READING SERIES: Lady Capulet by Melissa Bell

 It's our Fifth Annual Reading Series: "Seeing Shakespeare's Women!"  Learn more about our first playwright, Melissa Bell!

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I have been an artist all my life and have had a varied creative life. I sang and played guitar, wrote songs and had a band during and after high school. Then I moved to NYC to be a singer and joined a disco girl group that had a big dance club hit record (they were still vinyl). After about 10 years trying to make it in the music business with some up and lots of downs, I attended Columbia University as an adult student at the School of General Studies, which changed my life. I graduated with a concentration in Writing and joined a creative agency. One thing I learned as a commercial artist is that revisions are my friend, and it’s a good adage to live by as a writer, mother and spouse. I began playwriting about 10 years ago. I’m married and have a son in college in Greece.

2) What inspired you to write Lady Capulet?

A few years ago, a NY Times reviewer of Theatre for a New Audience (in Brooklyn) production of Romeo and Juliet challenged future writers to consider why this particular Lady Capulet was so inconsolable after the death of Tybalt, her nephew. The writer of the article speculated they might have been lovers. But I had a different theory. Shakespeare never reveals the cause of the infamous feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. As I reviewed the text of R&J and began to draw a trajectory for Lady Capulet, or Rose as I have named her, I felt that a feud so bloody could only be caused by a blood betrayal. I pursued that line of thought to explore themes of love, betrayal and retribution, using the relationship between Lady Capulet and Tybalt as the key. (They aren’t lovers in my story.)

3) Why do you think it's necessary to tell stories from women's point of view?

I was raised in a family with a strong but kind mother and 2 sisters, no brothers, and we dominated our household over our father. I gravitate to creating stories around strong yet flawed women as the central characters; women who want something more than their current social or gender experience allows them. This desire causes them to take action, and their actions disrupt their world, themselves or those they love, revealing deeper humanistic needs and desires. I do not write women as victims; I write then as challenging their status in worlds dominated by social systems that are not supportive or are out of synch with them. My characters shake these systems, and in doing so, suffer consequences, yet realize change.

4) What are some things you've discovered through the process of developing this show?

Many discoveries have been craft-related, such as using prompts as guides to write scenes. However, I have learned a lot about my relationship with Shakespeare. As an English major, I studied two semesters of Shakespeare and have read or seen much his work. Shakespeare is a master at defining the human impulses behind action, for better and for worse. His characters are driven by greed, lust for power, blinding love, loyalty or jealousy; they kill friends, family and foes alike, and are cruel to lovers and children. We observe these characters doing all the things that our parents and kind society say must not be done. We experience the consequences of their actions in a visceral way, and through this experience, we learn for ourselves the way to carry ourselves in this confusing world we live in. Shakespeare understood that we are not ruled by laws, but by our emotions.

5) What should audiences look forward to when they come to see Lady Capulet?

Despite its darker aspects, LADY CAPULET is an exciting ride as we follow Rose’s journey from country maid to powerful Lady of Verona. Rose comes from a simple traditional family, and she is unprepared for the sophistication of her new surroundings. After suffering a devastating misstep, she rebounds, learns to fight for herself, and becomes the Lady of a powerful House of Verona she desires to be. The fact that she deceives her husband, coerces her brother into a life and death plot, and nearly poisons her sister-in-law (and herself) along the way is simply means to survival in this world where power, family, money and gender define everything.

6) Anything else we should know?

The play is not written in verse or iambic pentameter. Its language is very accessible and easy to understand. I hope LADY CAPULET will act as a bridge between the contemporary and classic, and that afterwards, people will want to read Romeo and Juliet and Richard III. There’s a lot of Richard III in Rose.

Melissa Bell’s work has been presented at NACL Theatre (COURAGE, featuring Debra Winger), 29th Street Playwrights New Works Series, The Bechdel Group, Guild Hall in East Hampton, Corner Store Arts Center (DC) and National Museum of Women in the Arts, (DC). Off-Broadway: DEVIL & THE DEEP, Reimagining Treasure Island. Music/Lyrics: Graham Russell (Air Supply) & Katie McGhie, produced by Theatre East. LOST IN LOVE one-night only benefit for The Actors Fund at the Triad Theater, featuring Constantine Maroulis, Andrea McArdle. LADY CAPULET is a 2017 Henley Rose finalist. Plays available on the New Play Exchange

Follow Melissa on Twitter, Facebook, or on the 29th Street Playwrights Collective.


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