Wednesday, January 15, 2020


Hello, and Happy New Year, dear reader! 

I'm your host, Rivka, and I'm tickled to bring you the January edition of the Shakespeare Tavern Blog.

No doubt, at some point you have been in the theater, enjoying your delicious dinner before a Tavern show, and have become aware of the music playing in the background. Sometimes it’s recordings of period pieces by Thomas Morely or John Dowland. Sometimes it’s original music written for Tavern shows by our incredible in-house composer, Bo Gaiason. But sometimes… it’s not. If you’ve ever been enjoying your Shepherd’s Pie or Cornish Pasty and have heard The Beatles or Lady Gaga, perhaps you’ve wondered how that fits in amongst the leaded glass windows and portrait of Gloriana Regina.

Jaclyn Hofmann Faircloth
Well, some of our directors like to create playlists that comment upon the characters or the play. Jaclyn Hofmann Faircloth, director of this year’s Twelfth Night, is one such playlist creator. 
Jaclyn joined the Tavern family as an Acting Apprentice in 2010. Following her Apprenticeship, she worked both on our Mainstage and in our Education Department, eventually landing a job with Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville. Her impact on their education department has been profound. But even with a full-time job and two kids at home, she still makes time to direct for us upon occasion (and to create curated playlists).

Let’s hear from her!

Jaclyn, I understand that you created your own playlist for Twelfth Night. Is there an overarching theme to the playlist you created? 

“When considering the pre-show playlist, I first started listening to Baroque music, thinking that most be the most appropriate, but it just didn't feel right.  For every show I direct I ask the cast to submit songs for their own backstage pre-show playlist... it can be something that feels right for their character, something that thematically ties into the show, or just whatever connects them to the story they are about to tell.  I compile all of the songs onto a Spotify list and share it with the cast so they all have access if they like.  I am always really excited to see what people pick and love the variety of songs we wind up with.  So, when I wasn't having much success in the time-period appropriate genre, my mind kept going back to the Cast Playlist. "I wish I could just play that", I thought. But that super contemporary mix didn't quite feel right too. We are doing an Original Practice Play that is made to speak to a Modern Audience... so musically, what's the balance? That's when I started to think of my love of The Piano Guys... the instrumentation always feels a bit classical in nature to me, yet when they pair it with modern songs it organically has a familiar feel. Perfect.  So, I started to search their repertoire, as well as other similar groups: Vitamin String Quartet, Simply Three, etc.  I searched for song titles put together by our Cast and many wound up on there: "Dear Prudence", "Thank u, next", "I Kissed a Girl". And then I added anything that felt likewise thematically appropriate:  "Secrets", "What Makes You Beautiful", "I Wanna Hold Your Hand", etc.” 

How does a playlist help set the mood before a show? 

“The show hits unrequited love from every angle, and for some it turns out well, for others not so much. So to me the Playlist is meant to capture the roller-coaster of emotions a person goes through while in chasing love:  hope, rejection, joy, fear, butterflies, longing, despair, intense happiness, and everything in between!”

Are there particular songs that match up with particular characters?

“Yes and no... since the cast submitted many of the songs, some of them are very much from their perspective. For instance, one of the songs Marlon submitted, "Dear Prudence", works beautifully for Orsino… but I would say Sir Andrew and Olivia could also likely relate. Avery (who plays Sir Andrew) actually submitted 10 songs, some that made him think of specific characters and others that were related to a scene.”  

   Any inside jokes included in the playlist that you’d care to share with the readers?

“If any readers want to check the playlist out, I think they might find that there are some that make you chuckle if you know the play (like "I Kissed a Girl"):  

Jaclyn, thank you. It’s been wonderful talking with you, and I’m sure our readers appreciated the little “peek behind the curtain”. Any last thoughts to share with us?

 “One of my favorite things about our pre-show Playlist is that it was truly inspired by all of the talent in the room throughout our Process. And that is my favorite thing about working in the theatre in general: it is team sport, through and through, and the best moments of any play are birthed from great collaboration.” 

Twelfth Night is playing now through January 26th.
Some of the Twelfth Night cast and crew

Monday, November 4, 2019

Cindy Kearns, Production Stage Manager and Imminent Retiree

Rivka Levin
Hello, dear readers!

(I like saying that; it makes me feel like Pauline Phillips.) Rivka here, coming to you from the third floor of the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, where I sit amongst a chaos of papers and too many tambourines, to tell you a little about our own dear Cindy Kearns. 

Cindy has been with the company for more than three decades, and received a Suzi Bass Lifetime Achievement Award. Alas, our Cindy will be retiring at the close of 2019, but I had the privilege of conducting a brief interview with this fascinating woman, which you'll see below. 

But first, what exactly does she do? 
Cindy Kearns

Well, anyone who has been to the theater knows that those lights don't run themselves. If you look up in the balcony at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, you'll see a dark-haired wizard behind the curtain who is quietly whispering, "Go" when it's time for the lights to change. But that's hardly all Cindy does. Do you know for what else Cindy, as an Equity Stage Manager, is responsible? 

