It's the best of both tonight on the North Side as Poets Corner presents performances and discussion of "Romeo and Juliet," courtesy of Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Park.
"We're doing a few of the beginning scenes, so everyone can meet most of the major characters," said Helen M. Meade, who is directing this summer's Shakespeare in the Park production. "Romeo, Juliet, the friar, the nurse. And we give everyone the basic story line."
Which, as if you didn't know, involves two young lovers -- who both die -- and lots of fighting. (Talk about family-friendly entertainment!)
The fighting, of course, is key to the story. It's the feuding families that keep Romeo and Juliet from living happily ever after.
"So we'll present a fight demonstration, which is always fun," Ms. Meade said. "We have a wonderful fight choreographer, Tonya Lynn, and we want to give people just a taste of the kind of fighting we're doing."
Ms. Lynn doesn't stage fights just for kicks.
"She's been doing our fights for years now, and she's a certified fight choreographer," Ms. Meade said. "There's a stage-fighting organization, in which you take classes and study. It's amazing. It's not just about creating the illusion of the fight. It's the sounds and movements that add to the rhythm of the scene.
"For us, it's particularly complicated because we're fighting right in the middle of the audience. If you're on a stage or in front of a camera, the audience is in one place and it only has to look good from one direction. Our fights have to look good from all directions.
"It's like a dangerous dance because the daggers we're using are real. Real steel. They're not sharp, but they're real, and the actors have to be in control of what they're doing so no one gets hurt."
Tonight's show will be presented in the intimate space of the chapel at the Calvary United Methodist Church, which is a great place for a knife fight.
"It's a small space," said Yvonne Hudson, a member of the church council and a founding member of the Poets Corner. "The chapel seats 50 to 70 people, so you're up close to the actors and readers. During the fight demonstration, you'll be sitting right there where the fights are taking place. This play has several duels and street fights involving the feuding families. And [Ms. Lynn] will be there to take questions and discuss how that's done."
Ms. Hudson, who organized tonight's show to benefit the North Side Common Ministries Food Pantry, also plays the nurse in the production. She and the other actors, likewise, will be answering questions from the audience.
"We won't have the full cast, but most of the main characters have made themselves available," Ms. Meade said. "They're all incredibly gracious and encouraging people to come out and they're all looking forward to it.
"I've worked with Yvonne for many years and we welcomed the chance to bring outdoor Shakespeare indoors. This is the perfect opportunity to blend what we're doing with what she's doing."
Tonight's look "Inside Romeo and Juliet" is pretty informal, so don't expect the cast to be in costume or anything.
Calvary United Methodist Church is located at Allegheny and Beech avenues on the North Side. The show begins at 7 p.m. with a presentation of Falstaff's Fellows, a group of young people taking their first stab at Shakespeare. At 7:30, the real actors enter.
There is no admission, though everyone is encouraged to bring a food donation.
You also might want to mark your calendars for Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Park's last three performances of "Romeo and Juliet" -- the full shows: 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Allegheny Commons West Park on the North Side; 2 p.m. Sept. 14-15 at Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville; and 2 p.m. Sept. 21-22 at Frick Park in Squirrel Hill.
This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/