Imagine a world where women weren’t allowed the same rights and privileges as men. The results of the US election last night – or, rather, the entire campaign process – were a potent reminder that women still encounter major roadblocks and double standards on the path to equality, and have done for centuries. Which makes a show about women challenging the status quo in Shakespearean England very timely.To wit, Chelsea Hotel creator Tracey Power has lent her considerable musical theatre talents to the story of Judith Shakespeare, frustrated daughter of the Bard.
“It’s the 1600’s and women are banned from the stage, but the suppressed female mind is finding it difficult to stay…well, suppressed,” reads the synopsis for Miss Shakespeare. “Behind the dingy walls of The Cage Tavern, six women explore the seductive power of the theatre.”
The result is a Jessie Richardson Award-winning evening of cabaret and courage, with an all-star cast featuring Susinn McFarlen (Vanya, Sonya, Masha & Spike), Caroline Cave (Story of a Girl), Meaghan Chenosky (Best Laid Plans), Erin Moon (Oxford Roof Climbers Rebellion), Medina Hahn (off-Broadway/Canadian tour of Any Night), Pippa Mackie (The Valley), and Power, with music co-written by Steve Charles.
We caught up with Power by email just prior to opening night to learn more about her creative process, and the inspiration for writing a show about these “nasty women”.
What are the challenges and highlights of acting in your own creation?
The biggest challenge is making sure I take the time to listen to the text of the other characters in the play. To make sure all their stories are being told. I play Isabel Loxley, and so as the actor I am very inside her story. As the playwright I need to be on the outside, so making sure I take the time to both is very important. The most exciting part of this business is creating new shows. I think it is for the audience as well. Nothing beats hearing a story for the very first time. I love it.
For those who, say, know you from Chelsea Hotel, what did that experience teach you and are there any similarities in style or tone?
Chelsea Hotel encouraged me to follow my instincts as a creator, to embrace vision and take the audience on an experience. The movement of this show could be compared to Chelsea Hotel in some ways as they both came out of my brain. As well as the passion and love for theatre and music.
Who was Judith Shakespeare and does the show take any liberties with her life and sensibilities?
Judith was Will Shakespeare’s youngest daughter. There are some factual clues to her past that I followed, and from those I drew my own personal opinion of what her life was like. Of course there are liberties, as I only had so much to go on, but everything that she does is inspired by the facts that we do know about her life. I have lived with this character for eight years now so she is very much a fully fleshed out human being to me and one whose courage and heart truly inspire me.
What was your process for creating the story. What kind of research did you do and what did you discover about this person?
The story evolved through many stages but really stemmed from my curiosity of how women began in the theatre. History at that time is only documented by men, so what were women doing at that time that men didn’t know about? Women didn’t just appear on the stage one day without having a curiosity or a drive to do it. To me it made perfect sense that they would have been exploring it in private. Germaine Greer wrote a fantastic book called Shakespeare’s Wife, which was a fabulous source of inspiration and I recommend it to anyone with a curiosity for the women of that time. I believe that women from 400 years ago weren’t that different than women today, they just had different rules to abide by. Therefor, different rules to break.
Why make it a musical?
I wanted Judith’s voice to be very different from her father’s. She has a wild imagination and music allowed the voice of a woman who’s creativity was forbidden to be released in a fun, exciting and sometimes heartbreaking way.
Women can obviously act and engage with the theatre these days, but we’re set to imagine a time when that wasn’t allowed. What was the inspiration for the story and how does Miss Shakespeare reflect life for the modern woman?
The inspiration was drawn from the feeling of what it must have been like for a creative woman of that time to be forced to suppress it. For Judith to have the same creative aspirations as her father, to see him succeed and to be denied that herself, even by her own father is gutting. Women’s voices are still being suppressed around the world. We are very lucky in this country, but it still exists. The US election has shown how warped and disgusting some views still are towards women.
Why do the other women feel compelled to get involved?
All of the characters are based on real women. Everything they do in the show is based on an imagination of how they would have dealt with their personal joys and tragedies.
After putting it out into the world in 2015, what were some of the show’s biggest successes and takeaways for you, personally?
The emails I received from audience members after seeing the show were some of the most beautiful letters I’d ever received about a show. From women and men saying how inspired, entertained and excited they were by the show. How seeing Judith’s story energized them with a belief that anything is possible. That artistic creation is limitless. By inspiring them, they ultimately inspired me, and how amazing is the theatre for that.
It features a rock-solid cast of women. Is written by you, a woman. But it’s direct by a man. What does James MacDonald bring to the piece?
He’s one of the best directors in the country. His attention to story telling details is a must for new plays. He has been working with me on it for four years and it is a better play because of him. He’s also an amazing director of Shakespeare, so he is very familiar with the world this play was birthed from. I love bringing teams of great artists together to tell stories, these are the artists I believed would be best to tell this story.
• Miss Shakespeare runs now until Nov. 26 at the Firehall Arts Centre (280 E. Cordova). Tickets from $23 at FirehallArtsCentre.ca
– See more at: http://www.westender.com/arts-culture/theatre/miss-shakespeare-uses-musical-theatre-to-champion-women-s-rights-1.2584473#sthash.oqPhMPMw.dpuf