Langley’s Ahnika Barber plays Juliet alongside Reilly Ellis, who is playing Romeo, in the Bard in the Valley productions of Romeo and Juliet. The play is being presented in three different venues again this year. (Graham Bryan/Special to the Langley Advance)

VIDEO: Shakespeare’s R&J – with a futuristic twist – opens Friday

Juliet is no shrinking violet, nor is the young Langley actor playing the role.

She’s been on stage since the early age of three, when she tackled the role of Miss Hannigan in her preschool’s production of Annie.

“The early start I had in the arts is what propelled me into theatre, and the role of Miss Hannigan is what launched my acting career,” 18-year-old Ahnika Barber said, reflecting on her first of many stage appearances.

Today, just days ahead of launching her first ever lead role as Juliet, in this summer’s Bard in the Valley (BIV) production of Romeo and Juliet, she shared her passion for everything Shakespeare and her quest to act now and well into her future.

“I’m only 18, fresh out of high school, so I don’t have a career… But this is something I see myself doing for a long time, and something that shapes my life,” she said of acting.

As Barber tells it, she auditioned for Romeo and Juliet because she loves BIV, she loves Shakespeare, and she loves new concepts.

“I wasn’t a huge fan of the way I had seen R&J presented in the past by other companies, but my love for Shakespeare prevailed. When I went to audition, [the director] Jacq [Ainsworth] told us that she wanted fire in our auditions. She explained that she didn’t want Juliet to be a demure, innocent, shrinking-violet type. She wanted a kickass, battle-hardened, crazy smart warrior. I thought that was so cool, but I wasn’t auditioning for Juliet. I figured Juliet would go to someone older, better-seasoned, and better trained.”

When she auditioned for Prince Escalus, Ainsworth asked me to try out for Juliet, instead.

“So I took Juliet’s balcony monologue and I just screamed it! I got angry, red in the face, demanding why, why, why Romeo was a Montague! And I got the part.”

Barber describes her character of Juliet as headstrong, and a role she’s excited to present in this unusual rendition of Romeo and Juliet.

This version comes with a twist – or two, she said, noting it’s a martial arts romance rendition, set 300 years in the future.

“[Juliet] knows what she wants and doesn’t waver from it. She is a flawed character, not always making wise decisions, but she is a good person. She is resilient, she is smart, she does everything she can to be the best,” Barber explained.

“That’s how I like to see myself too.”

She’s been a fan of Shakespeare since Grade 8, when first introduced to none other than Romeo and Juliet.

“Shakespeare is something very interesting to me. The man himself, and the plays. I think it is so amazing that his plays can be interpreted in so many different ways, and can be played in different styles… That’s what he does. He creates unique characters and settings and circumstances that inspire you to act. He is truly one of the greatest playwrights of all time, and a gift to the English language. I want to continue my infatuation for Shakespeare until I do all 38 of his plays,” she said.

Barber became involved with her fellow Shakespearean fans at BIV a year ago.

“I was looking through the Vancouver public library audition board, and I came across the audition notice for Much Ado About Nothing. Being one of my favourite plays, I took a chance and was offered the lovely part of Verges,” she recounted.

“This show really opened my life back up after I thought I had lost my passion,” the Walnut Grove resident elaborated, noting she’s just graduated from Langley Fine Arts School and was feeling theatre deprived.

Besides school productions, BIV, and one show with Gallery 7 Theatre in Abbotsford (where she played in Peter and the Starcatcher), she hasn’t done much other community theatre – “yet.”

But she hopes that will change.

And in community theatre she has only ever acted. However, in the drama major program at Langley Fine Arts she learned how to tech shows, as well as write and direct plays, and create costumes and set designs.

Asked if she brings any other talents to the BIV stage, other than acting, she said ‘no.’

“Acting is my only talent. I used to sing at events, but I am not trained and don’t do musicals. So unless you count crochet and sudoku, the only things I bring to the table are my acting abilities, my willingness to learn, and my passion for theatre. And my mom, who can sew,” she added with a chuckle.

As for other acting gigs, Barber has participated in a few student and independent films.

She isn’t sure what lies ahead, but is hopeful her world is filled with theatre and all things acting.

“Everything else in my life flexes around my acting,” she said.

“Acting is my life. All of my friends are actors, and my family wants me to do whatever makes me happy,” Barber added, noting her entire family loves theatre and will be taking a road trip this summer to Ashland, for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“Did I mention, we all love theatre?”

.

Sixteen shows ahead

This new take on the Shakespearean classic is being brought to three outdoor stages in Langley this summer, and it starts this Friday, June 29.

“This is a unique interpretation of Romeo and Juliet,” Barber reiterated. “This isn’t like any play you’ve ever seen.”

Romeo and Juliet is being produced by BIV president Diane Gendron and directed by Ainsworth.

This is BIV’s ninth season, and admission is still free for 11 of the team’s 16 performances, Gendron emphasized.

It starts with shows June 29, 30, and July 1 (as part of the Canada Day celebrations) at the Fort Langley Community Hall, with all performances at 7 p.m.

The next series of showings are being held at Township 7 Winery, where tickets are $20 each (604-532-1766 or online at township7.com/events/). Those shows run July 6, 7, 13, and 14 at 7:15 p.m., with a matinee on Sunday, July 8 at 2 p.m.

Then, the show moves to the Spirit Square Stage in Douglas Park in Langley City. Again, admission for those shows is free.

The shows are July 19-22, and July 26 to 29, with the Sunday performances at 2 p.m. and the rest being evening showings at 7 p.m.

A limited number of chairs are set up at all venues, and there is a concession. But audience members are encouraged to arrive early, bring a blanket or lawn chairs, and a picnic and spread out on the lawn in front of the stage.

For more Information about the Bard in the Valley theatre company, people can visit www.bardinthevalley.com.

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