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Boardman Park cancels ‘Romeo & Juliet’ with two female leads

Shakespearean scene.
Nicole Balog-Bickerstaff
Twilight Theatre
“Romeo & Juliet” was intended as Youngstown-based Twilight Theatre’s debut “Shakespeare in the Park” production. But Boardman Park declined to host the show after women were cast in both lead roles. Left to right: Michele McNeal, Elizabeth Allard, Rosie Bresson (obscured), Cait McNeal.

“It is the East,” Romeo says in the play, and the production is moving north. Twilight Theatre’s debut show, “Romeo & Juliet,” starts June 30 in Warren. Yet it was originally slated for a different venue. The Youngstown-based company had secured Maag Outdoor Arts Theatre in Boardman Park for the first in a planned series of “Shakespeare in the Park” presentations.

In a Sunday Facebook post, the theater company said it was “deeply disappointed and confused” with Boardman Park leadership’s decision to “no longer host our LGBTQ+ production” of the play. The leads in Twilight’s version are both played by women.

Twilight’s Founder and Artistic Director Joe Soriano said he started the company after noticing the lack of opportunities for Mahoning Valley artists and actors to get paid for their work outside of Opera Western Reserve and musicals. Initial talks with park leadership had been positive, as Soriano is including mental health resources as part of the show’s curtain call.

“It’s a tragedy, and it's a tragedy for a reason,” he said. “I had my stage manager compile a big list of local resources, especially for the LGBTQ+ community.”

In May, as auditions got underway for “Romeo & Juliet,” there was an influx of talented women and Soriano decided on non-traditional casting. He notified the park by the end of the month, and the play was soon canceled.

“I asked them what their reasoning was, because the only new information that they had gotten was the LGBTQ+ representation,” he said. “It struck me as discrimination.”

Boardman Park Recreation & Engagement Director Karen McCallum said via email that the park district had no comment beyond: “The original project as presented to the Park, was changed.”

The Darlene Lounge on Market Street in Warren will now host the free production on June 30 and July 1.

After that, Soriano plans to continue one “Shakespeare in the Park” production each year to help Twilight build momentum. “Twelfth Night,” with its established non-traditional gender roles, is one he hopes to produce soon.

“You look at Shakespearean theater; females weren't even allowed to be actors,” he said. “Every female role, a male was playing it. So, there's always been drag in Shakespeare.”

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.