger, Natalie Portman and many more.
It was incredible but it did pile on the pressure to have a show ready in time for guests paying hundreds of Euros per ticket to see the show.
I found the thought process extremely difficult because I was trying to get to grips with the text. I overcame this by focusing on what the other person was saying, underlining key words in their speech to indicate the subject in hand. I then found the shifts and beats followed by identifying what was at stake for my character, the overall objective and what I was to achieve.
ALRA: You played the English version of the tragedy only, while an Italian cast was in charge of the Italian version. Did the audience only consist of tourists, or were there Italians as well?
GR: The audience consisted of Italians and people from all over the globe. That’s what makes this story special, regardless of whether people understand English or not, they know what love and tragedy looks and feels like - it’s universal.
ALRA: Let’s talk about Italy now, how did you find settling in a new country?
GR: It was very easy because we were welcomed with open arms and made friends very quickly. The food was great too which helped… also the wine as well. It was hard being away from loved ones but it’s an experience that I will never forget and will cherish.
ALRA: Did you learn some Italian while you were there?
GR: Yeah bits and bobs, important things like ordering a coffee or pizza… did I mention wine? No, seriously it’s a beautiful language and one I will continue to learn.
ALRA: And finally, what tips can you give to young actors who want to pursue their acting careers abroad?
GR: You probably won’t learn much from speaking. It’s having the ability to listen that really allows you to soak up knowledge. Be kind, always!
ALRA: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us about your experience, we wish you best of luck for your future endeavours!