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August 27, 2014

‘Romeo and Juliet’ interrupted by touchdowns in Rock Hill

Last week, during an outdoor theater performance nearby on the Winthrop University campus, the game at District Three Stadium was so loud “it sounded like the announcer was standing next to me,” says Chris O’Neill, founder of Shakespeare Carolina.

When the home team at Rock Hill’s District Three Stadium scores a touchdown or sacks the visiting quarterback, local football fans leap from their seats and cheer.

Football is big in Rock Hill. And, most of the time, football is loud.

Last week, during an outdoor theater performance nearby on the Winthrop University campus, the game at District Three Stadium was so loud “it sounded like the announcer was standing next to me,” says Chris O’Neill, founder of Shakespeare Carolina.

On Thursday and Friday night, O’Neill’s group performed “Romeo and Juliet” at Winthrop’s Amphitheater while just a few blocks away high school football players clashed in helmets and shoulder pads.

Though audience members were annoyed and the actors were distracted, O’Neill says he’s not mad that two of the performances were marred by the stadium’s public address system carrying proclamations of “touchdown” and “interception.”

Like most everybody else in Rock Hill and people who live in towns and cities across America, O’Neill realizes how important high school football is.

Still, he hopes the Rock Hill school district will consider turning down the volume on the stadium’s sound system a tad, he said.

School district officials say they’re in a “Catch-22” situation with the noise complaint because if the announcer’s voice isn’t amplified enough, fans inside the stadium won’t be able to hear the public address system over screaming spectators and bands that play in the stands.

Last week, O’Neill sent an email to district officials asking them to keep it down this week for the final “Romeo and Juliet” performances. Stadium workers were notified but it’s not certain anything can be done to meet the request, said Rock Hill schools spokesperson Elaine Baker.

Built in 1941 and purchased by the district in 1981, the stadium has long been the site of high school football.

“The same problem has existed for years,” Baker said, but she doesn’t recall any complaints from the university in the past.

“I’d love to be able to say we could make everybody happy,” she said, but she noted that this Friday’s matchup between South Pointe and Rock Hill high schools will likely draw a big crowd and the stadium’s public address announcer will need to be heard.

That leaves O’Neill unsure about Friday night’s outdoor performance. After he complained last week, the volume seemed to be more manageable the next night, when Northwestern High School played Byrnes. The game was nationally televised on ESPNU. That game started earlier than most high school games and didn’t interfere as much with the theater group’s 8 p.m. performance, he said.

Touchdowns and two-point conversions aren’t the only noisy problems that Shakespeare Carolina has encountered through the years, O’Neill said. The nonprofit started in 1997 and has previously performed outdoors in downtown Rock Hill, where the group battled the rumble and whistles of trains and honks of horns of drivers passing by.

Last year, the production took place at Winthrop in July and bad weather plagued opening night. Left without electricity, the group performed by candlelight and actors used flashlights during “Comedy of Errors.”

In the past, the group has taken its Shakespeare plays indoors but O’Neill likes the atmosphere of the Amphitheater and the ambiance of “Romeo and Juliet” under the stars, he said.

There are no “hard feelings” between his group and the school district and football fans, he said, but he hopes there’s a way “we can co-exist ... There’s obviously room for both.”

“Romeo and Juliet” at Winthrop runs Thursday through Sunday, performances beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students.

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