Director brings modern style

By Hayden Perkins

Editor’s note: The following text was edited for length and is not directly quoted.

DeKALB — The School of Theatre and Dance’s series of main-stage productions continued with “Romeo & Juliet” this past week. The Northern Star sat down with the show’s guest director, Richard Raether, to talk about the production.

Q: What messages do you want to convey with this production?

A: It’s amazingly contemporary in what it has to say in its story, which is why the designers and I had the idea to put it in a contemporary dress — no tights and doublets. It’s about teens and how they’re driven by their emotions and hormones, and they don’t understand things sometimes. The actions of the characters are incredibly contemporary, and it’s an important play for our time because it goes into those thoughts and actions that have been the same. The kids become rebellious, and their parents become authoritarian, and the whole thing ends in tragedy that was completely unnecessary from it all.

Q: Were you inspired by the film adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio?

A: That director had a specific vision in mind, not exactly the same one that we had. Our production is more focused on the characters and not trying to be spectacular with action.

Q: What have you changed about the play?

A: When you do a period play and characters come out in tights or doublets, it’s hard. If they’re wearing contemporary dress, I know as an audience member who they are, and I didn’t want that separation from the audience to get past what they were wearing. It’s helping the audience rather than inhibiting.

Q: How would you describe your directing style and the ways that it influenced the play?

A: The music is all contemporary because it represents the characters and their sensibilities, like when they fight in the beginning of the play, there is hard rock. Music does that — it’s an expression of what we’re feeling. Working with the actors was finding what, in their experience, they can relate to and helping them connect and make it a personal journey. It was a fun process with some terrific actors.

Q: Is there a particular moment in the show that really makes it special?

A: The language is brilliant because Shakespeare captures the essence of these teenagers. Juliet goes from being smart and witty to being bold. Then there’s this idea that, as teenagers, Romeo unintentionally loses his temper, there’s no thought; he doesn’t decide; he just reacts with this overflowing emotion, like the moment when he kills Tybalt, and he realizes what he just did. It’s a human thing — you just react to the moment, and then after the fact, you think, “Oh, what did I do?”

Q: Did race play a role in casting?

A: Good question. In fact, skin color was not a factor at all in casting. Schanora Wimpie and Kris Downing gave the best audition for the roles and both did a terrific job. As a director, I am a storyteller, and I did realize that the appearance of an actor influences the audience’s perception of the character they play. Costuming is such an important aspect of any production, for that very reason. An actor walks on stage and before they even say their first line, the audience has made assumptions about who they are. Right or wrong, skin color can often affect our perceptions as well. I leave that to the audience to decide. It did not change our process or the story we wanted to tell.

Hayden Perkins is a staff writer. He can be reached at