AFTLS and Love Letters to Romeo and Juliet

Faculty and graduate student presenters bask in a K-State purple glow of success following their lightning talks (11 Feb 2023)

On Saturday, February 11, in McCain Auditorium’s Kirmser Hall, faculty and graduate students shared a series of lightning talks, “Love Letters to Romeo and Juliet,” in advance of the performance of Shakespeare’s play that same evening at 7:30 p.m. by the Actors From The London Stage.

It had already been a full week of conversation and activities in English and Theatre classrooms around campus, thanks to the residency that forms a key part of a visit by the Actors From The London Stage. 

The five actors touring the country this spring with their production of Romeo and Juliet — Grace Andrews, Kaffe Keating, Hilary Maclean, Jonathan Oldfield, and Thomas Wingfield — shared their expertise in dialogue, language, and performance with introductory and advanced classes, ranging from ENGL 361 “British Survey I” to ENGL 435 “Linguistics for Teachers” to ENGL 663 “Advanced Poetry Writing” to THTRE 572 “History of Theatre I.”


Tom Wingfield guides students in Mary Kohn’s ENGL 435 “Linguistics for Teachers” on a scene from Much Ado About Nothing to explore the use of “thee” and “you.”


Hilary Mcclean works with students from Traci Brimhall’s ENGL 463 “Introduction to Poetry Writing.”

In between class visits and preparation for their performance of Romeo and Juliet, the actors were able to sample life in the Little Apple, including the K-State men’s basketball game against TCU —


(photo courtesy of AFTLS)

— and even practice their own skills on the court at the Rec.


(photo courtesy of AFTLS)

To help students, faculty, staff, and community members limber up for one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies, faculty and graduate students shared “Love Letters to Romeo and Juliet” in advance of the performance. The event was organized by the department’s Graduate Track in Literature.

Below is a brief glimpse of the talks enjoyed by 60+ people in attendance at the event.


Kimball Smith, Associate Professor of English, “‘Give me, Give me. Tell me not of fear’: The Pleasures of Spoiling Shakespeare.”

There are pleasures to be had from Romeo and Juliet even if we already know how it ends, Kimball Smith explained. We may not be surprised by the plot, but we can look forward to all the best lines: “What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East and Juliet is the sun.”


Kara Northway, Associate Professor of English, “Star-crossed Lovers Seeking Stardom: An Actor’s Letter from 1606”

Kara Northway’s talk, “Star-Crossed Lovers Seeking Stardom: An Actor’s Letter from 1606,” explored how borrowing lines from plays like Romeo and Juliet for romantic purposes was common practice in Renaissance England. One real-life, lovesick Romeo — John Alleyn — appropriated characters and scenarios from performances at the theater where he worked as a minor actor. In his love letter, he cast himself not in the bit parts he actually played, but in the star roles of the romantic hero or the tragic lover. His story helps us reflect on our own reactions to theater and the ways fictional feelings expressed there are sometimes repurposed to intensify our own.


Shannon Skelton, Associate Professor of Theatre, “Mutants, Skaters, and Gangsters: Romeo and Juliet and Exploitation Cinema”

Shannon Skelton examined films that adapt Shakespeare’s most famous tragic couple into less than respectable films. Motion pictures considered included the sleaze classic Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet, 80s “sportsploitation” entries Rad and Thrashin’, and the vomit-inducing Tromeo and Juliet. Regardless of how low-budget the film, or outrageous the concept, these cultural products evidence an eternal and unwavering fascination with Romeo and Juliet.


Ty Ratzlaff (MA ’24), graduate student in English, “Juliet’s Age”

Ty Ratzlaff’s presentation confronted the question of Juliet’s age: why is she 13? Ty argued that Shakespeare made this decision to employ a “gimmick” and entice audiences to the theatre. Individual theatres were in stiff competition with each other, as well as popular bloodsports like bear baiting and dog-fighting. By reducing the age of Juliet to 13 the play accelerates and heightens audience response and draws in audiences from other entertainment venues.


Natalie Liptak (MA ’23), graduate student in English, “‘A Tour of Modern-Day Lagos’: Place, Identity, & Social Structure in Multicultural YA Adaptations of Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s framework of “star-cross’d lovers” caught in a conflict between their families lends itself particularly well to adaptations that focus on cultural differences, Natalie Liptak explained. Young adult authors have utilized Romeo and Juliet to tell the story of how places – their home countries and their hometowns – define their identities. The Spider King’s Daughter (2012) by Chibundu Onuzo and These Violent Delights (2020) by Chloe Gong are examples of YA novels that connect Shakespeare’s archetypes to the depiction of places that are rich with history and culture, setting Romeo and Juliet-esque narratives in cities like Lagos and Shanghai.


Don Hedrick, Professor of English, “Dying Words”

Don Hedrick asked us to consider the dying words of Romeo and Juliet to understand more fully the play’s approach towards death, dying, and what constitutes a “happy” ending — at least for the dagger that Juliet wields, which finds its happy (fortunate and appropriate) resting place inside her. Don brought along a prop dagger, painted with a smile, to help illustrate his point.


Our presenters prepare for their group photo at the end of the event.

Many thanks to our faculty and graduate student presenters, to the McCain Performance Series and its Director Todd Holmberg who sponsor the AFTLS residency and stage performance, and to the Actors From The London Stage for a memorable week of Shakespeare in the classroom and on stage!

Karin Westman, Department Head


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s