Chad Thomas, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Beyond the Green World: Queering As You Like It
Chad Thomas’ paper focuses on queer culture and the intersection with Shakespeare performance, specifically As You Like It. Thomas discussed Cheek By Jowl’s 1993 production of an all-male As You Like It, and the importance of this production within the AIDS crisis and queer-restricting legislature. The Green World, an early modern scene setting that provides an escape from the status quo, and Thomas posits that this utopia can be used as a direct representation of a queer safe haven. Thomas also discusses comic conventions within shakespeare, such as multi-wedding dance parties. He posits that all male casts allow for sexuality to be as fluid as gender for these characters. Thomas concludes that production choices, like those in the Cheek By Jowl production, allow for a myriad of queer possibilities to present themselves on stage within the As You Like It text. He closes with a statement on the importance of resistance on the modern stage.
Analise Toone, Mary Baldwin University, and “Whe, God-a-mercy, Captain!”: Using Language to Find New Performance Opportunities in Aphra Behn’s The Rover
Analise Toone from Mary Baldwin University is interested in arguing for the return of scholarly analysis surrounding the word “Whe” as a use to explore queer theory within Behn’s The Rover. In her paper, “Whe, God-a-mercy, Captain!”: Using Language to Find New Performance Opportunities in Aphra Behn’s The Rover, Toone
The primary plot of The Rover focuses on the romantic relationships between Florinda and Belvile and Wilmore and Helena, as well as themes of family and betrayal. There is also an underlying theme of queerness and gender underneath the romantic surface, as Toone uses Queer and Gender Theory to examine one word in particular: Whe. An archaic form of “we” that would not have been familiar with Behn’s audience, Toone argues that Helena uses this word similar to the way other male characters in The Rover use this word in order to break the societal boundaries and limited understandings of gender. She was assisted by MFA students Devlin Ford (playing Wilmore and Pedro) and Petra Shearer (playing Helena) to demonstrate how “Whe” is used by both male and female characters, specifically how Helena uses that word in three different ways, as an exclamation, swear, or defiance, to meet Wilmore’s level from a gendered perspective. By using this word as a way for defiance or exclamation, Toone argues that Helena and Wilmore are “one in the same”, thus demonstrating gender defiance and purposely breaking traditional queer rules and standards.
Toone concludes that through the one word, “Whe”, Helena in Behn’s The Rover breaks the traditional, established roles and rules of gender. When moving forward with future productions of this play, Toone urges us as practitioners and theater makers to consider how the world of gender and sexuality can be defined, defied, and broken through an analysis of word and phrase.
Alexa Alice Joubin, George Washington University, Are There Transgender Characters in Shakespeare?
Alexa Alice Joubin’s presentation focused on queer and trans identities, within Shakespeare’s plays, and posits that it is extremely important to play with gender during performances of these texts. Joubin references multiple Shakespeare plays, including As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and Hamlet to reinforce her point that there are characters that exist outside the gender binary in these texts. She argues that cross-dressing is a misnomer and outdated term to use when describing characters like Viola, as it ignores the gender spectrum and enforces a rigid binary that these characters have to work within. Twelfth Night has an open-ended nature in terms of gender, including Viola never returning to women’s clothing at the end and her/his love, Orsino, continuing with masculine terms and the name Cesario through the end of the play.
Joubin concludes that the cisgender lens restricts performance, and that trans performance lenses even only observe bodies in one moment in time. “A trans inclusive perspective enhances our understanding of Shakespeare’s plays.” The text alone cannot be used to dictate the genders or gender performances of these characters. Joubin closes with a statement about how “Shakespeare is trans theatre”.
Dylan Mabe, Mary Baldwin University, “Fight Call!” A Narrative Writing Intervention Through the Lens of Stage Combat
In his presentation “Fight Call!” A Narrative Writing Intervention Through the Lens of Stage Combat, Dylan Mabe from Mary Baldwin University takes the findings from his English 102 teaching experience and formats them through the lens of movement and Stage Combat. He argues for the consideration of practicum techniques alongside traditional lecture techniques by implementing on-your-feet pedagogical methods via Stage Combat to the English and Theater classrooms.
Mabe began his presentation by detailing the “struggles” he discovered in his English 102 classroom and the relation of motivation and movement by having his students get on their feet and physically engage with the material they are learning. He introduced stage combat choreography, such as slaps and kicks, and dialogue to his students in order to create a cohesive scene, with a final performance to share their work with their classmates. This resulted, as Mabe reveals in his presentation, that not only did no one get hurt in the process, but that the students were slowly approaching and engaging with the text with a newfound, growing excitement. Mabe demonstrates that this approach had significant payoff regarding the students’ English-based writing assignments; there was some kind of improvement with two of the three essays that were assigned and turned in, as well as the students feeling that physical engagement with the texts was either partially or especially helpful to understanding the material they were being taught. By including the lens of movement and stage combat in a traditional English and Theater classroom setting, Mabe concludes that the lens of stage combat is an approach educators can have in their back pocket to re-engage their students in Shakespeare, especially during a time when they were forced to isolate during the COVID pandemic.
Paige Reynolds, University of Central Arkansas, Standing Still in The Winter’s Tale
Paige Reynolds’ paper focuses on the presentation of Hermione as a statue during The Winter’s Tale. She posits that Hermione as a character is in a difficult position in Shakespeare’s canon of plays, as she needs to be lifelike, stony, graceful, womanly, and still.
Hermione’s grace throughout the production, through her anguish and shaming, is more monumental than standing still. Reynolds posits that Hermione’s standing still at the end of the play represents not peace, but pain. Textual evidence shows that Hermione has strength in this final scene in the play after posing as statue. Reynolds also argues that Hermione’s pregnancy allows her to take up space through the play, though her sexuality and motherhood are put on trial. Leontes denies Hermione the right to mother her child, and this grief is one of the many struggles that this strong woman goes through.
Reynolds concludes that keeping still is a survival response, but moving is the only way to reach the other side of the misery. “Tis grace indeed”.