“The One with All the Great Lines”: A Conversation with the Director of “In Juliet’s Garden”

This article was written by Adeline Thalhammer. Poster by Rachel Douma, featuring Bridget Kenny, Kate Lawrence, and Ingrid Baker.

Originally, Abigail Doonan (‘24) didn’t know what she wanted to do for her THEA 497 – her capstone production project for her theatre major. She did know that she wanted to direct, whether it was a play that she had written, a Shakespeare play, a piece by Tennessee Williams or something else entirely. In the end, a one-act play was the best option, due to the short time frame for rehearsals and the inevitable time conflicts in an ensemble cast. She told me during our interview, “I was looking through Concord Theatricals and I stumbled upon ‘In Juliet’s Garden’, which was a comedy about Shakespearean characters, and I thought that was really cool. I’ve done a lot of work with Shakespeare over the course of my college career, so I thought it would be fun to tie a little bow by working on another Shakespeare-related play.”

“In Juliet’s Garden” by Judy Elliot McDonald is a 45-minute, one-act comedy about Shakespeare’s heroines coming together to discuss the difficult plots that their author put them through. It is ultimately about listening to each other and seeing things from a new perspective— although, of course, that comes with challenges. “I have very mixed emotions about the play,” Doonan said, “Because seeing the cast’s reaction to the play was very different than how I reacted reading it the first time […] It just depends on how you interpret Shakespeare’s plays.” Indeed, many interpretations of Shakespeare’s work have portrayed women as mere accessories to the plot, while plenty of other productions have elevated, even celebrated them. The challenge is to give each text its due diligence. “In Juliet’s Garden” provides ample opportunity for debate and discussion, whether you come away from it thinking the heroines were treated poorly or fairly.

Doonan is not only the director of “In Juliet’s Garden”; she is also a co-producer and publicist. The other co-producer is Cherry Bauer (‘24), who is also in charge of costume design and wardrobe for the production. Lydia Konings (‘24) is both scenic designer and sound designer, Deborah Van Iwaarden (‘26) is lighting designer, Claudia Hwang (‘26) is choreographer and music director, and Eden Comer (‘25) is the stage manager. Doonan said that other factors went into her choosing “In Juliet’s Garden”: “I want to do something that’s going to be beneficial for the department and allow people to have opportunities. That’s a big thing for me: giving people with potential that haven’t done things yet an opportunity to be in something or be part of something. For instance, it’s Eden’s first time stage managing, it’s Deb’s first time lighting designing, half the cast hasn’t been in anything at Hope other than the ten-minute plays [for the Directing I class]; so I was really intentional with whomever I picked to be part of the production process.”

“In terms of casting, I think that I was very lucky in the amount of people that auditioned for my show,” she continued. “With 490s, normally you get just the amount of people that you need. But I had nineteen people audition. It’s so hard to let people down. There were so many good actors, and I really hope that people continue to audition because there was so much talent in that room.” For Doonan, casting has been one of the most difficult parts of the process. 

I asked about some of her other challenges on top of casting. “One thing that I’ve learned as a director is that I still struggle a lot with delegating tasks, specifically to my designers. I’ve found it to be a struggle communicating to them my exact vision, but that’s been fun to work on. I’ve also learned more about how to communicate with my actors, and if there’s something I don’t necessarily like, I ask myself, ‘How do I deliver that in a way that’s kind but also encouraging?’ My designers and actors are killing it— I’m really excited for it all to come together this coming week!”

One special aspect of this production is that it will be in the DeWitt Studio Theatre in arena configuration, meaning that the audience will sit on all four sides of the action. “I’ve never directed in arena before,” Doonan told me. “It’s fun trying to block [arrange] people in a way that looks visually nice, but also still movement-oriented.” 

As an actor in the show myself, it has been a very interesting experience to determine movement in relationship to my fellow actors, while also allowing the audience to see me from multiple sides. This is opposed to proscenium, which is the classic, most common configuration of a theatre, in which the audience sits on only one side of the stage. “I think proscenium is so much easier [to direct in], because actors tend to have more experience in that,” Doonan said, “But I wanted the challenge of working in arena […] I couldn’t imagine doing it on the [DeWitt Main Stage] because it’s such an intimate play. I think a big theme in it is working through your problems, and I think that you have to be very vulnerable in that, and being in a big space wouldn’t allow you to feel those emotions in the way that I would like them to be expressed.” With approximately 65 seats in the theatre, arena configuration in such an intimate, immersive setting will definitely make for a unique viewing experience.

So who should come see this play? The short answer is, everyone. “You could say that it’s specifically targeted at people that enjoy Shakespeare, which I think is actually quite a few Hope College students. Or haters of Shakespeare! I don’t think anybody’s impartial to Shakespeare, you know? I think Shakespeare can seem really inaccessible, it can be really hard to digest and read, but once you throw yourself into the fire and get into it, I think that Shakespeare’s work is a lot more accessible than people think because it’s very much about the world and the human experience.” The fun thing about “In Juliet’s Garden” is that there is little-to-no Shakespearean text in the play other than a singular sonnet. This alone makes the play more accessible to people who are weary of Shakespeare’s writing. 

The cast of “In Juliet’s Garden” includes Ashley Lauraine (‘25), Anya Kapitula (‘26), Ingrid Baker (‘26), Kate Lawrence (‘26), Adeline Thalhammer (‘26), Bridget Kenny (‘27) and Jesalyn Ashby (‘27). The performances will take place in the DeWitt Studio Theatre on March 22nd at 7:30 p.m. and March 23rd at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $3 each and can only be purchased at the door via cash or card.

Doonan added, “I just think everybody should support student work. ‘In Juliet’s Garden’ [and other 497s] is fully student-led art, which is amazing and super fun!” We hope to see you there!


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