¶ I’ve been thinking a lot recently about identity parity in Shakespeare performance. This is in part because of recent articles critiquing Hollywood whitewashing, which in actuality negatively affects box office numbers. (For recent coverage, see the Los Angeles Times and Business Insider.) This is in part because I have been seeing a great deal of theatre interested in the range of implications available when you might choose to play a character against their biological-gender identification. For example, when Hotspur is female-identifying in the Henry IV plays, as in the case at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this summer, the competing reports of her death at the start of part two resonates with a very different parental agony and pathos. Or, when Aeneas is played by and as a woman, such as is the case of Portland Actors Ensemble’s Troilus and Cressida, that rape is a necessary war strategy becomes newly apparent. But is this kind of parity necessarily true across the industry?
¶ Dear readers,
¶ After the 400th anniversary celebrations, one would assume it likely that Shakespeare performances might wane. After all, we did have the Cultural Olympiad, featuring the World Shakespeare Festival, as part of the London 2012 Olympics. In 2016, there were an incredible number of events across the globe, including world tours and major city initiatives (such as the Chicago City Desk project), that staged unprecedented cycles of Shakespeare originals and adaptations. It would seem, however, that this glut of Shakespeare has stabilized an appetite for productions rather than causing audiences to be surfeit. Lucky, lucky me.
¶ I have now had a year to get a sense of the Shakespeare landscape here in the Pacific Northwest, with the help of some friends—most notably, Linfield professor and regular New Yorker contributor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner. Oregon is a hub for Shakespeare due to its award-winning regional festival in Ashland. The Henry IV plays they are running this summer are something special, by virtue of the ensemble, the lead Daniel Jose Molina, and the thoughtful direction by Lileana Blain-Cruz. If the five-hour drive and ticket prices are a deterrent for you, do not fear: there are a number of interesting Shakespeare events closer to the Columbia this summer.