Art

Romeo and Juliet actors get engaged before performing as star-crossed lovers

In a case of life imitating art, the actors playing Romeo and Juliet in an upcoming production of the Shakespeare play have got engaged to each other in real life.

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Gianni Selvaggi proposed to his girlfriend of ten years, Tina Rizzo weeks before they take to the stage to play the star-crossed lovers.

Both professional actors have previously starred in seven theater productions, a film, four pantos, and four WhatsTheirNames productions, best known for their Shakespeare adaptations.

Next month, the duo are set to portray the two young Italian lovers in WTN’s production Romeo and Juliet.

Known to be one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed plays, and adapted numerous times for stage, film, and musicals, it tells the story of two teenage lovers whose families are ferocious enemies.

It may be hard to believe, but the first time the couple met was when Gianni laid eyes on Tina during a musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet called ‘R+J Forever’where Tina portrayed Cathy, Romeo’s sister.

Gianni said he had already planned his proposal before learning that he and his now-fiancee would star as the couple, whose love tragically ends in a double suicide.

“We only knew that we were going to work with our friends at WhatsTheirNames once again for the annual Shakespeare show we put up. This year, the team chose ‘Romeo and Juliet’ but we didn’t officially know the casting until recently when the director informed us,” the 30-year-old actor told Times of Malta.

Gianni Selvaggi and Tina Rizzo during Romeo and Juliet photoshoot.  Photo: WhatsTheirName ProductionGianni Selvaggi and Tina Rizzo during Romeo and Juliet photoshoot. Photo: WhatsTheirName Production

Gianni decided to pop the question last Saturday, on their 10-year-anniversary, which also happened to be Tina’s 29th birthday.

“I thought it was a perfect time, seeing as we have this tradition of taking a different picture every year on the same corner of East Street in Valletta. The corner encapsulates a lot of our shared history, from talking about our career aspirations to make things work long-distance during our studies.”

Tina on the other hand had no idea of ​​Gianni’s plans.

“Looking back, I can now pick up on some hints, but honestly it’s a good thing I was so oblivious,” she said.

It was only back in 2020, during the pandemic, that they were cast alongside each other for the first time as love interests.

The couple star as husband and wife in the Shadenna Media film, ‘Is-Sriep Reġgħu Saru Velenuzi’.

“Last year we played opposite each other on stage for the first time during WhatsTheirName Theater’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘ and in December on ‘Girl in the Machine’ at Spazju Kreattiv,” the couple said.

“One of the advantages is understanding the difficulties with rehearsal schedules and the energy required for each production. It’s also great that we know how to balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” the couple said.

Tina Rizzo and Gianni Selvaggi starred as a married couple in the film adaptation of Is-Sriep Reġgħu saru Velenużi.  Photo: Gianni Selvaggi and Tina RizzoTina Rizzo and Gianni Selvaggi starred as a married couple in the film adaptation of Is-Sriep Reġgħu saru Velenużi. Photo: Gianni Selvaggi and Tina Rizzo

The couple say they are excited to play the starry-eyed lovers and to perform with WTN.

“Coming together every year to put up these shows is very special to both of us and we consider ourselves very lucky to be working with an amazingly talented group of artists.

“Does it help that we have all this history as a couple? Yes, it helps in that we are already comfortable with one another, and the trust needed on stage is already there,” they said.

But once they are on stage or in front of a camera, they both distance their own experiences.

“The great thing about acting is that…acting and creating new fictional characters, giving us the flexibility and freedom to do our job.”

Romeo and Juliet is directed by Philip Leone-Ganado, and stars Joseph Zammit, Joe Azzopardi, Becky Camilleri, and Sandie Von Brockdorff and will take place at the Msida Bastion Garden in Floriana from 21 to 26 June.

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