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Local playwright brought historical staging to a new Shakespeare sequel

By Ansharah Shakil, July 9 2023

Prolific playwright and recent University of Calgary graduate Jim Lair Beard is set to debut Love’s Heavy Burden, a sequel to Romeo and Juliet, in a limited run from June 20 to June 22 at Teatro Restaurant’s Opera Room. The run of the show will be a fundraiser for The Shakespeare Company. The play departs from contemporary theatrical methods and returns to an immersive and intimate historical staging style. Beard shared his inspiration for the play and his excitement for its run in an interview with the Gauntlet

“I really wanted to write it using original practices, with neutral lighting, doubling of characters, cross-gendered casting, live music and stage combat,” Beard said. 

Love’s Heavy Burden is a comedy set a few years after the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, in which Countess Rosaline, Romeo’s first love in the original play, visits the Capulets and fakes a pregnancy to thwart her suitors, a plan that causes various shenanigans to ensue. 

“What I wanted to look at is that character of Rosaline, who’s an off-stage character in Romeo and Juliet,” Beard said. “I was able to delve into that character and shed light on who she was. I wrote a character who is really just mad at the world after the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, and she’s especially mad that the whole city of Verona has turned into this area of tragic love tourism. Now everybody comes to Verona because they all know the story.”

There is tongue-in-cheek humour present in the play, but also themes of power and bodily autonomy. It connects to our present time in a number of ways, including even containing some commentary on the Me Too Movement according to Beard. He named the character of Sylvia, played by Alice Wordsworth, as one of his favourite characters in the play. 

“[Sylvia is] a character who comes to Verona dressed as a boy because she’s trying to track down her love interest,” Beard said. “She goes about trying to track down this person [forming] all of these wonderful tactics to get to him, and I think she’s got some of the best lines in the play.” 

Original characters share the stage along with characters from Romeo and Juliet, and multiple actors are playing multiple roles in the stripped-down space of the play’s performance.

“What has already been revealed to the actors is that there’s no fourth wall in this type of production like there is in contemporary theatre, and what that means is there’s no disconnect between audience and actor,” Beard explained. “The actors look directly into the eyes of the audience, the audience looks directly into the eyes of the actor. I can see you, you can see me, we can all see each other, and it makes it much more of a communal experience. This is the true essence of theatre without tech.”

The venue in which the play is performed helps create this level of immersion and connection.

“It’s got just enough room for terrific stage fights, but enough of an intimacy to show some really pure and beautiful moments that happen between the actors,” Beard said.

For Beard, the way that the play is going to be performed, in a historical fashion rather than a contemporary one, is something essential to the themes of the play. 

“In the society we live in now, we see things with a lot of CGI, holograms and AI, and I think we’ve come to this point where people may start getting tired of the idea that they can’t really truly believe what they see with their own eyes again,” he said. “Doing theatre this way, where you can believe what you can see with your eyes again, is a kind of novelty that people may want to come back to. I think it’s really special to go into a place and be able to see all the actors right in front of you. It’s an art form that we have lost a little bit and I think it’s something we can bring back.”

Details about the show can be found here and on Beard’s website.

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