William Shakespeare’s plays are not known for giving voice or vigor to women in the same way they do for his hateful husbands, contemptuous clowns, kings, courtiers, drunkards and dastards.
But what if The Bard turned ‘round? What if his female side suddenly emerged from a secret stash of papers hidden away in an old trunk?
That’s the premise of a new play kicking off Island Shakespeare Festival’s debut winter offering, “Shakespeare’s Other Women.” It runs Thursday-Sundays, Jan. 18-28, at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts’ Zech Hall in Langley.
Written by Scott Kaiser of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, the production is a series of imagined speeches written for women in the style and time of Shakespeare.
“It’s fan fiction for Shakespeare nerds,” jokes Olena Hodges, artistic director of Island Shakespeare Festival.
“Scott (Kaiser) said he was constantly saddened by the lack of Shakespeare’s writing of strong monologues for women,” she added. “They just don’t get a lot of text.”
While the play is fanciful, it’s fierce in its feminism. It brings out the experiences simmering beneath the surfaces of Shakespeare’s well-known leading ladies, exposing the historical repression of women’s voices.
Kaiser said he came up with the idea when a student who was auditioning for theatre schools needed “a speech they’d never heard before.”
He wrote what’s become the last monologue heard in his play — Queen Elizabeth I in the town of Tilbury as the Spanish Armada makes its way toward English shores.
“After that, I was hooked on the idea and just kept writing,” said Kaiser, director of company development at Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
The production is timely. But that’s pure kismet (definitely not a word from the Elizabethan era.)
“Shakespeare’s Other Women” was chosen more than a year ago, before the Women’s March, #MeToo movement and sexual abuse allegations toppled powerful men in high places in entertainment, business, politics and sports.
“We didn’t know at the time it would be so relevant,” Hodges said.
The story weaves together an anthology of 36 new monologues. They are supposedly uncovered during the search of Shakespeare’s complete works, an event that actually did occur in 1623, called Shakespeare’s First Folio of collected works.
Set in two acts and running under two hours, the play begins with two male historical characters finding a box of “throw-a-ways” that didn’t make the final cut of Shakespeare’s canon.
Nine women then take turns performing 36 different roles reading monologues lasting four to five minutes.
“It’s super dynamic,” Hodges said. “It’s very much not just monologues. It’s really a beautiful show.”
The play is directed by Erin Murray of Seattle. The cast includes performers from Seattle and New York City and local actresses Deana Duncan (also WICA program director) and Kathryn Lynn Morgen.
Resident set/tech designer David Gignac designed the set.
Island Shakespeare Festival, launched in 2012, is known for its summer rotation of three plays performed on an outdoor stage. This marks its first indoor winter production.
“As we’ve grown, we have looked for ways to stay connected in the winter months and have a presence year-round,” said Hodges, also an actress. “We’ve always drawn a huge audience from off island. Langley and South Whidbey are always looking for ways to (promote) events in the shoulder season.”
“Shakespeare’s Other Women” runs Thursday-Sunday, January 18-28, at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts’ Zech Hall in Langley. Thursdays are Pay-What-You-Will; Friday-Sunday tickets are $15. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays. For more information: www.islandshake spearefest.org