In Theatre and Media Arts, Theatre for Young Audiences, Young Company Shakespeare Troupe

Rachel Leishman, Maximillian Wright and Daniel Mesta share their experience portraying the characters of Shakespeare’s most famous tragic love story

Julieta played by Rachel Leishman. Photo courtesy of BYU Photo.

Rachel Leishman | Julieta Capuleto

For Rachel Leishman, the highlight of “Romeo y Julieta” has been the opportunity to work with director Julia Ashworth. “Julia is a wonderful director who is kind and supportive,” said Leishman. “At the same time, she knows how to push us to take risks and grow in this particularly creative process. This experience has been quite different from any show I’ve done before due to the highly collaborative nature of the work.”

Leishman said she has never been in a production where she had a say in the script and in other large elements of the show. During the rehearsals for “Romeo y Julieta” the whole cast was involved in workshopping the script, as well as contributing their ideas for images, sound and movement.

Amongst the many experiences this production has brought into Leishman’s life, she said the most significant has been the desire to connect with her Hispanic heritage more actively than she has in a long time.

“Because I grew up in the United States,” said Leishman, “it was quite easy to assimilate into popular American culture and language and to neglect the beautiful traditions and language of my family. In my attempts to fit in I sometimes stifled or tried to disassociate myself from Hispanic culture because I was ashamed for some reason or another. This show has been a catalyst in making my heritage a really important part of my everyday life and has encouraged me to make a deliberate effort to speak more Spanish and to practice Hispanic traditions.”

How has your experience been playing Julieta Capuleto?

“I have really enjoyed getting to know Julieta. Playing her has been a blast and a challenge. In her actions throughout the play, she demonstrates the devastating effects of broken and distrustful communication and relationships. This play is all about miscommunication, especially that which occurs between generations. What strikes me the most about Julieta is all the opportunities she has to tell the truth and confide in her mother yet she does not. I think the fatal consequences of their lack of communication illustrates how hurtful miscommunication can be in all our lives whether physically, emotionally or socially. In trying to bring Julieta to life I have read and read and read the script looking for acting clues and motivations behind words and actions. I have also used my own experiences with my Hispanic family to shape my interactions with Señora Capuleto and El Ama.”

Have you had a favorite rehearsal experience or moment?

“Yes! My favorite moment was when we were rehearsing scene 5, the scene where Señora Capuleto, Ama and Julieta talk about Paris’s marriage proposal as they prepare for the masquerade. As we worked through the scene, the choices that I had originally envisioned I would make changed entirely because of the choices and energy I received from my fellow actresses. When I let go of preconceived notions and used what was given to me in the moment, I felt all of our relationships became more defined and meaningful than they had been before. It’s sometimes frightening to let go of control when acting, but I’m grateful for this moment that taught me how truth comes from trusting and taking risks.” 

What has been the most challenging or trying part of your role in this production?

“The most challenging part of this production was to open my mind to being more than just an actress in a show. I’ve never done a show where the director wanted to know how I felt personally about the script or sound effects, or about the development and choices of characters I don’t even interact with. I really had to push myself to look outside my part and work towards the bigger picture, but it has been so rewarding. I am so personally invested in this show now and in the story we are telling. This collaboration has definitely made me a more creative and selfless theatre maker and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.”


Romeo played by Maximillian Wright. Photo courtesy of BYU Photo.

Maximillian Wright | Romeo Montague

Maximillian Wright said his experience rehearsing for “Romeo y Julieta” has been absolutely fantastic. “It is unlike any other show that I’ve been a part of,” said Wright. “It continues to evolve and develop as we work through each scene—it’s alive.”

He said audience members will experience a timeless Elizabethan classic performed in a new, fresh light and may even grasp concepts that were previously hidden to them. Those in attendance can expect to witness golden treasure buried in Shakespeare’s text brought to the surface and displayed for all to behold.

“Come ready to laugh, to cry, to despise and to sympathize, as we execute this work to the best of our abilities and offer the audience a greater understanding and desire to form healthy, openly communicative relationships with their parents and children, or friends and neighbors, if they are eager to invest in the journey.”

How has your experience been playing Romeo Montague?

“I love Romeo. Throughout the past couple of months I have enjoyed the privilege of stepping into his shoes, observing the world from his perspective and trying to glimpse what truly is inside his heart, which, at its core, is bursting with feelings of pure intent. Although virtuous, Romeo struggles with expressing those feelings, and fails in clearly communicating his struggles to those who surround him. For example, he struggles to communicate with his own mother. It has proven very interesting to investigate the reasons and motives propelling his behavior. His actions and demise serve as a warning of what ill fortune can sputter forth from the confines of closed, distant, non-communicative and unloving hearts. Having recently passed through the later teenage years of life myself, and having experienced similar difficulty in always remaining totally honest in connection with my parents and family, personifying this character of Romeo has helped me revisit that era of my life and confront some of those past problems. It has allowed me to feel a certain level of closure and acceptance, and consider what changes I can make in my future to avoid miscommunication’s calamities.”

