Tamara Harvey is visiting Tampa and Verona for the second time.
The acclaimed director was in town last year as part of the University of South Florida's British International Theater program, which brings luminaries of the British stage to USF each year for classes and productions. The school and the students made her eager to return.
"The facilities are fantastic," Harvey said. "We're not used to universities with such great facilities in England."
She was equally impressed with the talent and enthusiasm of USF's theater students.
"They're completely open and committed, and they bring such passion to what they do," she said. "That's why I wanted to come back."
Her return gave her an opportunity she has been awaiting for a decade.
"I directed Romeo and Juliet about 10 years ago, and I wanted to do it again, and I wanted to do it with a young cast," she said. "So when USF said they wanted to do it, I jumped at the chance."
Her staging of one of Shakespeare's most widely known plays opens this evening in Theatre II on USF's Tampa campus.
"I think one of the things that makes this work so enduring is that it's about that time in your life when you really believe love conquers all, that you believe love makes all things possible. And we all want to feel that way," Harvey said.
Harvey has extensive experience directing Shakespeare and has a long association with Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.
She has opted for a traditional version of Romeo and Juliet, in Verona at the time of the Italian Renaissance, and has opted to keep the audience lighted under simulated candlelight.
"It's one of the things I saw working at the Globe," she said. "It's that connection you can feel with the audience by having them be a part of the playing space. It's about those moments in Shakespeare when the actors speak in soliloquies or asides and they need to have an intimacy with the audience. Those moments work better when the actors can see the audience."
Even though Romeo and Juliet is arguably Shakespeare's most famous play, it can be difficult to stage, Harvey said, mostly because of the demands of the title roles. She thinks she has found actors up to the challenge in Aisha Duran and Phillip Gulley.
"It's very hard to find a Romeo and a Juliet who are good enough to carry the weight of the play but are also young enough," she said. "And I would be very happy to have these two as my Romeo and Juliet anywhere."