Romeo & Juliet
You know the ending.
"With a kiss, I die."
You know the story.
"Romeo, oh, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?"
Tonight through Sunday, let iambic pentameter be your guide as the bard's most recognizable tragedy hits Appalachian State University's Valborg Theatre fighting.
It's William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and it's an obsession for director and adjunct theatre professor Derek Gagnier.
"The cast rolls their eyes and thinks it's very funny because I can actually give them lines off book," he said.
It's easy for Gagnier, who not only teaches Shakespeare. He's played it, even donning the tights as Romeo himself in college.
This particular production is set in a pre-Raphaelite painting, evident from a careful set complete with staircase, oiled canvas tones and, of course, the balcony. "It looks like they're walking out of the painting," Gagnier said.
If you've never seen Romeo, be prepared for a few surprises on the Valborg stage."They're going to be surprised that it's funny," he said.
Through careful rehearsal, study and talent, the actors deliver the lines the way a high school classroom can't. "They're getting the meaning across," he said.
And it's a story that you don't have to be Shakespeare-obsessed to understand.
At its heart, Romeo and Juliet is a play about teenagers.
"It cuts across a lot of different levels," Gagnier said. "These guys are definitely teenagers, so it celebrates life, and it celebrates the recklessness of being a teenager ... this play is pretty much a comedy until someone gets killed for really stupid reasons."
The fighting isn't contained to the stage. With the clash of foils extending into the wings, an audience member might feel a part of the brawl. That's thanks to the careful fight choreography of adjunct theatre professor Teresa Lee, who trained with a master fighter over the summer to prepare for the show.
"I didn't want the swordfights to be a separate entity," she said. "The fights are a continuation of what's going on between the characters. That's what happens when things get escalated. Sometimes it gets violent."
And the violence in this play is very real. To Lee, who has taught stage combat and stage movement for years, it provided the unique opportunity to further her training.
"I felt like I needed to sharpen my skills," she laughed, pun intended, "and to get back into really experiencing fighting more myself rather than just teaching it."
After more than 100 hours of work, she brought the foils to her students. That's where the real work came in.
"They've been working since the beginning of the semester," she said. "They have been totally committed in working outside of rehearsal time, working very hard to make the fights look like they're just happening for the first time ... and I couldn't be prouder of them."
Clanging foils, iambic poetry, the passion of first love.
And, thanks to instructor and sound designer Michael Helms, it's all set to 16th century music.
"We simply want the look of the play to be pre-Raphaelite, however, the characters and such are still set in the 16th century, so most of the music comes out of that time period," he said.
Hours of listening and downloading iTunes created a set list that completes the story.
"It all has that medieval kind of feel," he said.
It's a feeling that promises to captivate an audience from the first fight to the last breath. Expect the play to last just over two hours.
With teachers already e-mailing Gagnier for study guides, it promises to be a full house, so get your tickets early.
Romeo and Juliet runs at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3-6 and at 2 p.m. on Nov. 7. For more information, visit theatre.appstate.edu or call the box office at (828) 262-3063.