Call Answered: Alyssa May Gold: Pocket Universe's "Juliet + Romeo"
Alyssa May Gold is creating theatre that empowers teenagers, women, and the audiences who come see her shows. Alyssa’s theatre company Pocket Universe is taking Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and looking at the classic tragedy through the eyes of a modern teenage girl in Juliet + Romeo.
In Juliet + Romeo, two households, both alike in dignity. One belongs to “Juliet Capulet,” the other to a teenage girl reading Romeo + Juliet for the first time in 2019, desperately looking for the great love story she has been promised.
Juliet + Romeo will play January 16-February 2 at Access Theater Gallery Space (380 Broadway). Click here for tickets!
1. This winter, your theatre company, Pocket Universe, is presenting a reconceived adaption of Romeo & Juliet called Juliet & Romeo as seen through the eyes of a modern teenage girl. How did this adaption come to be? The success of our adaptation of Julius Caesar set in a girls’ high school led me to consider ways in which other Shakespeare plays, perhaps and especially the one best known to teenagers, could be reimagined to continue the conversation we started.
Over the summer, an image began to take shape for me of a modern teenager reading Romeo & Juliet for the first time with the story happening around her. As the concept developed, I became increasingly aware of how much selective editing had been done in most famous stage and film versions to make “Romeo” more sympathetic and “Juliet” more wistful than the original text indicates. I started to imagine how a teenager today, if she had no context for this play except the text itself, would feel about it.
Without 1990’s Leonardo DiCaprio in her head, with just the description of “Romeo” in the text—a depressed, moody guy who is mad that a girl won’t have sex with him—would she be into him at all? Would a girl today even interpret this as a love story or more a case for an intervention?
During several readings and a workshop, I discovered that as we infused the modern teenager’s opinion into the text, we also were unlocking the original play in exciting ways. In addition, we found ourselves identifying with a young reader who finds a kindred spirit in a character, only to be let down.
2. How do you feel this version will empower young women in a way the classic version does not? The original text weaves this gorgeously intricate cautionary tale about the intersection of lust and violence and somewhere along the road (probably circa West Side Story) we decided as a culture that it was actually an empowering tale of two young people brave enough to follow their hearts.
I hope everyone who comes to JULIET + ROMEO enjoys the play through our modern teenager’s new, young eyes and feels empowered to bring that perspective to all of the stories that have shaped our culture.
3. What do you relate to most about "Juliet" in this version of the play? Oh gosh, I relate so much to the whiplash of being an otherwise intelligent, thinking person who out of nowhere exercises inexplicably poor judgment in the face of a crush. The balcony scene is such an honest depiction of that flip, where “Juliet” tries to ask all the right questions to convince herself makes sense to go off with “Romeo” when she knows he’s just feeding her lines to get her to cave – and she does. We’ve all been there, am I right?
4. What is one characteristic of hers you are glad you yourself do not possess? Hands down, no question, that she is thirteen. Being a teenager is so hard. You’re a typhoon of energy and emotion and there’s not much you can do to manage the surge, just hope you’ll survive it. That’s the tragedy of this play. Imagine who this girl would have grown up to be, with all of her passion and curiosity and rebellious spirit!
It’s no accident that Shakespeare made her 13, on the cusp of the years when girls have the fire squashed out of them by societal expectations, and that those expectations, from her parents, caregivers, clergy and a boy contribute to decisions that lead to her death. I hope this production re-calibrates the stakes, that if you are being asked to throw everything away for love, love is probably not the issue.
5. What made you want to add producer to your credits in addition to acting? How did you go about getting involved in that side of the industry? When I shopped the idea of Julius Caesar set in an all-girls high school, several producers were interested but after a year of meetings and follow-ups, I decided to produce it myself. I had a master’s degree in classical theater and had worked professionally in almost every department on set and backstage, so I knew what all of the moving pieces of a production were.
I turned to colleagues and mentors who offered encouragement and support, including hiring me to associate produce for additional experience. Once I committed to the production and created Pocket Universe, I realized that by zooming out and creating a whole production, I was more creatively involved in telling a story than ever before. I love being able to curate the whole experience for our audience.
6. When did you decide to start producing your own work rather than just audition and perform other people's work? I started to think about producing when I was in graduate school at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Playing divinely ordained kings on whom the fate of a country depended was an experience, I wanted to bring home. As the idea for Julius Caesar began to emerge so too did the realization that I would have to find a producer – or do it myself.
7. What do you love about running Pocket Universe and what is your biggest struggle? As an actress, I did not think any job in this industry could require more exposure and vulnerability. As a producer, and now a director, I see that I was wrong.
Running Pocket Universe requires far more risks than I ever imagined but I love the freedom that comes from putting everything on the line for something I believe in. And whether we sell out completely or have five people in the house (and we have had both) an important measure of success at Pocket Universe is how many young women have reached out to me who want to assume more agency in the industry and the world at large. Knowing that what we put on stage and how we get it there empowers others is what I love most about running the company. That said, I love it more when we sell out, please come see Juliet + Romeo.
More on Alyssa:
Alyssa May Gold is the founder/President of Pocket Universe. Her other work as a producer includes theatre: Hitler’s Tasters (New Light Theater Project), The Congresswomen (Ducdame Ensemble), 24 Hour Musicals on Broadway, BEDLAM; Film/Web: “You Made It Worse,” (which she also wrote and directed), Dream Years. Her credits as an actress include Broadway: Arcadia, NY Theatre: Julius Caesar, The Maid's Tragedy (Pocket Universe), Brilliant Traces (Art of Warr), Middle of the Night and Lemon Sky (Keen Company), Film/TV: Rebel in the Rye, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Taking Woodstock, “Law and Order: SVU” and “Ed.” Alyssa holds a multi-disciplinary BA from NYU Gallatin and an MA in classical acting from LAMDA.