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Romeo and Juliet play

Summit Players actors Ryan Zierk (L) woos Nadja Simmonds (L) in Romeo and Juliet's famous balcony scene.

William Shakespeare’s plays are often heralded as the quintessential works of the English language, but for some people the language and content aren’t easily accessible.

A traveling theater company is looking to change that for people across the state.

The Summit Players Theatre Company is putting on a free scaled-down 75-minute rendition of the classic William Shakespeare play “Romeo and Juliet” at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at Lake Wissota State Park, with an acting/directing workshop taking place at 5:30 p.m.

The show is part of an 18-city/state park tour put on by the Summit Players Theatre company, a nonprofit group that provides free Shakespeare performances and workshops in Wisconsin state parks.

The group has traditionally performed comedies, and “Romeo and Juliet” will be the first tragedy the group has performed.

Executive director Hannah Klapperich-Mueller said even though this version of “Romeo and Juliet” is shorter than the traditional version, attendees can still expect a captivating performance.

“It’s going to be a version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ people have never seen done before,” Mueller said. “You can still expect depth with the characters and heartbreak at the end, but it is a fun way for the audience to be engaged and wonder how we’re going to pull off the play with only six actors and less time.”

The process for putting on the production begins much earlier than rehearsals, Mueller said, with work on this year’s production starting almost a year ago.

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“As soon as we pick the show we start cutting it down,” Mueller said. “We start by cutting out the things that will go over the heads of a modern audience, like jokes and references to politics that were happening in early England. As that continues we do some workshop reads and rehearsals where the script is pared down as well. We continue to chop it down even into the last week of rehearsal.”

What makes this production of “Romeo and Juliet” unique is what is has been amended about it. A lot of 16th-century English language and references don’t resonate with 21st-century audiences. The Summit Players have recognized this and have adapted their production suit modern viewers who might have a shorter attention span.

Managing director A.J. Magoon said the purpose for putting on this production is simply to trim the fat off of the original production and make seeing the play a fun time for the entire family.

“This makes it accessible for someone who hasn’t seen a Shakespeare show before or for folks of any age,” Magoon said. “It’s not too long and a lot of the more challenging language and outdated extended metaphors have been removed so we can get straight to the heart of the text. We’ve made it free and fun for anyone to enjoy.”

Beyond putting on the production itself, Magoon said his love for theater and wanting to “take back” the production and make it relevant again in a modern sense was another factor for putting on this production.

“We feel like we’re reclaiming a show that a lot of people read in high school and have had exposure to before,” Magoon said. “And because it is such a widely known piece, it falls under the stereotype of it’s boring or it’s long or dull. We want to show that this story is still exciting and interesting and covers these big broad human topics that are essential and anyone can understand and resonate with.”

No tickets are required for Saturday’s performance, which is free and open to the public.

“It’s going to be a version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ people have never seen done before. You can still expect depth with the characters and heartbreak at the end, but it is fun way for the audience to be engaged and wonder how we’re going to pull off the play with only six actors and less time.” Hannah Klapperich-Mueller

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