The Q Brothers take on the star-crossed lovers

Romeo and Juliet are married in the Q Brothers' "I Heart Juliet"
Susie Parr as Juliet, Joe Bianco as Crazy Uncle Larry, and Jesse Bhamrah as Romeo in the Q Brothers’ I Heart Juliet. Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Pete Guither.

After a popular adaptation of The Two Gentlemen of Verona in 2015, the Q Brothers are back at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival this summer with their latest world premiere, I Heart Juliet, a hip-hop adaptation of—you guessed it—Romeo and Juliet.

Q Brothers Collective perform at the 2017 Make Music Normal event in Normal, IL. Photo by Adam J. Mason
The Q Brothers (left to right: GQ, Jax, JQ, Pos) perform at the 2017 Make Music Normal event in Normal, IL.
Photo by Adam J. Mason

The Q Brothers are Gregory and Jeffery Ameen Qaiyum, also known as GQ and JQ, and they’ve been using hip-hop to adapt and update Shakespeare’s plays since 2002. The Comedy of Errors became The Bomb-itty of Errors. Much Ado About Nothing became Funk It Up About Nothin’ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Q Gents, the Two Gentlemen of Verona adaptation that ran at Illinois, was commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. And earlier this year, they wrapped up their off-Broadway Othello: The Remix, which was commissioned by Shakespeare’s Globe in London and had its U.S. premiere at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Artistic Director Kevin Rich, in his fifth and final season at Illinois Shakespeare Festival, is directing I Heart Juliet, which opened July 9 and runs on Sundays and Tuesdays through August 8.

Here’s an excerpt from the script:

BENNY V

This is the story. This is why we keep tellin’ it.
And I wish we didn’t have to. I wish it wasn’t relevant.
But we have to let it play because they DO barely miss.
It can’t happen any other way, it always happens like this.
Romeo goes in, sees his love, his life, dead.
Takes one sip and it goes straight to his head!
Takes a last look—

ROMEO

This is goodbye.
[Drinks] So with a kiss I die.

I Heart Juliet started out as a collaborative project at Connecticut College, where the Q Brothers were in residence in 2012. Working with ideas from students, the Q Brothers wrote a script and turned it into a student production.

Listen to an interview with the Q Brothers on this Shakespeare Unlimited podcast episode about how they got started and what inspires their work:

All scheduled performances of I Heart Juliet are currently sold out, but you can call the Illinois Shakespeare Festival Box Office at (309) 438-2535 to be added to a waiting list for tickets.

This is the 40th anniversary season for Illinois Shakespeare Festival, which is a theater partner of Folger Shakespeare Library. Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Oregon Shakespeare Festival are also Folger theater partners.

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