Putting a new spin on a classic story is no easy feat, but the minds behind Project X Theatre are confident they've pulled the task off with their latest X Fest.
As is usually the case with the annual outdoor theatre festival, the company is staging a classic William Shakespeare play — The Bard's timeless love story Romeo and Juliet — and a second, equally as ambition production.
This summer's second production is David Wood's adaptation of the beloved children's story James and the Giant Peach.
For Romeo and Juliet, director Christopher Weddell focused the story not so much on the star-crossed lovers, played by newcomers Benjamin Wardle and Sarina Sorensen, but on the rival families of the Capulets and Montagues.
This took the co-stars by surprise. Sorensen said more traditional adaptations are all about Romeo and Juliet, but Weddell has reimagined the story as an ensemble piece.
"The relationships of other characters are very much a part of this story," she said. "The relationship of the Montague family and the Capulet family are at the forefront of this story just as much as Romeo and Juliet are."
Wardle said Romeo and Juliet are still at the story's core, but Weddell has taken the romance and danger and connected it to the world and people around them.
As a result, Weddell's Romeo and Juliet is a fast-paced, but no less romantic, take on the tragic love story, he said.
Weddell has also compressed the story for time, much like other directors have done. But Wardle said his director strived to not sacrifice the story or romance.
"He's made it very concise and cohesive. It just motors," he said.
Sorensen and Wardle share as much screen time with others as they do with each other, which is rare for a Romeo and Juliet production.
"We're so connected to the other characters, which makes the relationship that we find so much more important," she said. "Why we both die at the ends comes from those relationships."
X Fest director Derek Rein said the outdoor theatre at Prince Charles Park will have a Juliet's Wall, much like the one found in Verona, Italy, where the story is set.
As with that wall — which is a shrine to the character — people can leave messages for Juliet or to loved ones they've lost. Rein said Project X's Brad Munro died of meningitis last year, and the wall is also a monument to him.
As for James and the Giant Peach, director Melissa Thomas and set designer Mark Anderson brought Roald Dahl's tale to life on sets that mirror the look of a pop-up book.
X Fest veteran Kirk Smith, who earned acclaim for his performance as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the company's 2010 production of Rocky Horror Picture Show, said the costumes and set are amazing.
"You see two-dimensional puppets with tons of life and different pieces coming and going. We've got this big, rotating centerpiece that gets us going from one scene to another," said Smith.
Smith plays Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet and the centipede in James and the Giant Peach. His co-star, Heather Cant, is part of the James ensemble and plays the Prince and Sister Joan in the Shakespeare production.
Cant said a lot of creative elements were used to bring the James and the Giant Peach to life.
"What's really kind of awesome about that is the kids get to see how the storytelling is accomplished," she said.
Curtis Tweedle, of Vancouver, plays James.
THEATRE IN THE PARK
WHAT: X Fest
WHEN: Wednesday, July 18 to Saturday, Aug. 11. 7:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday, with shows on alternating nights. Festival begins with James and the Giant Peach.
WHERE: Prince Charles Park off Columbia Street
TICKETS: Available from Kamloops Live! Box Office (374-LIVE or www.kamloopslive.ca): $23 for adults; $20 for students and seniors; $10 for children.
FULL SCHEDULE: www.projectxtheatre.ca
SPECIAL SHOWING: Matinee of James and the Giant Peach at 1 p.m. Aug. 11.