News • June 09, 2023

Courtyard Shakespeare Festival to perform under the stars

Courtyard Shakespeare Festival to perform under the stars

Riverside, Calif. (June 9, 2023) – The Courtyard Shakespeare Festival will bring love and tragedy to the stage at California Baptist University starting June 9.

This year the outdoor repertory production features “Romeo and Juliet” and “West Side Story,” the latter inspired by the former. Meanwhile, the CBU version of “Romeo and Juliet” takes its cue from “West Side Story” and also takes place in 1950s New York. The shows run through June 24 in Smith Courtyard.

“When we decided to revisit ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ we were thinking about what other productions we could pair with it that made thematic sense. Every other year, the festival seeks to do something a little outside the box but still connected to Shakespeare,” said Zachary Bortot, associate professor of theatre and the director of “West Side Story.”

Performing outdoors, under the stars, adds a poignancy to the performances, said Ethan Park, adjunct professor of theatre and director of “Romeo and Juliet.”

“Star-crossed lovers frequently cry out to the stars, fate or destiny, pleading, searching or challenging. This visceral connection to the night sky is magical and something I hope the audiences will open themselves up to experience,” Park said.

“This play is so much more than ‘two kids fall in love on opposite sides of a rivalry and both die.’ The complexity and emotional journey of all the characters has been an absolute joy to explore and create,” Park said.

The actors in “West Side Story” had different types of rehearsal each night, including stage blocking, musical direction and choreography.

“’West Side Story’ is one of those shows that is often on an actor's bucket list because it was such a landmark musical in theatre history. I hope they feel creatively challenged and empowered to do their best work,” Bortot said.

The casts are a mixture of CBU students, alumni and actors from the community. Jesenya Rivera-Puls, who plays Anita, knows Bortot from when he taught at Biola University. The show means a lot to her and her family, who are Puerto Ricans who immigrated to New York. Playing the emotionally volatile role has taught her about being balanced and grounded, said Rivera-Puls.

“One has to be careful to extricate themselves from that tangled web of fictitious and very real feelings that are combined when acting. It’s important to stay grounded in Jesus as well as in reality with the story you are telling,” said Rivera-Puls.

Anthony Paulin (’13) plays Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks. He is also the technical director and sound designer for both productions. The Courtyard Shakespeare Festival is unique because it is a full community experience, he said.

“We attract performers from all over the Southern California area,” Paulin said. “There is also a mentorship with veteran performers and students.”

Patrick Brien plays Friar Lawrence in “Romeo and Juliet” and Doc in “West Side Story.” He lives in Riverside and has acted, directed or produced theatre throughout the U.S. and Europe.

“As an actor, you're always learning. You're always finding new ways of connecting with your fellow actors,” Brien said. “Looking into the eyes of my fellow cast members, I see passion and commitment. I see character. We're all growing together, and in that growth, I'm having a blast.”

Rivera-Puls wants the audience to walk away not only seeing the classic tragedy but also the reality of the harm that harbored hatred and anger can inflict.

“One person’s actions can have heavy, heavy consequences on entire communities of people, and I think that is an important message that shouldn’t be left in the ’50s,” Rivera-Puls said. “If the audience leaves with the understanding that we ought to be kinder to one another and respect different kinds of people for their cultures even if they don’t understand them, I will consider this show a success.”

Bortot agreed that the themes of “West Side Story” are relevant today.

“Over the past few years, we have all seen the extreme divisions within our country, and the incivility with which divisive topics are handled in the media. ‘West Side Story,’ like ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ demonstrates to audiences the destructive power of hatred and fear of the other,” Bortot said.

Brien said the festival gives the crowds an opportunity to experience plays they might not otherwise attend.

“I hope the audience sees that Shakespeare is not some dusty old book of poetry. He is a consummate storyteller,” Brien said.

Courtyard Shakespeare Festival
“Romeo and Juliet”
8 p.m. June 9, 11, 15, 17, 21 and 23 
“West Side Story” 
8 p.m. June 10, 14, 16, 18, 22 and 24
Where: Smith Courtyard, California Baptist University, 8432 Magnolia Ave., Riverside, CA, 92504
Tickets: $12 
Tickets or questions? Order online at or call the box office at 951-343-4319

Contact CBU Marketing and Communication

Vice President for Marketing and Communication:
Angela Meluski

8432 Magnolia Avenue
Riverside, CA 92504