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Q&A with Director Betsy Mugavero on Romeo and Juliet

Betsy Mugavero

By Liz Armstrong

Mugavero is a familiar face at the Festival, having been in 21 productions since 2008 including, Romeo and Juliet (2017), Peter and the Starcatcher (2013), and Shakespeare in Love (2017). She has also performed at the Folger Theater, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, and Great Lakes Theater, to name a few. She was also Producing Artistic Director at the Southwest Shakespeare Company from 2018 to 2020. She received the Broadway Cleveland Award of Best Actress for her role in As You Like It.

The director received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of California, Irvine after earning a Bachelor of Arts from Temple University. She has taught various master classes at several universities.

The Festival was able to take some time to visit with Mugavero about her process and experience as the director of this season’s production of Romeo and Juliet.

The Festival: Romeo and Juliet is an extremely popular play. What should we watch for in this play that would help us enjoy/understand it even more?

Mugavero: I would like people to be open minded, as if they’re seeing the play for the first time. It’s a story we’re all very familiar with, but because we have different actors and made different artistic choices, it’s fresh. It’s exciting and alive, and I want people to see it through a new lens. I want them to care deeply for the characters, and see if they relate to them. Would they have made the same choice if they were in the shoes of the Friar or the Nurse?

The Festival: Because so many people have seen this show before, as playgoers, why should they come see this play?

Mugavero: I want Romeo and Juliet to be something that resonates with audiences through a community perspective. I want them to walk away seeing the people who are left, and how they’re going to pick up the pieces. I want them to feel like they have power within their own community to create a more peaceful environment for everyone.

The Festival: Are there any special “Easter eggs” you have implemented into the play as a director?

Mugavero: Shakespeare wrote a song in the play, and I’ve never seen it implemented in any show I’ve been in or seen. The song is after Paris comes to pick Juliet up, and they all discover her dead. He’s supposed to be coming with a couple of musicians, but I knew Alex Keiper, who plays the Nurse, is a great vocalist, so we chose to leave her onstage with Juliet for her to have this very private moment of mourning. It’s become one of the most powerful moments of the play.

The Festival: What statement/realization/feeling do you hope audience members leave with after seeing the play?

Mugavero: I hope they feel differently than when they walked in––that they feel compassion for the people involved in the tragedy, and that they recognize that they could have easily made the same errors in judgment. But I also want them to have experienced something they enjoyed and hope they went on a journey throughout the play, whether it was cathartic or if they [found humor] in something unexpected.

The Festival: What challenges came with directing this play?

Mugavero: Everyone thinks they know the play and have an opinion on Romeo and Juliet. It was a challenge to not let that bog me down and say, “No, this is a great play. The reason everyone knows it is because it’s a great play.”

The Festival: Why were you excited to direct this play?

Mugavero: It’s my favorite play. I love the journey that Juliet takes in the story, and getting to see Naiya McCalla carry that is so thrilling to watch. Watching Ty [Fanning] as Romeo and Naiya take two iconic characters and put themselves in them and fill it with their whole heart was exciting.

To purchase tickets to Romeo and Juliet this season, visit bard.org or the Ticket Office onsite, or call 800-PLAYTIX.

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