Have you had a favorite rehearsal experience or moment?

“One of my favorite rehearsal moments was when we transitioned from studying, discussing and modifying the script after a few table-work sessions, to actually rising up and putting it on our feet. Employing our hands, feet and whatever else we could find in the room we began exploring and experimenting, eventually forming various shapes to create striking images on the stage, accompanied by sounds to help set and enrich the atmosphere of the scene. I was amazed at how many brilliant ideas blossomed from our collective collaboration and willingness to let director Julia Ashworth guide us and move us appropriately, in order to achieve the most successful representation of the show.”   

What has been the most challenging or trying part of your role in this production?

“After determining that Romeo’s drive to win the hand of a Capuleto maiden would be spurred by a newfound obsession with a ukulele, I had to start practicing an instrument I was not familiar with. I have had very limited musical experience in the past and trying to learn the little stringed wooden gadget has proved a challenge for me, but one that has helped me grow closer to my character. Another challenge we face as actors in this version of ‘Romeo y Julieta’ is distinguishing between when we are storytellers seeing individual scenes within one whole, and when we are actors within the story living in the moment. Through exercises and practice, we are learning to train our focus to efficiently depict both within short periods of time.”


Teobaldo played by Daniel Mesta. Photo courtesy of Daniel Mesta.

Daniel Mesta | Teobaldo Capuleto

“My experience rehearsing the play has been surreal,” said Daniel Mesta, the actor playing Teobaldo. “Watching a group of eight very talented storytellers come together to tell the story of miscommunication and family relationships has been the highlight of my time studying theatre here at BYU. Julia Ashworth is a dream to work with because her ideas are always so out-of-the-box. It’s definitely not the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ your boring high school English teacher assigned you. I’m not sure that Julia is capable of creating mediocre theatre.”

Mesta said “Romeo y Julieta” is a brilliant show with creative staging, innovative sound design, a well-edited script and marvelous costumes. But in addition to those traits, he said the show is about much more because it focuses on the relationship between parents, their children and the ability, or lack thereof, to communication with one another.

“In ‘Romeo y Julieta,’ we get to see the pointless tragedies that befall a city because of this. I hope that it teaches parents and children to take a second look at their relationships. I also hope it encourages people to reach out to those with differences in language and culture and replace their fear and misunderstanding with love and mutual respect. People can expect a few other things such as unique staging, beautifully executed Hispanic cultural references, and some killer fight scenes — pun intended.”

How has your experience been playing Teobaldo Capuleto?

“Teobaldo, Julieta’s rough-and-tumble cousin, is very dear to me. This will be my third time playing the role, but it feels like the first. The Teobaldo of ‘Romeo y Julieta’ is older, smarter, angrier and deeper than before because he has new challenges to deal with in the universe of our show. Not only is he so invested in the feud between the two families, but he is also living in a world where he sometimes struggles to communicate with people because of differences in language and culture. For me, Teobaldo embodies the conflict of the story because his death is the direct result of a miscommunication. He also embodies the post-structuralist world that we live in today. He isn’t able to accept that things mean what they say they mean. To him, every word has a cloud of meanings behind it. A glance is never just a glance, it’s something more. What is said or not said means infinitely more to him than perhaps it should. This hinders his ability to communicate and causes major issues with the community and also within his own family. The more time that I spend with him, the more I pity and respect him. He makes me think of the world of communication that we have today, the world of out-of-context quotes and fake news. It’s a world where people are hurt or angered by what they hear, even when what they hear isn’t the truth. Bringing him to life in this way at this time is both daunting and exciting.”

Have you had a favorite rehearsal experience or moment?

“My favorite rehearsal experience has definitely been working with playwright Jose Cruz Gonzalez. When he visited, the script was still in development, and not much had been set in stone. When he came, it was the first time we had gotten to get out from behind the tables and really start to create. He had so many unique ideas and worked really well with Julia to bring them to life. When people come to a show, they don’t expect actors to be thumping and clapping and singing and playing instruments. They don’t expect quick changes and actors playing multiple roles. They don’t expect to see storytellers coming in and out of character. They don’t expect anything like what we are going to give them. That first day experimenting was incredible and every rehearsal since has been similar.”         

What has been the most challenging or trying part of your role in this production?

“This production has been challenging simply because of the massive story that we are trying to tell, and the heavy time constraint that we were under. Other than that, it really has been a dream. The cast is perfect, the creative team is perfect and the story is out of this world. As far as playing Teobaldo goes, my main challenge is the emotions and empathy that I feel for him transferring to myself. He is so relatable that it is sometimes hard to draw a line between the world of the play and the real world. However, what I think makes the play so wonderful is that you could take it off the stage and insert it into real life, and it would fit. Watching him go through what he goes through and fail to overcome it is just a hard part of the process, but it is essential to the story, and I love it.”

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