From April 8-10, Shakespeare is taking a new form with the Roial Players. Completely student-led, this crew is catapulting the historic show into the 21st century.
Not only does this show have less prose for more accessibility and more comedy to lighten the load of the play, but is also gender-bent, following the artistic direction of the student directors, arts and humanities sophomore Abby Grantham and arts and humanities senior Audrey Cloft.
“We had auditions and the actor we really wanted to play Viola we thought could really give this character new life and new breath, so I think it's very cool to see a show that has been done a lot and is very old, but take our spin of the gender-bending,” Grantham, the assistant director of the production, said.
In the new spin of the show, many of the roles change gender. The directors want to play with power dynamics and the examine importance of gender in something as old-fashioned as a Shakespeare play.
“I think my favorite part of the show is the things we did with gender and exploring that,” arts and humanities freshman Eddie Eichenhorn, playing Viola, one of the gender-bent roles, said. “We have gender-bent the four main love interests.”
Every other role in the show is played by a woman in the company, proving just how genderfluid the show can be.
“Our main moral of the show is that the gender doesn’t matter of the characters,” Grantham said. “The characters are the personality of themselves, and they fall in love with each other regardless of the gender each character is presenting. I think that it's just a very different, new, and fresh take of gender in society.”
While the show may seem different to the audience, the actors have found love in the weird and eccentric world of classical theater with a twist. Social work sophomore Ava Ballagh is marking this show as a new beginning. Playing Fabian, this is the first acting performance Ballagh has been able to do since COVID-19, and her return back to the theater after leaving the craft since her childhood days in community theater.
“It just brought that love for performing back for me,” Ballagh said. “It's a creative outlet I have been missing a lot the past few years … I really enjoy getting to play someone else. I think it's really empowering to put yourself on a stage as someone else, fully yourself and fully that other person.”
Her favorite part of the show is not just being able to play a fun character that has funny moments such as hurling insults at other characters but being a part of a community that loves theater as much as she does. Ballagh said that anyone that pursues college theater is invested and completely passionate about it.
Ballagh is also impressed by how the company has been able to frame the show for its audience.
“It’s a really accessible way to see Shakespeare,” Ballagh said. “Shakespeare is very hard to understand for a lot of people, especially people our age. I think the way that we are trying to put it on is a very accessible and understanding way of viewing Shakespeare, so the story is very clear through our costumes and our set.”
Eichenhorn is just happy to experience the process of how the show was even able to be put on after a time of such little to be certain of in the theater realm.
“The start of the semester was online and even after we got back in-person, we were online for a little bit,” Eichenhorn said. “It’s been a long and challenging process, so it's really nice to have it come to fruition and see it on stage.”
The concept of the whole production being student led also fueled Eichenhorn's love for the show. He believes that while challenges come with a smaller budget for the show rather than ones but on by professionals, they make up for it in creative freedom.
“It gives you a lot of leeways to do what you want,” Eichenhorn said. “I know that Abby and Audrey, our directors, had a vision for this for a long time, so they get to do what they want.”
He said when a show is student led, it can speak more to what the students want to see rather than what the professors think students want to see. This vision of the cast includes more in-your-face comedy, as well as being an abridged version of what is supposed to be a dramatic, over three-hour-long show.
While Eichenhorn believes this is one of his most challenging roles with long monologues and exploring the gender aspect of the show, he said he has been so proud of how it has come together within the last week of rehearsals.
Offstage, Grantham is living out her directorial dream.
“I love directing,” Grantham said. “I knew after high school that directing was really what I wanted to focus on, so getting to direct in college is so great because it's great to direct other artists who are your peers because there’s this very cool collaboration.”
While she considers this a mock version of real-world theater experience, Grantham has been able to see the script grow from bare bones to the very end with growth in both the actors and what the show represents.
“I think getting to figure out having our own ideas and try things that don’t work or have ideas that are too big, and come together in a place of collaboration to create something that is very much our own and our own process is just a very cool thing that other people don’t get to do,” Grantham said.
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While tech week has been stressful for the crew, it is all coming together for the directors.
“Sitting back and enjoying the show is so worthwhile,” Grantham said. “I always feel like I’m incredibly proud when I get to direct and see the show actually go on because so many people put so many hours and so much work into this show so to put it in front of an audience and hear them react … is so cool.”
Grantham's favorite part of the whole process has been being able to direct the character relationships with directorial choices and actors coming into their own with what they want to portray on the stage.
Eichenhorn encouraged students to come and see the show this weekend at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, as well as 2 p.m. on Sunday.
“It’s cheap and it will be a good time,” Eichenhorn said. “I think that a lot of people can be kind of afraid of Shakespeare, but I think we have done a good job.”
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