When tasked with choosing a production for Cabrillo College Theater Arts Department’s Fall 2022 season, Abel Cornejo knew he wanted to find something that celebrated Hispanic culture.
After a long search, however, Cornejo still hadn’t found just the right play. That’s when he had the idea of a Shakespeare adaptation.
“Coming out of the pandemic, I wanted something that could be fun to do, a celebration,” he says. “I thought about Romeo and Juliet. It celebrates the power of love.”
Opening Oct. 28 at Cabrillo in Aptos, Romeo and Julieta is a bilingual retelling of the classic William Shakespeare play, set in 1910 in Mexico City, on the eve of Día de los Muertos. The story is told through narration by José Guadalupe Posada—a real life, highly acclaimed Mexican illustrator.
Cornejo has rewritten the script to contemporary language, which he says not only makes it more accessible to modern audiences, but also helped in the translation of lines to Spanish.
Then, after the show was cast, Cornejo invited the actors to get involved in the adaptation process.
“They gave feedback about how they and their character would phrase things,” he says. “We adapted and edited together. That’s great for them because they’re not just actors, they’re creators.”
Angel Camarena, who plays Julieta alongside Eiji Mori as Romeo, says that the experience was very fulfilling.
“Theater is always a labor of love, but this process in particular has been really unique and involved,” Camarena says. “We’re so lucky to have a diverse and amazingly talented cast and crew working together to bring this story to life.”
Julieta is Camarena’s first-ever lead role, calling it an honor to be able to represent and celebrate their heritage in such a way.
“It’s indescribably gratifying as a proud Mexican-American to be able to connect with my character on a deeper level and be part of telling this powerful and profound story,” Camarena says.
While Cornejo had always planned to make the show bilingual, it was at first mostly in English. But encouragement from two actors prompted him to write more Spanish lines.
“They said, Abel, you’re going to have a lot of the audience that are primarily Spanish speaking,” he says, “so you need to add more!”
Romeo and Julieta is Cornejo’s first production at Cabrillo, but he has taught for three years at UCSC and before that, worked for 15 years at colleges and universities in Florida.
Since the pandemic, Cornejo says he’s noticed that casts and crews alike are more motivated than ever.
“The pandemic was a terrible thing that happened to us, but it came with some blessings,” he says. “People really appreciate culture and the arts. The students are so eager, open minded to try new things. This cast and crew is amazing. I’m so blessed to have the opportunity to create a new work and that everyone has been so willing to participate.”
Cornejo says he thinks audiences will be surprised at the amount of historical and cultural references in the adaptation.
“It’s already a good story, but it’s been adapted to this time period, with a very socially conscious message,” he says. “This can provide an opportunity to open up further discussion about the things that make each culture unique.”
“I hope [the show] impacts the audience to think more about the themes and values explored onstage, particularly love, unity, power, and anti-oppressive ideology,” Camarena says. “This production is so incredibly rich, culturally, historically, and artistically, and I really hope it helps the audience to nurture and deepen a love, respect and appreciation for Mexican culture as well.”
Romeo and Julieta opens Oct. 28 and runs most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 13. The show will be held at the Black Box Theater, located inside the Crocker Theater on lower campus. To purchase tickets, visit bit.ly/3eubGez.