Metro Weekly

Shakespeare Theatre offers Romeo & Juliet for its 2018 “Free For All”

The annual event gives theater fans top dollar productions for free

Romeo and Juliet: Sam Lilja and Danaya Esperanza — Photo: Tony Powell

“One of the most interesting things for me is doing a play about teenage suicide in a moment where suicide is a huge part of the national conversation,” says Alan Paul. “It’s been so important to me in the production to not glamorize suicide in any way.”

Paul, the 33-year-old Associate Artistic Director of The Shakespeare Theatre Company, is discussing the tragic elements of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Romeo & Juliet, a production he originally directed in 2016 and is remounting for the company’s annual “Free For All.”

“They feel that [suicide] is the only way out,” he continues, addressing the well-known fate of the two young lovers. “The play wouldn’t have the kind of power it has if these two young people didn’t take their lives. It goes back to the conversation we’re all having this summer when you look at Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain and people who took their lives. From an outside perspective, they seem okay, but in their own minds they felt quite different. It’s even more magnified for a teenager.”

Paul, who recently directed the musical smash Camelot for the theater, feels summer is the perfect season to stage Romeo & Juliet. “The play takes place in the summer,” he says. “If it took place in the winter, none of the action would have happened because Romeo wouldn’t have been hanging out with all his friends outside and all these fights wouldn’t have broken out.”

The Free For All is critical to the theater’s mission, says Paul. “I think we all feel that we have something we want to give back to the community,” he says. “What happens in the Free for All is that a lot of people who might not be able to come to the theater because of the ticket price are able to see a production as good as the one that people paid full price for a few years ago…. It’s just a great way to get people into the theater who really want to be there. The audience has waited in line, worked really hard to get those seats, and they are excited to be there. You can feel the energy. The audience feels it, the cast feels it. It’s a very special thing for me.”

Romeo & Juliet runs to Sept. 2 at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW. Tickets are free, distributed through a daily online lottery as well as in-person on a first-come, first-serve basis two hours before each day’s curtain. Call 202-547-1122 or visit

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