Like the address of an exclusive new bar, the Royal Shakespeare Company performance of “Romeo and Juliet” last night at the Park Avenue Armory was unlisted.
To get in, you had to be a Buckeye (a graduate of Ohio State University) or a high-powered Brit or know one.
Leslie Wexner, chief executive officer of Limited Brands and chairman of OSU, made the cut, as did Lady Susie Sainsbury, whose fortune derives from the Sainsbury’s chain of supermarkets in England. Sir Christopher Bland, chairman of the RSC, jumped across the pond for the evening.
Also present were Marty Murrer, co-founder and managing director of Sagent Advisors; Michael Schoen, a managing director in debt capital markets at Credit Suisse Group; and Lawrence Hilsheimer, president and chief operating officer of Nationwide Direct and Customer Solutions at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.
Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, is the RSC’s U.S. partner in its education program, Stand Up for Shakespeare. Wexner, a benefactor of both institutions, forged the partnership.
Three years ago, teachers from rural Ohio began training in the program at both the Columbus campus and Stratford-upon-Avon. So far 38 teachers have implemented the program to their classrooms, reaching 3,500 students, said retired Ohio State University English professor David Frantz, who manages the partnership. Several teachers and students attended the performance last night.
“We want to give children the most engaging version of Shakespeare we can,” said RSC director of education Jacqui O’Hanlon. That includes a troupe that performs short versions of the plays, such as a 70-minute “Hamlet.”
Getting the Jokes
“Kids get the language and they get the jokes,” said Bland, who’d like to see the program spread around the world.
Ohio State used the performance last night to raise money for the education program. The university dubbed the event “Scarlet & Gray Shakespeare,” after the university’s colors. The stage that the company performs on in the Armory, a replica of its home stage, is not coincidentally called the Scarlet & Gray stage, in honor of the university’s financial support to build it.
At an early buffet supper for a small group of donors, the RSC’s artistic director, Michael Boyd, spoke of the “happy marriage” between the U.S. Midwest and the U.K. West Midlands, where the company is located.
Boyd also prepared guests for a “brave, passionate reading of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ noteworthy for its portrait of arrogance and righteousness and pure passion,” he said.
The performance, which had Romeo and Juliet in jeans and hoodies on a balcony framed in disco lights, certainly fit Boyd’s description.
Afterward, there was another reception. Donors picked up chocolate caramel tarts, and actors filled their plates with salad and pasta.
“I’ve had two Romeos today,” said an apparently sated Mariah Gale, who plays Juliet. (Gale’s usual Romeo, Sam Troughton, had injured his knee midway through the matinee performance; his understudy, Dyfan Dwyfor, filled in.)
“I’ve seen ‘Romeo and Juliet’ five times, and I have to tell you, you’re the best Juliet,” said Ohio State trustee Algenon Marbley, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.
Lady Sainsbury, who is chairman of RSC America, sat on a couch next to a Shakespeare doll wearing a “Go Bucks” pin. Wexner and his son Harry -- a high-school junior who said he hasn’t decided if he wants to go to Ohio State -- wore “Team Capulet” pins. Wexner’s wife, Abigail, wore a “Team Montague” pin.
“That was an accident,” she said.
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)