‘Romeo and Juliet’ offers some lessons for a post-riot Baltimore

By Abe Novick

After the violent prologue of April 25 in Baltimore, my family and I went downtown the very next day and saw blood on the streets and young dead men cut down in their prime. The city had been turned upside-down.

Alas, we were inside Chesapeake Shakespeare Co.’s beautiful theater on Redwood and Calvert streets for a Sunday matinee of “Romeo and Juliet.”

But while the city was Verona, the scene inside the walls of the theater was a somewhat apt metaphor for what had been taking place outside the evening before and continued on into the days that followed.

Love had been snuffed out. Violence and hate had marred the stage and in reaction to it, like our Mayor and city leaders in Act I, the Prince spoke to it thus, “Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace, Profaners of this neighbor-stained steel!” Here “steel” had the meaning of steel yourselves and your emotions. Hold back and refrain from violence. So apart from the fancy lingo, it could have been a scene snatched off a CNN clip or a YouTube post easily referencing our own hometown. And in a way it was.

Except that the following day hate and violence did show their ugly countenance. Businesses were set ablaze and neighborhoods that had been scarred by riots years ago, were again in flame.

The social and economic root causes of what happened in Baltimore are deep rooted and complex. They go beyond Freddie Gray’s death. Yet if we are to live in this city and respect it, the same young people who burned it must first and foremost love it. One great and effective way to do that is to emotionally reach young people with the arts. It humanizes. It strikes the heart. It puts love first.

Art, music and theater are thriving in Baltimore from the new home at Everyman and Broadway shows at the Hippodrome to concerts on Pier Six and Patterson Park’s Creative Alliance. The list goes on and on.

Frankly, to have a Shakespeare theater in the heart of Baltimore is a cultural Jewel — a gift meant for everyone. Prior to the show, Managing Director Lesley Malin came on stage and thanked the audience for overcoming the fear felt by many in the community by coming out and for showing our support. She also spoke about how Chesapeake Shakespeare Co. is making Shakespeare available to students all across the city. Most people never have had the opportunity to see it live. How lucky they and we are.

“Romeo and Juliet” is of course a tragedy about love struggling to overcome hate. We all know how it ends — with two dead kids. Perhaps it was my own perspective, but when lords Capulet and Montague shake hands, I couldn’t help but get a sense of hope for the future.

This post was originally published in the Baltimore Business Journal.

Abe Novick, a strategic partner with Kalix Communications, heads up his own consultancy, AbeBuzz.com.

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