“It picks you rather than you picking it.” That is how Claire Schoonover describes acting.
DC theater lovers are certainly finding Schoonover and her craft a perfect fit. The British native made her regional debut this summer as the co-lead in director Christopher Goodrich’s re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet at Unexpected Stage’s Randolph Road Theater. She is immediately following the show’s run with a turn in Solomon and Marion at the Anacostia Playhouse, which opens August 10th.
Originally from Manchester, Claire Schoonover moved to the DC area in 2013 from Germany with her husband, whose military career had brought him to a position with the Pentagon. She quickly plunged into the local theater scene, spending a year in conservatory training at Theatre Lab.
“Unbelievable” is her word to describe the community she has found in Washington. “It is so warm and friendly and inviting for somebody new. Everybody has been so welcoming and very generous about sharing contacts and opportunities.”
“The transition from Europe to DC was kind of seamless,” she added. “It’s a vibrant place with great public transportation.”
When the Bard is updated today, the impulse in Hollywood seems often to place Shakespeare’s characters within the context of contemporary high schools. Goodrich put an alternative twist on the iconic story, presenting Romeo and Juliet as aging lovers who first cross paths in an assisted living center.
“The difference here is that you are exploring two mature adults who have lived life. They have experienced love and families. They have had relationships end – divorce in the case of Romeo (Elliott Bales); widowed in Juliet’s. They aren’t coming to this as star-struck teenagers.”
What the play maintains is a portrayal of that intensity of falling in love at first sight. “That can happen anytime,” Schoonover said. “Our society glorifies youth. We are told that this is the time of action and excitement, when the spark of life is present. What this rendition seeks to portray is that it can exist at the age of 70 as well.”
In addition to performing on stage, Schoonover has expanded her involvement in the theater world to helping bring productions to fruition. Solomon and Marion first began with her experience at Theatre Lab, in which a young Ethiopian actor asked Schoonover if she would be his scene partner. She was “excited by his vibe and energy,” but was left with one question: where to find a play for a senior white woman and a young black man?
The answer turned out to be Solomon and Marion. An award winning production written by South African Lara Foot Newton, the play explores the unlikely connection between two people living in very different realities in the post-apartheid era – an 18 year-old black man (Clayton Pelham) and a 60-something white woman. Lisa Hodsoll directs.
Closes August 9
Unexpected Stage Company
at Randolph Road Theatre
4010 Randolph Road
Silver Spring, MD
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
SOLOMON AND MARION
August 10 – 16
Part of the Dog Days of Summer Theater Festival
2020 Shannon Place SE
Details and Tickets
“It is apt as to what is happening all over the world, in regards to violence and race.” Unflinching in its portrayal of relations in the country during that fragile period, the play reveals the two developing an unlikely relationship and regaining a sense of hope in an environment rife with despair. “You’d think they have nothing in common. That is what I was attracted to. That’s what we are all looking for in life – we are looking for a common connection.”
Schoonover took an active role in fundraising for the project, describing her first immersion into crowd funding as “challenging,” but ultimately a heartening experience. “People have been very generous and will always surprise you with their kindness. I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to pull together a production and how you need a lot of hands on deck.”
Schoonover also has nothing but praise for the Anacostia Playhouse. “It’s a great venue, aligning with a lot of amazing stuff happening here. And there is plenty of parking!”
As for the fall, Schoonover is looking forward to more opportunities on the DC theatre scene. “It’s been exciting. Romeo and Juliette has been a great spring board.”
“I’m at an age when it’s kind of like ‘shit or get off the pot’”, she said with a laugh. “I am just trying to get in there and give my all, surrounded by incredibly talented actors. It’s just really wonderful to be acting with such generous and giving colleagues.”
Of the DC theater community, she added, “It is gratifying to know this community allows you to make your own art. That is so liberating. I will definitely continue to make my art – because it can be done here.”