Richmond High students create stage play ‘Juliet Takes a Breath’

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All photos courtesy of Richmond High School.

By Kathy Chouteau 

Richmond High School will unveil a stage play adaptation of the novel “Juliet Takes a Breath” this week that’s not only a student-teacher collaboration, but also the first explicitly queer LGBT play ever produced at the school, according to Gender Women’s Studies class teacher, Isabel Gil-Garcia.

Juliet Takes a Breath opens at The Little Theatre at Richmond High School, Thurs., May 11 and Fri., May 12 at 7 p.m. Tickets to the performance in the 700-seat theatre are available for purchase at the door: $7/with a Richmond High School ID or $10/without an ID (everyone is welcome).

Among the crowd Thursday night will be the book’s author, Gabby Rivera, who won accolades for her 2019 novel and who also met with the Richmond students via Zoom. “She sent us some T-shirts and she’s actually going to come see the play…Very exciting,” said Gil-Garcia.

The concept to adapt Rivera’s novel grew from Gil-Garcia’s Gender Women’s Studies class at Richmond High, where the students were reading it. She said she chose the book because it was a nice entry point into her class. It’s “about a Latina, a queer person, who comes to terms with themselves and their relationship with their family,” said “Teacher Garcia,” as the students call them. “It kind of goes through learning and unlearning a lot of the things that society pushes,” later adding, “It’s a funny novel, but it’s also very deep.”

Gil-Garcia said their students in the class loved the book, including four members of the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA)—a club at the school that the teacher facilitates. At Back to School night in September, the students asked if they could adapt the novel into a play. Gil-Garcia directed them to ask Principal José De León. “They ran and asked, and within moments were like, ‘I guess we’re putting on a play.’”

What followed was “a labor of love” to adapt Juliet Takes a Breath from book form to a 90-minute stage production, revising and then finishing the script in December, holding auditions in February, rehearsing in late February/early March and fundraising via GoFundMe in March to cover some costs. “So it’s been from September to now…our whole year building up to this moment,” said Gil-Garcia.

The students, 27 in all, helped shape the production every step of the way, said Gil-Garcia, while the teacher co-wrote, co-directed and facilitated it. Student co-writers who joined Gil-Garcia in writing the adaptation included seniors Angelee Montances; Jacky Vargas; Erwyn Perez; and Fatima Ramirez.

Students from throughout the production—including behind the scenes—also had a hand in co-directing the stage play. Meanwhile, Gil-Garcia said that teacher/Theatre Manager, Sam Taylor, has been “amazing” by building a set from scratch and helping to train the students in lighting and sound.

“We have poured so much love and heart into this play,” said Gil Garcia. “So many different people and communities have come together to make this happen. From the financial support from GoFundMe to all hands on deck this week of the play. We have really become a community in our little play family and I’m just really excited to share it with the world.”

Juliet Takes a Breath will appear at Richmond High School this Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. The school is located at 1250 23rd Street in Richmond. For more info, contact 510-231-1450 or [email protected].