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Environmental Conservation Takes Center Stage in Shakespeare in Yosemite's 'Romeo and Juliet'

April 18, 2023
Two people are seen in the snow in Yosemite National Park.
Left to right: Madelyn Lara as Juliet and Moximo Hamright as Romeo pose in Yosemite. Photo by Darah Carrillo Vargas.

"Romeo and Juliet" is considered William Shakespeare's most famous romantic tragedy. But this Earth Day weekend, it will be transformed into a new production that will offer hope for the future of the environment.

Shakespeare in Yosemite members have put in countless hours brainstorming, scripting, casting and rehearsing for their adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet" — set to hit the stage at UC Merced April 20 and in Yosemite National Park from April 21-23.

The 90-minute performance is full of live pop music and has been adapted to address issues relevant to Earth Day and Yosemite. And this time, Romeo and Juliet won't die.

English Professor Katie Brokaw, producer and director of this production and co-founder of Shakespeare in Yosemite, said rewriting Shakespeare's plays is nothing new.

"The message of 'Romeo and Juliet' — that not getting along can be lethal — is one that is really resonant right now during a time of great division in our country and world," she said. "There's a long tradition to give the lovers a happy ending in adaptations, and we are continuing that by sharing powerful messages of reconciliation and hope."

How does one fit Yosemite and environmental messages into the play? Brokaw explained that they didn't have to rework the entire script because it already contained language necessary to make this adaptation work.

"The first few acts are pretty similar to how Shakespeare wrote it, with some obvious changes, but several existing lines worked for our purposes, like ones that could refer to fires and others about toads, so it came together really nicely," she said.

It was during a conversation with Yosemite National Park Public Affairs Officer Scott Gediman, a consulting partner for Shakespeare in Yosemite productions, that Brokaw was made aware of the red-legged frog, which would end up being a major focus of this adaptation.

The red-legged frog is indigenous to the Sierra. In the mid-20th century, a local hotel placed bullfrogs in a nearby pond; they ended up taking over the ecosystem and crowding out the other frog species.

"Several years were spent rehabilitating the red-legged frog and getting rid of the bullfrogs, and a couple years ago they reintroduced the red-legged frog species," Brokaw said. "We decided to tell that story through 'Romeo and Juliet' because we wanted there to be a strong connection to environmental conservation and the ecosystems in Yosemite."

The audience will also be witness to a fire in the show — something that, unfortunately, Yosemite has experienced in real life.

Brokaw hopes audience members will enjoy the fresh take on the Shakespearean classic and appreciate the several messages it offers.

"Our version of 'Romeo and Juliet' shows the importance of indigenous species to ecosystems, and why we need to take care of wild places instead of exploiting them for resources," she said. "But we are also putting a spotlight on intergenerational differences and misunderstandings. It's really important for generations to listen to each other with an open heart."

Moximo Hamright as Romeo and Madelyn Lara as Juliet pose in front of Half Dome. Photo by Darah Carrillo Vargas.

The new adaptation features several current and former UC Merced students, faculty and staff, as well as park rangers, Yosemite National Park employees and community members. To date, this show has the most UC Merced involvement of all Shakespeare in Yosemite productions.

Madelyn Lara ('22) is excited to be involved in Shakespeare in Yosemite for the first time. She landed the role of Juliet and is among the seven alumni in the show, which has required a lot of teamwork.

"Every step of the production has been a team effort, which is a very unique and rewarding experience as an actor," Lara said. "If you have any hang-ups about Shakespeare, you should leave them at the door when you come see our show. Yosemite lovers and even first-timers to the park will see references to a lot of the most iconic landmarks. It makes you feel so connected to the park."

Lara will be acting alongside Moximo Hamright, who plays Romeo. The community member has performed in several plays in Merced and especially enjoyed being part of this cast.

"I feel like everyone's really working together and everyone's really pleasant to be around and to be on stage with — which I think is what you need for an eco show. I feel like the vibe is important, and the vibe has been well-curated," Hamright told the Merced County Times.

Current students Mia Hinshaw and Sal Lopez Franco — who play the parts of Tybalt and Benvolio, respectively — are also performing for the first time. They are soaking in every minute and hope to inspire others to get involved.

"Playing Tybalt is amusing. Her character in this version is still fiery and bold, but in a selfish way. I'd say it's kind of fun to play someone who is reckless, since I'm usually not," Hinshaw said. "I hope anyone who watches our show can go home feeling like they can make a difference, whether it be transforming old grudges or saving our planet, one step at a time."

"Immersing myself by understanding that my character is a supportive friend has been a great experience," Lopez Franco said. "I hope our production inspires others to join theater. There are a lot of plays going on in Merced and many available options besides being an actor."

The shows are free and open to everyone; no tickets are required. Four presentations are taking place in Yosemite and one at UC Merced:

  • Thursday, April 20
    6 p.m.
    Wallace-Dutra Amphitheater, UC Merced
    (Free parking in Bellevue Lot)
  • Friday, April 21
    5 p.m.
    Curry Village Amphitheater, Yosemite
  • Saturday, April 22
    Noon and 5 p.m.
    Curry Village Amphitheater, Yosemite
  • Sunday, April 23
    Curry Village Amphitheater, Yosemite

Shakespeare in Yosemite was founded in 2017 by Brokaw and fellow English Professor Paul Prescott to help rekindle a long legacy of arts and live theater in Yosemite through short, fun and accessible productions. The shows are adapted with music and focus on relevant issues around environmentalism and the natural beauty of the world. The performances are held in April to celebrate and honor Earth Day and Shakespeare's birthday.

For more information, visit or follow @yosemiteshakes on Instagram and TikTok.