CHAUTAUQUA - Shakespeare's timeless love story Romeo and Juliet will be reinvented on Chautauqua Institution's Amphitheater stage on July 27 with The Romeo & Juliet Project, an original inter-arts collaboration that brings together Chautauqua's signature arts programs for a unique, one-night-only event.
The massive co-production features three sets of Romeos and Juliets - actors, dancers and singers - joined onstage by 86 other performers and a 74-piece orchestra that fuses Shakespeare's words with music by Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, Gounod and the Reflections.
The Romeo & Juliet Project is the result of a yearlong collaboration among Chautauqua Institution's resident arts companies, including the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Chautauqua Theater Company, Chautauqua Opera Company, North Carolina Dance Theatre and Chautauqua Festival Dancers, and Chautauqua Music Festival.
The genesis for the project lies in a directive given by Chautauqua Institution President Thomas M. Becker and the nonprofit organization's board of trustees to seek out and maximize collaborative opportunities on the Chautauqua grounds. The Romeo & Juliet Project is the first in a series of collaborative arts productions over the next three years.
"The purpose of this effort is to illuminate the extraordinary artistic capacity of Chautauqua Institution, a community that invests in art and in artists," Becker said. "We believe that art and artists are keys to a society in touch with the human condition, with a capacity for empathy and open to critical reflection. We believe that unlocking imagination is vital to human development and genuine communication and to global development and competition."
The director of The Romeo & Juliet Project is Vivienne Benesch, artistic director of Chautauqua Theater Company, who partnered with Chautauqua's other artistic directors in shaping the direction of the production.
Benesch said the future of the performing arts around the United States is in the hands of interdisciplinary creations, and she hopes The Romeo & Juliet Project audience will experience "an electricity of storytelling in a totally new way."
"If we do our job well enough, people are going to crave more of this kind of work and get behind the fact that Chautauqua has an opportunity to develop something that is a necessity in the cultural landscape of tomorrow," she said.
Joining Benesch in the collaboration are Chautauqua Opera Company general/artistic director Jay Lesenger, Music Festival managing director Oliver Dow, Voice Program chair Marlena Malas and Voice Program faculty member Donald St. Pierre, and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, artistic director of North Carolina Dance Theatre and the Chautauqua Dance program. Music School Festival Orchestra music director Timothy Muffitt will lead the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for the July 27 performance.
Muffitt noted that such a production is only possible at Chautauqua because of the resources available with a resident orchestra, theater company, dance company and opera company, as well as an extraordinary student artist population.
"This is Chautauqua firing on all cylinders," he said. "This is something that very much grew out of the Chautauqua artistic experience."
Chautauqua Institution Vice President and Director of Programming Marty Merkley said The Romeo & Juliet Project offers a performance audiences have never seen before.
"Much of the audience will know the play, many will be familiar with the different musical selections, but to put it together in one evening is just so unique and really unheard of," Merkley said.
More information about The Romeo & Juliet Project is available at chqinterarts.com, including behind-the-scenes videos and interviews with Chautauqua's artistic directors.