By George Basler

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare’s classic play of “star crossed lovers,” has entranced audiences for centuries. Over the next few weeks, however, their courtship won’t take place on the streets of Verona, but in the rooms and hallways of the Phelps Mansion Museum in downtown Binghamton.

Southern Tier Actors Read (S.T.A.R.) will stage an “immersive” production of the play the weekends of Feb. 23-25 and March 1-3. Instead of sitting in one place, audience members will follow the characters from room to room in the mansion as the play progresses.

Chris Nickerson, who has directed and acted in numerous plays across the region, is guiding the production. He previously directed a virtual production of Romeo and Juliet in 2020 for the Ithaca Shakespeare Company.

Directing a play in a space that already exists is fun and challenging, especially since audience members at the Phelps Mansion will be so close to the actors, Nickerson said. He has edited Romeo and Juliet down to about 90 minutes while retaining the plot’s essential elements.

The Phelps Mansion hosted an “immersive” production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet back in early 2020 before COVID hit. The production was “pretty successful” and led S.T.A.R. to think about doing another Shakespeare play at the mansion, Nickerson said.

The mansion is well suited to host Romeo and Juliet, he added. For example, the ballroom scene, where Romeo and Juliet first meet, will take place in the Phelps Mansion ballroom and will include audience participation.

“We are going to ask a few audience members to join in the dancing,” Nickerson said. Original music is being supplied by Jeffrey Wahl, a local musician who most recently was music director for Cabaret at the Ti-Ahwaga Community Playhouse in Owego.

Nickerson is planning to make inventive use of other spaces in the mansion for key scenes, such as the balcony scene that takes place outside Juliet’s window. “We won’t go outside,” Nickerson said, with a laugh. “We won’t make them (the audience members and the young lovers) do that.”

Ryan Canavan and Kirsten Whistle are playing the lovers. Canavan has performed with such local companies as BLAST, Summer Savoyards and KNOW Theatre. He recently concluded a run as the Emcee in Ti-Ahwaga’s Cabaret. Whistle studied acting and directing at Binghamton University and has appeared in productions at KNOW Theatre.

The other six cast members — Dori May Ganisin, Nick DeLucia, Jason Walsh, Charles Berman, Julia Adams and Gary Neal Hansen — all have extensive experience acting in local and regional productions.

Audience size will be capped at 25 persons for each performance.

IF YOU GO: Southern Tier Actors Read will perform Romeo and Juliet at the Phelps Mansion Museum, 191 Court St., Binghamton, the weekends of Feb. 23-25 and March 1-3. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7 p.m.; Sunday performances are at 2 p.m. Audience size is capped at 25 persons for each performance. Tickets at $25 are available on the Phelps Mansion Museum website,