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Red Bull Theater Teaches “Romeo and Juliet” in a Whole New Way

WEST ORANGE, NJ – West Orange High School students in Tonio Favetta’s and Janine Sullivan’s freshman English class have spent the past few weeks studying “Romeo and Juliet.” Reading Shakespeare is daunting to the most educated readers, who often struggle with the meaning of the text. Enter Red Bull Theater, who brought “Romeo and Juliet” to light in a whole new way.

Red Bull Theater was founded in New York City in 2003 and has become what the New York Times calls “a dynamic producer of classic plays.” In addition, RBT also produces podcasts, acting classes, and “Shakespeare in Schools,” which provides an interactive experience over the course of several weeks with students that features movement, speech, and performance. Teaching artists work with the teachers and curriculum to create a personalized classroom experience that will help students internalize the story and grow from the experience.  

Artist-in-residence Sean Runnette warmed students up and broke them into groups where they were assigned characters to read selected text. Another student was chosen to direct the action of the scene. The rest of the class made comments and answered questions while the dialogue was broken down in an understandable way.

“Sean engaged the students by using movement, language, and feelings, taking Shakespeare off the page and into their flesh and bones,” said Tonio Favetta. 

“The students had real conversations about the characters and themes of Romeo and Juliet,” he added.

According to the Red Bull Theater website, “The inclusion of theatrical exercises and heightened poetic text in the classroom increases literacy, improves public speaking skills, broadens understanding of social issues, encourages imaginative growth, teaches collaborative problem-solving, builds emotional intelligence, and promotes self-confidence in young people."

Runnette, who was clearly enjoying his time with students, noted, “we’re making the students uncomfortable and putting them outside their comfort zone.”

As for the students, their grasp of “Romeo and Juliet” was enhanced as they physically participated in the activities.

“We were so fortunate to have Sean Runnette from The Red Bull Theater in our classroom!” enthused Janine Sullivan.

“I appreciated how he used the text of the play and didn't rely on modern "translations." He made Shakespeare's challenging language accessible and fun,” she concluded.

See all the photos from the "Shakespeare in Schools" class HERE.

Shakespeare in Schools

Teacher Janine Sullivan (left), Sean Runnette (rear, floral shirt), and teacher Tonio Favetta (to right of Runnette) with Ninth Grade freshman English class.



Cynthia Cumming
April 17, 2024