Romeo & Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending
Performed at The Morgan-Wixson Theatre
As experienced in Santa Monica ~ August 2022
Directed by T.S.(Samantha) Barrios
The Experience & How it Works:
Romeo & Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending is much like your average night at the theater, only upon entrance, you’re handed not just a program, but also a flag. As the audience learns from a prologue presented at the top of the show, this is because there are three points within the show where the audience will get to choose what Romeo does. At each juncture, Romeo takes the audience’s suggestion and the show goes in that direction. In total, there are eight possible endings. And, from personal experience, I can guarantee that there’s at least one in which Romeo and Juliet don’t die.
Why it’s Interesting, IMHO:
The “choose your own ending” twist to Romeo & Juliet takes a story we all know and turns it into one we don’t. Many of us have often wished Romeo & Juliet didn’t die at the end, and I was curious to see if a version of the story in which one or both of them survive could — or would — be as (or more) enjoyable.
Initial Impression & Critical Discussion:
While watching Shakespeare often has somber connotations, from the get-go, this performance was fun! The highly personable director — clearly a talented performer herself — came on stage to welcome everyone and set the tone. The actors carried the torch, showing their skill and giving an entertaining performance. The script, while it started out faithful to the original story, also took enough liberties with the original Shakespeare to make it lighter fare for a modern audience. Some of the dialog was certainly recognizable to a savvy theater-goer and some was refreshingly new. (The script was penned by sister-brother duo Ann Fraistat and Shawn Fraistat in 2010.)
When Romeo finally got to the part where he asked the audience for their advice, it was fantastic! The audience really came alive, shouting out their opinions, and it brought an energy to the theater-going experience that one rarely sees, especially with Shakespeare. It was a bit confusing at first that everyone was shouting, because we’d also been given flags; several people were both shouting their choice and waving their flag. The actors tried a few different methods of discerning a clear majority — after the initial outburst, Romeo asked one half to vote, and then the other; each time other actors were ostensibly counting. The vote was a close one and the performers were clearly having a hard time telling which was the majority opinion, so ultimately, to keep the show going, Romeo asked one audience member in the front row to make the final call.
For the later two decision points in the show, Romeo went back to using his sense of where the majority lay. It’s challenging to say whether this imprecise voting process was problematic. On the one hand, it’s hard to guarantee the decisions were made by a strict majority. On the other hand, it did give the actors some leeway to take the show in a different direction than previous nights. The biggest advantage to the slightly disorganized voting scheme is the audience involvement. Personally, I’d hate to see them switch to a silent voting process that’s highly accurate. The audience involvement was so exciting and the engagement so much fun that it would be a shame to lose that for accuracy. Still, there may be a happy medium out there, and it’s possible that this talented team found it by the end of their run.
Experiential Viewpoint Expression (E.V.E.):
Embodied, 2nd person visual, 2nd person narrative, participant, mortal
From both a narrative and visual point of view, the audience is acknowledged, as is the medium.
When Romeo goes to the masquerade ball to get over Rosaline, for whom he pines, he meets and then marries Juliet — daughter of a rival family, and then, in an unfortunate turn of events, kills Juliet’s cousin.
This story anchor holds true for the version of the play I saw on the night I attended; it’s possible it may be different depending on the night one attends.
Pillars of Game:
Voluntary Participation — check!
Goal — to help Romeo decide what to do
Rules — you can vote for one of the two choices by yelling and raising your flag
Feedback — Romeo makes a decision based on audience opinion
Conclusion: Surprisingly, this may qualify as a game!
Who Should Experience This?
Everyone. This was a highly enjoyable entertainment experience that makes Shakespeare palatable and accessible to everyone and turns the theatergoing experience into a participatory experience.