Student Spotlight: Grad student recreates scenes from Romeo and Juliet handmade dolls

Inspired by an Instagram account that featured miniature recreations of Chekhov’s plays, UI graduate student Luli Gomez has built and launched her own miniature production company, called the Tiny Players Theatre.



Addie Bushnell, Arts Reporter

Just weeks before spring break — when the University of Iowa made the decision to move the remainder of the spring semester online — graduate acting student Luli Gomez was performing as Natasha in the UI Theatre Arts Department’s production of Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov. Her experience would soon lead her to discover a new type of theater — miniature.

It started with a link to an Instagram account, sent to Gomez by one of her friends after hearing that she would be performing in a Chekhov play. The account was filled with posts of beautiful doll houses and dolls carefully positioned to recreate scenes from Chekhov’s plays, all run by Kyra Miller Himmelbaum, an actress based in New York.

Gomez said she was immediately taken by the idea, and decided to create something similar with Shakespeare’s plays. Using dolls made from the clay and fabric she already had stashed away in her apartment, Gomez began creating her dolls and miniature sets during the UI’s extended spring break.

“I really had a lot of extra time on my hands, and nothing to do since there wasn’t class and I couldn’t go anywhere,” Gomez said. “So I just started making these little people, and they turned out to be even cuter than what I was picturing in my head.”

Gomez’s project quickly began to grow. She began to build intricate sets, pieced together her own costumes, and even installed miniature lights.

Gomez paints the doll’s skin, hair, and clothing and uses removable fabric costumes to dress them for different roles. She then positions them on the set and takes pictures of them, captioning each scene with famous lines from Shakespeare plays. She’s currently halfway through recreating a production of Romeo and Juliet with her miniature theater.

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The artist even shot a stop motion film depicting the iconic balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, complete with dialogue. While Gomez voiced the part of Juliet, the part of Romeo was voiced by UI MFA acting candidate Steven Antoine Willis.

Having just finished her second year in graduate program, Gomez has been involved in many other theatrical projects and productions. She has appeared in prominent roles in both Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Martin Zimmerman’s Seven Spots on the Sun in past years.

Gomez also participated in the Summer Partnership for the Arts and she spent a month in Prague working and acting with the Prague Shakespeare Company. She said all of these pursuits, including her miniature theater, are stepping stones to her post-graduate goals, which include moving to New York City.

“[The city] has so many opportunities,” she said. “I want to do TV and film, but I also want to do theater, and New York is one of the only places right now where you can do any of those things.”

With another year of school to complete, and the disastrous effects COVID-19 has had on the arts, a new level of uncertainty has begun to hang heavily over Gomez’s future. She said she has stayed connected to her craft and maintained her creativity by working on her miniature theater project, which she has since dubbed the “Tiny Players Theatre.”

The Tiny Players Theatre now has its own Instagram and Facebook page, and is also featured on Gomez’s website. While theater has become largely inaccessible during the pandemic, Gomez hopes that her miniature productions will bring a spark of joy to theater lovers and fellow thespians.

“There’s just something so cute about them,” Gomez said. “It makes me smile. If I could make other people smile too, that would be enough.”


Fast Facts:

Age: 28

Hometown: Salta, Argentina

Favorite artist/musician/writer: I have no musical knowledge

Dream place to live: New York City or Madrid, Spain

Dream job: Series regular on a TV show

Favorite movie/TV show: The Sound of Music/The Good Place

Favorite place for a late night bite: Oryza