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What does Shakespeare know about COVID-19? A lot, it turns out.

Northeastern theater and English double major Ciara McAloon adjusts the lights at the Apollinaire Theatre for the bilingual production of Romeo and Juliet. The play will be performed outdoors in Chelsea Square. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

It had not been a great year for community theater in Chelsea, Massachusetts, when Carla Rodríguez, who got her theater degree at Northeastern in 2020, started working at the Apollinaire Theatre Company this April.

The city of roughly 40,000 became an early COVID-19 hot spot in April 2020, with the highest infection rates in the state and more than 9,000 cases reported. The theater, along with many of Chelsea’s restaurants and retailers, put in-person business on pause as a public safety precaution last spring.

But the tough year, says Rodríguez, is what makes the free, open-air, bilingual production of “Romeo + Juliet” so sweet. Opening Aug. 14, the production was partially funded by a $60,000 state grant to boost the art scene and attract new visitors. 

Assistant sound director Ben Harris, a Northeastern communication studies and theater combined graduate, uses the sound board on a portable cart for the Apollinaire Theatre’s bilingual production of Romeo and Juliet that will be performed outdoors in Chelsea Square. Photos by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

“It’s essentially meant to be an invitation for people to come and enjoy the downtown,” says Rodríguez, assistant director of the play. “Chelsea has been incredibly hard hit by the pandemic, and so many things have closed down. There’s a huge push and a huge effort to celebrate the community and the attractions downtown.”

The classic tale of romance and family rivalry will be performed in downtown Chelsea, right outside of the Apollinaire Theatre. The performance is a blend of Spanish and English, meant to increase accessibility for the nearly 60 percent of Chelsea residents who speak Spanish. 

“I did help out with the merging of languages for the script,” says Rodríguez, who grew up in Puerto Rico. “It was an interesting experience for me because Spanish is my first language, but I am fully bilingual.” 

The event is meant to be immersive, with plenty of entertainment available before the 7:45 p.m. performance that runs Aug. 14, 21, and 28.

Assistant director Carla Rodrigues, a Northeastern theater performance graduate, works at the Apollinaire. The theatre’s crew and staff are preparing for a bilingual production of Romeo and Juliet, which will be performed outdoors in Chelsea Square. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

“There’s going to be a wide, wide variety of things. We have people who are going to act as troubadours who are going to be walking up and down the sidewalk playing music. We have outdoor seating spots and a lot of entertainment,” says Rodríguez. “I like to think of it as sort of a block party.”

Chelsea’s residents have plenty to celebrate, with more than 65 percent of the total population fully vaccinated. City and health officials continue to hold free vaccinations every Saturday at city hall, a few blocks away from the Winnisimmet Park performance.

“It’s been really encouraging to see the community coming together again and to see arts events coming back strong,” says Danielle Fauteux Jacques, the artistic director of the Apollinaire Theatre Company.

For Rodríguez, the production’s a cultural comeback not just for the community, but also for live theater.

“Coming out of the pandemic and finding work in theater hasn’t been the easiest thing for any of us,” says Rodríguez.

Northeastern theater and English double major Ciara McAloon and Assistant sound director Ben Harris, a Northeastern communication studies and theater combined graduate, prepare for the Apollinaire Theatre's bilingual production of Romeo and Juliet, which will be performed in Chelsea Square. Photos by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

The production has several Northeastern students and graduates on staff. Theater and English double major Ciara McAloon, for example, is the assistant lighting director while Ben Harris, who earned his communications and theater degree this spring, is the assistant sound director.

“I was so excited when I heard they were hired. We had all worked together on productions while we were at Northeastern, so I knew they were amazing people that I wanted to work with again,” says Rodríguez.

“Northeastern students and alumni play a variety of key roles in our production. The show would not be possible without them,” added Fauteux Jacques.

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu. 

 

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