A gender-flipped world where the women are in charge and the men are marketed, bartered over and sold off to the highest bidder.
That's the premise behind Romeo and Juli-et, Taupo-nui-a-Tia College's entry into the 2021 Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival in Wellington this weekend.
The five-minute selection from Shakespeare's well-loved tragic romance Romeo and Juliet takes on a very different twist in the hands of Year 13 student, director Tayla Simmonds and the cast of 10 students.
Their version has the women running the show and the reluctant Juli-et, a bloke, being auctioned off on the marriage market, in a similar way to how Juliet's parents attempt to marry their reluctant daughter off to suitor Paris in the original play.
At the regional competition of the Sheilah Winn Festival in April, Romeo and Juli-et was selected for the national competition in Wellington over Queen's Birthday weekend.
Taupō-nui-a-Tia College teacher in charge of drama, Viv Gowdy, says Tayla came up with the idea of flipping the gender roles during a discussion about Lord Capulet abusing his 14-year-old daughter by trying to marry her off against her will, and Juliet's strength in standing up to him.
"Tayla said 'what if we flip the gender so we set it in the future where Juliet is a male and the nurse has brought him up and the nurse is a male and we're showing the high-class boys being sold in marriage?'" Viv says.
"We were looking specifically at the Shopping Channel stuff where they sit on a plinth and it turns around and it's got all the specs with it, basically men being used for breeding stock. And Juli-et is being sold for $2 million because the Capulets were right up there. And we show another boy that in the play Romeo was originally in love with, [a girl called] Rosalind, but now it's 'Russell Lind' on display so basically it's a sales evening and they're being sold in marriage."
The students said with 10 actors, including one from Tauhara College, and only five minutes, getting the pace and timing right was absolutely crucial. While the Shakespearean dialogue can be confusing and the whole Shakespeare festival fun, but overwhelming and intense, they had Ms Gowdy and her mother Shirley "Mama" Gowdy to help them translate it and explain the meanings.
Winning in April meant an unexpected extra six weeks of rehearsals for the students, who are in a Year 12/13 composite drama class - and despite all the work that's gone in, it's not even worth any NCEA credits.
Ms Gowdy says the judges' comments at the regional competition were that they really liked the concept and enjoyed seeing a flipped version of the well-known play.
The college's other entry in the regional competition was The Comedy of Errors and from that, Year 13 actor John Brunning-Tate was selected for direct entry to the National Shakespeare Schools Production, a separate event held in October in Wellington, in which 48 talented secondary school actors spend an intensive week studying Shakespeare and rehearsing for a performance of an excerpt from a Shakespeare play. At the end, half of the students will be selected to travel to the Shakespeare Globe Theatre in London.
This weekend's Shakespeare festival has 48 entries from schools around the country and will run over two full-on days from 9am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington. It's certainly a crash course for the students, but Ms Gowdy says it's also fascinating because even though they may see excerpts from the same Shakespeare plays, no two scenes are ever the same.
"It's just different ways of interpreting things and that's what's so cool about Shakespeare."