WIL Festival 3.1: “Much Adoe About Nothing”

 One of the things I am finding very powerful in this weekend’s set of performances by OPS Fest is the fluidity of the gendered pronoun. By this I mean, the capability we have to adjust to a new pronoun when we are motivated. In my last post, I discussed briefly the basic theory of gender in the early modern period: we are all one gender. Women were simply under-baked men. We didn’t stay in the oven long enough, so we were moist, soft, and hadn’t developed the extra member. This is to say that hetero- and homo-sexuality weren’t concepts people used to label themselves. Thus, when someone asks me whether or not I think William Shakespeare was gay (an idea popularized by an anti-theatreical reading of the sonnets), I’m not sure where to begin. Beside the fact that I don’t know what that would have to do with plays, “gay” as we understand it was not a way in which identity was understood. This is of course not to say that there weren’t same-sex and a variety of other kinds of relationships had by Elizabethans.

A decade into the millennia we are struggling with gender and gender-neutral pronouns in our families, in our workplaces, and in our media. Being sensitive to a variety of pronouns has fundamentally changed my teaching, especially the ways in which I lead class discussion, in just the last three years. (You, too? Check out this handy pronoun handout!) Considering the struggle it is to get colleagues to speak of and to others as they would wish, I find it striking and illuminating that OPS Fest so easily and so often switches a character’s gender. The pronouns are understood as a thing easy to shift, and, what’s more, in performance they hold one another accountable to that notion. While some actors hiccuped Claudio/Claudia well past intermission, in this weekend’s “Much Adoe About Nothing,” they never gave up on the attempt. In this way, the spirit of the original practice (that the parts were designed knowing they would be played by someone identifying as another gender) collides and helps us grapple with a present-day concerns.

From left: Maia McCarthy (Margaret), David C. Olson (Leonato), Emma Whiteside (Priest), Beth Yocam (Beatrice), Alec Lugo (Balthasar), Nikolas Hoback (Don Pedro), and Brian Burger (Benedicke).

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WIL Festival 2.2: “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar”

2017 has been the summer of “Caesar.” It is one of the two new plays that OPS Fest has introduced into their repertoire. It is also playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival down in Ashland. The director of that production, in a talk-back in February, stated that she doesn’t know why there are acts four and five (read: anything after the murder of Caesar). That is a common misconception if you think the play is an autobiographical account rather than considering what is tragic about the quality of a major political figure’s death. The title is, after all, “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” and not “The History of Julius Caesar.” Hence the on-going problems with the Public’s production of this play in New York, as company member Hailey Bachrach discusses here. What does OPS Fest offer to the spectrum of “Caesars” out there this summer?

From left: Beth Yocam (Brutus), Isabella Buckner (Cassius), Sullivan Mackintosh (Cymber), Brian Allard (Caesar), Lauren Saville (Decius Brutus), Shani Harris-Bagwell (Lepidus), David Bellis-Squires (Dardanius), and Michael Streeter (Soothsayer).

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