I played Petruchio in “The Taming of the Shrew” on the stage of Shenandoah High School 40 years ago. But I don’t think I ever had as much fun with Shakespeare as Maryanne Kocsis MacLeod and her cast of Romeo and Juliet on Facebook.
Basically, it’s the classic Shakespearean story played out in improvisational Facebook updates by high school actors in the community. Only the story takes some of the twists that would happen as such a tale might play out in Facebook updates today.Maryanne, health and lifestyles writer for the Macomb Daily, got the idea from a press release in which author David Gray posed the possibility: “Imagine Romeo and Juliet on Facebook.” After talking with Gray, Maryanne mulled the possibilities and started recruiting her cast.
The actors created Facebook profiles for their characters (Julie Capulet’s inspirations include a certain Elizabethan playwright; witty Mercutio is a Jersey Shore fan who likes to party and TheLady Montague‘s profile photo is her cartoon character from “Gnomeo and Juliet”). Maryanne hosted a cast meeting where they discussed logistics and the story line. Maryanne explains:
It was important that all of us understand we would not be acting out the play line for line, but reacting to what happened off-stage, er off-line, much like today’s Facebook posters. … Other than a loose set of guidelines, the entire production would be conducted “improv.”
The cast created a Romeo and Juliet on Facebook group to discuss plans, which included deciding how to work with Facebook logistics. Just as a theatrical director needs a technical director to take care of the set, lighting, props and costumes, Maryanne relied on technical advice and assistance from her husband, Bruce Macleod, the Macomb Daily’s online editor, who helped her troubleshoot the Facebook challenges.
They decided to create fictional profiles for each character. But since Capulets and Montagues could not be friends, cast members could not see the lines of each character in their news feeds (though Friar John and Maryanne were friends of everyone). Leading up to the Nov. 19 show day, they communicated through the Facebook group, and they could do instant communication on the 19th using Facebook chat. If the Facebook mechanics presented some challenges, it also provided some opportunity for drama, as Maryanne noted:
Imagine, for example, Lady Capulet’s reaction when Juliet defriends her moments before she and Romeo hook up.
The play unfolded on about the only day in three months that worked out for all the busy people involved. Facebook threw a curve, locking several actors out of their profiles, Maryanne explained:
Apparently the absence of individual phone numbers triggered red flags with Facebook security. The actors couldn’t use their own phone numbers, which were already tied to their personal accounts.
Bruce solved the problem by going to a work computer and giving the accounts newsroom phone numbers.
And the show went on. I encourage you to read Maryanne’s account of how she pulled it off, which includes a Storify transcript of the play as it unfolded, as well as links to the cast profiles. Here’s a favorite passage of mine:
Another thing I love about this project is that it shows the importance of creativity and individuality in community engagement. This is not a one-size-fits-all pursuit. In training and coaching on engagement, I stress Twitter’s value, which I have discussed time after time on this blog. Maryanne isn’t even on Twitter. And I won’t be bugging her to start tweeting. If you use Facebook (or blogs or YouTube or Google+ or Foursquare) as creatively as she’s using Facebook, and throw in Storify for good measure, you’re an engagement leader, even if you’re not using my favorite engagement tool.
Our JRC colleague Tom Skoch summed it this project up:
Update: Thanks to Macomb Daily graphic artist Kevin Martin, who provided the graphic illustrations, along with this illustration:
For the main graphic the painting was by Francesco Hayez: The last kiss of Romeo and Juliet. I just mashed up the painting image with a stock photo of an iPad and Facebook. For the portrait I just combined the two images (of Mark Zuckerberg and William Shakespeare).