Local theatres collaborate in Stage and Screen series


Photo courtesy T. Charles Erickson, Huntington Theatre Company

“Romeo and Juliet” cast performs at Huntington Theatre Company.

Avery Bleichfeld, news staff

Brookline independent movie theatre Coolidge Corner showed “West Side Story” March 4 in collaboration with the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” as part of the theatres’ Stage and Screen series.

Both organizations consider the series, which began in 2012, a way to work with another form of theatre and to start a conversation with viewers.

“It’s another way to put the work we’re doing on stage in conversation with stories from another medium, and it’s another way that we can be in conversation with the community that’s slightly geographically farther away from the Huntington,” said Caley Chase, assistant director of the Huntington’s “Romeo and Juliet.” “We like working with the Coolidge, specifically, because they have this incredible knowledge of film.”

Charles Haugland, director of new work at the Huntington and one of the people responsible for the series, said that the conversation comes from the differences in medium between film and the stage.

The comparison adds depth to the works in both mediums, said Beth Gilligan, director of developing and marketing at the Coolidge.

“I think it provides a different perspective, and it just shows how dynamic the work is that Huntington is producing and also these films we’re showing,” Gilligan said. “I think they make for terrific, really in-depth conversation vehicles.”

Stage and Screen also allows the Coolidge to take more risks and put on movies that would not normally fit into other programs like their Big Screen Classics series that shows popular classic movies, Gilligan said.

Since the series’ start, the theatres have shown three or four collaborations per season at the Huntington, with most of the movies connected to their play by themes. Chase said this sets apart “West Side Story,” the 1961 film and musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” pitting a white American gang against a Puerto Rican one on the streets of New York.

“It’s an interesting [match] for ‘West Side Story,’ because ‘West Side Story’ is really a specific adaptation of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” Chase said. “The correlation between the film and the plays we’re doing is usually not that direct.”

Chase said that when it came to choosing a movie to go with this production, “it seemed like there wasn’t really another option.”

The choice set the collaboration up to center around conversations about similarities and differences between the two renditions.

“The ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘West Side Story’ conversation was particularly exciting to have because you can really track the similarities and differences between how our production interpreted Shakespeare’s text and how ‘West Side Story’ took the story of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and put it in a different context,” Chase said.

Haugland said that it took a normal part of the Stage and Screen series a little further by putting the two media together and finding that “you see new things in both of them.”

“Those changes that they’ve made ring so much more strongly when you’re watching them back to back,” Haugland said.

In the case of “Romeo and Juliet” and “West Side Story,” Chase said it was also an opportunity to see what drives at the root of the story.

“I hope that the people who saw both the movie and our production will then really realize the sticking power of this story and will extrapolate on ways it’s been relevant in different periods in our history,” Chase said. “I think it’s a play and a story that we find current multiple times in a generation.”

The Huntington’s performance of “Indecent,” showing later this season, will be accompanied by the Coolidge’s showing of the 2017 movie “Disobedience,” both of which explore themes of faith and sexuality in Judaism. By the nature of the collaboration, the choices the theatres make in running the discussion around those performances will be different from the conversation around “Romeo and Juliet” and “West Side Story.”

“They’re very specific to each production, the Stage and Screen series, and they serve a different purpose depending on what we think people might want to talk about,” Chase said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of model.”

“Indecent” opens at the Huntington Theatre Company April 26. The Coolidge Corner Theatre shows “Disobedience” April 29.