On November 4, the RiverWalk Amphitheater will host the world premiere of a progressive new work entitled R + J Theory by Columbus native Ben Dallas Redding. Based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Redding's new work explores the classic tale reimagined for modern times.
Redding said the play's title comes from the multiple theories he explored when working on its development. The first? Addressing the changes happening in theatre audiences today. "Theatre audiences look different today than they did fifty years ago," said Redding. "Societal changes have made space for a wider audience base than ever before, and therefore a more diverse representation of these changes is happening on stage. I wanted R + J Theory to be a work that sent home the message that theatre is for everyone."
Writer and Director, Ben Dallas Redding. | Image by Logan Williamson
It is for this reason that Redding and his team have cast an incredibly diverse lineup of actors for his play. "We are committed to celebrating an accurate representation of society within our cast," Redding explained. "This means that you will see people of all races, genders, and lifestyles on stage and the production will not shy away from exploring these themes."
Unlike many other local productions, R + J Theory is intended for adult audiences. No one under the age of 18 will be admitted without a legal guardian. This is due to the mature themes found in the production's content.
"We are committed to celebrating an accurate representation of society within our cast. This means that you will see people of all races, genders, and lifestyles on stage and the production will not shy away from exploring these themes."
Redding said he takes the protection of audiences seriously. "While it is very important to me that this production shows a guttural representation of what Romeo and Juliet might look like in our world today, I want people to understand that this content is not intended for everyone. We will be exploring mature societal themes. Whether merely suggested on stage or visually clear, these themes are not intended to be seen by children."
Romeo and Juliet. | Image by Kenny Gray.
R + J Theory will not be shying away from exploring the tension underlying the violence that happens between the characters onstage. "I want people to think about why things happen," said Redding. "Why are the two Capulet and Montague families opposed to each other? Where and how are these societal lines drawn? What emotional impact does it have on our characters?"
Redding described the new work as "surreal, guttural, and cathartic." Although he thinks Columbus is ready for this type of theatre, he admitted that he isn't expecting everyone to like it.
"I hope that people walk away from R + J Theory having experienced something that makes them think," said Redding. "I am sure that some people won't like it. But I want them to think about why they didn't like it, and talk about it."
When asked if he thought Columbus was ready for this type of progressive theatre, Redding was thoughtful with his response. "I want to think Columbus is ready for this show. We are a town that has mainly been exposed to theatre is that is, for the most part, pretty comfortable. The classics. Sure, there have been some shows that pushed the envelope and addressed a few different themes, but for the most part it's all been fairly safe."
Why push the limits, then?
Because Redding thinks providing progressive theatrical experiences is important for the future of our community. "As a town, we are on the brink of becoming a community that is an epicenter of culture," Redding explained. "But with that comes the necessity to understand that culture comes with people of all walks of life. If we, as a community, say we want to be a community for all people - then that means not only accepting people with alternative lifestyles and differences, but understanding and celebrating them. As a community, Columbus has a choice to make. Are we ready to be that type of place, or not?"
Keeping that in mind, Redding made it clear that his goal is not to impose upon anyone. "Art is for everyone, but all art is not for everyone!" he said. "I completely understand that this may not be everyone's favorite thing they see. The important part to me is that Columbus is given the opportunity to see productions like this as we continue to grow as a community."
The cast is composed of members representing the diverse population of our world today. "The casting was done with complete racial ambiguity and traditional gender roles have been ignored," said Redding. "There are Caucasian people, African American people, gay characters, straight characters, and non-binary gender expressive characters."
Redding has shared the concepts for many of these characters online. "I'm putting it all out there," he said. "We have been very open about our process as a creative team, and are excited for people to see the final product in November."
Before assuming there's an agenda in place, audience members should know the play is not intended for shock and awe. "Shock and awe does not interest me," Redding said frankly. "Our goal is not to shock people. I simply want to create a work of art that is real. Everything about this production is based in realism, as all genuine performances should be. R + J Theory exists to illustrate that theatre is for all people, and that's exactly what it is."
Another theory that Redding explored during his process was the idea that theatre should be accessible for everyone. It is for this reason that tickets to the production will be free. Reservations are required for security purposes, but all tickets will be free of charge.
"We have worked hard to raise the funding from local support to cover our costs and keep this piece of theatre free," said Redding. "As part of each actor's contract, they have been given tickets to give away to friends or acquaintances that are not 'theatre people' or may never get to come otherwise for financial reasons. We want anyone and everyone who wants to see this show to be able to come to the theatre and see it."
As of October 7, Redding and his team had raised over $11,000 for the production. Donations are still being accepted through the date of the performance. "Columbus has really gotten behind this project. Everyone has been really supportive, and it's been amazing."
Potential audience members should know that there are a limited number of seats available for the production. Security is being given the highest priority, so advance reservations are required. "Because it's an outdoor venue, we are hiring security officers and blocking off the street to ensure the safety of everyone present."
Redding is thrilled to share R + J Theory with the Columbus community, and hopes it will be a step towards our community's future as a major hub for arts and culture in the South. "This play is an emotional experience where everyone goes through a traumatic event together and then recovers," said Redding. "I can't wait to see what happens afterward. The conversations and discussions. The emotions. The ownership of what's happened and experienced together there. It will be interesting and exciting to witness, and I'm looking forward to see what Columbus will do with art like this now and in the years to come." ◼︎
If You Go:
What: R + J Theory
When: November 4, 2018
Where: RiverWalk Amphitheater
Cost: Free, but advance reservations are required. Call: https://www.rjtheory.com
Ben Redding | Founder, Writer, Director
Lindi Catherine Taylor | Art Director, Producer
Shane Hall | Musical Staging and Choreography
Joel Winderweedle | Costume Design
Hunter Lewis | Production Manager
Caroline Patrick | Production Manager
All images in this article were shared with permission from Ben Dallas Redding and sunday nana productions.