New Play Shakespeare’s Sister joins the Actors’ Renaissance Season Repertory

The untold, fictional story of Judith Shakespeare, a young woman challenged to reconcile her dreams with the social constructs of Elizabethan London, comes to life next weekend at the Blackfriars Playhouse. Relishing its fresh commitment to produce new work using Shakespeare’s staging conditions, the American Shakespeare Center has chosen the new play Shakespeare’s Sister by Emma Whipday to be a part of this year’s Actors’ Renaissance Season. The playwright, Emma Whipday of King’s College London, is joining the ASC actors and director Jim Warren in the rehearsal room.

Judith Shakespeare has one ambition: to be a playwright, just like her famous brother Will. When her debt-ridden father forces her into an engagement, she runs away with the help of dashing actor Ned Alleyn, hoping to join her brother in London. But when Judith arrives in the plague-stricken capital, she finds her brother gone, Ned engaged to another, and her play refused. Judith befriends the women in a local brothel, and together, they decide to stage her play in secret. But Elizabethan London is a dangerous place to perform an unlicensed play. Shakespeare’s Sister is full of ideas and events as relevant to Shakespeare’s London as they are to today’s Virginia: the challenges of making a living, religious extremism, and the conflict between social expectations and individual dreams. “On top of all that drama, this play is darn funny,” says Co-Founder and Artistic Director Jim Warren.

The Actors’ Renaissance Season is a unique theatrical venture in which the ASC dives deeper into Shakespeare’s staging conditions (leaving the lights on the audience and including them in the world of the play, a troupe of about a dozen actors, incorporating music before and during the show) by also re-creating some of Shakespeare’s rehearsal conditions. With very few group group rehearsals, the troupe of actors take the lead in choosing costumes from stock with the help of costume shop staff and often rehearse with just their cue scripts in hand rather than the whole play like many scholars believe Shakespeare’s troupe worked.

“We’ve been doing a Ren Season since 2005,” explains Warren, “and we’ve continued to experiment with the best ways to combine Shakespeare’s rehearsal conditions with many modern conventions like running a show for three months, which Shakespeare didn’t do. Presenting new plays written for Shakespeare’s staging conditions has been a goal of mine since we built the Blackfriars in 2001. So this year we’re taking the Ren Season experiment to new levels by bringing in a new play to explore with its playwright. Even though we’ve been playing in our Ren Season creative laboratory for over ten years, we’re still searching for new ways to shake things up and delight our audiences.”

Playwright Emma Whipday’s academic interest in Shakespeare’s staging conditions has primed her to fit in perfectly at the American Shakespeare Center. She is a teaching fellow at King’s College London and has published academic research on contemporary performance of early modern drama, staging closet drama, and early modern popular culture, as well as directing two productions of early modern plays as part of her research. Whipday borrows the character Judith Shakespeare from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, but re-imagines her story to reveal the “familial, societal, economic, and political pressures that shaped her world. We know that some women did perform in Shakespeare’s England,” Whipday says, “but the details of their performances are, for the most part, lost. Shakespeare’s Sister brings to life the early modern theatrical world that fostered Shakespeare’s talent – and in doing so, it imagines the stories of some of the women lost to history.”

Act fast – there are only got 10 chances to catch this exciting and whimsical new play. You can guarantee your seat for Shakespeare’s Sister by calling 1.877.Much.Ado (540.682.4236), visiting, or visiting the Blackfriars Playhouse Box Office on 10 South Market Street in Staunton. Premium tickets start at $46. Pre-show lectures take place before the March 2 and March 15 performances. Talkbacks with the cast take place after each Thursday night performance. Residents of Staunton, Waynesboro or Augusta County can take advantage of $18 local rush tickets on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Student, Senior, Military and AAA discounts also are available.