To name ALL of Cindy's tasks over the years could likely fill the whole page. But here are just a few of the things our about-to-be-retired SM does on a weekly basis:

This includes:
 - tracking the time and ensuring that breaks are taken in accordance with union standards
- following in the script and giving prompts when an actor calls for a line
- taking careful note of any blocking that gets set or changed
- taking note of any costume, sound effect, and prop needs that get mentioned during the rehearsal process and following up on integrating those into the production
- concluding each rehearsal with a detailed, categorized written report, which is sent to all cast and crew after each rehearsal

In some companies, props are handled by their own department. As a fledgling company without the budget or space for a formal Props Department, that duty fell to Cindy... and she has retained that responsibility even as the company has grown. She has procured anything from the numerous letters that appear in Shakespeare's texts, to the "wine" or "poison" or "witch's potion" a character might drink (and the vessel from which they drink it!), to the startlingly realistic severed heads that occasionally appear onstage!

Cindy in her booth

This includes:
 -  ensuring that all of the actors are present, and that nothing stands in the way of the show being performed that night.
 - alerting the actors and crew how much time remains at specified intervals
 - initiating light cues for all shows, and also initiating sound cues in shows that include recorded sound, such as our recent production of The Three Musketeers.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but as you can see, it's already quite a lengthy one.

Now, as promised, on to the interview!

RIVKA: Cindy, you may have been with the company as long as anyone except for Jeff. Just how long have you worked for the Atlanta Shakespeare Company, and how did you come to have the job? 

CINDY: I've been with the Tavern for 35 years.  I met Jeff while doing my first play ever with Acme Theatre and when he took over the Atlanta Shakespeare Association he said he would need a stage manager.  I said I didn’t know what a stage manager does and he said he would teach me.  So that is why I started saying that I am the only graduate of the Jeff Watkins School of Stage Management.

RIVKA: I love it. So, what's been your most frightening experience while here?

CINDY: Watching John Purcell, who was playing Lord Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, fall off the stage backward.  Incredibly, he was unharmed except for a couple of bruises.

RIVKA: Yikes! All right, what's been your most rewarding experience?

CINDY: The sense of pride and accomplishment I feel every opening night and all the performances thereafter.

RIVKA: What's been the funniest moment?

CINDY: Watching Dikran Tulaine, who was playing Macbeth, unknowingly drag a coat hanger around the stage on the end of his long costume train and the other actors’ faces as they tried to figure out if they could get it.  (They never did.)

RIVKA: (laughs) Ah, yes. I can only imagine that it stole a bit of the gravitas from his performance. Let's see... what will you miss the most? What will you miss the least?  

CINDY: I'll miss my Tavern family, past & present. I will NOT miss the schedule.

RIVKA: Yes, I can only imagine what it must mean for you to have to organize some of those three-show Repertories; not to mention the "close one show on a Sunday, tech the next on Tuesday, and open it on Thursday" schedule we have here at the Tavern. WHEW! How do you think your time here has changed you as a person?  

CINDY: It has taught me responsibility and patience (most of the time) and I’ve learned infinitely more than I ever would have in a classroom or working in corporate health care.  Changing careers was THE BEST decision I ever made.  Working here has made me a better person.

RIVKA: That's beautiful. What do you hope people will remember about your time here 30 years from now?  

CINDY: That I cared, that I was fair and that I made them laugh sometimes.

There it is, dear readers! I hope you have enjoyed getting to know Cindy a little better. If you see her in the house before she retires at the end of this calendar year, please take the opportunity to wish her well and to thank her for the many years of service she has devoted to our fine company.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Intimacy Direction at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse

  Hello, Tavern blog readers! 

I’m Rivka, your new blog host (or “blah ghost” if you could stand to work on your diction). I’ll be offering a new blog post each month, so be sure to check back in!

  For my first foray into the land of blogging (Lord help us all – I welcome the brave among you to join me on this learning curve of discovery!), I knew exactly what I wanted to share with you. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart, and I’m very proud of what the Tavern made available to our community. In the interest of full disclosure, this first blog is quite a bit longer than I’ll typically be writing, but it’s a topic of tremendous importance and impact on the local theatrical community. So, dear reader, enjoy!

hosted at the

  This past June, the Atlanta Shakespeare Company was host to a group of trained instructors from Intimacy Directors International, described on their website as a non-profit organization “pioneering the best practices for theatrical intimacy, simulated sex and performance nudity for theatre, TV and film”. Our instructors were Dan Granke, Certified Intimacy Director and IDI Lead Instructor, Jessica Bennet, Intimacy Coordinator in training with IDI, and Ash Anderson, Intimacy Director/Coordinator training under IDI.

  Theater artists came from as far as 100 miles away to attend this Atlanta premier event, coordinated by Tavern Education Staff member Andrew Houchins. There were two workshops offered, one geared toward the actor and one toward the director. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend both, and to learn (among other things) about the broader definitions of consent, how to appropriately request consent, and how to gracefully move forward depending on the answer given.

  One of the exercises that most fascinated me was titled, “How to create chemistry with anybody in 5 minutes”, in which randomly-paired partners were guided through a series of imagined scenarios: one partner’s unrequited desire for the other, grief that the partner did not return that desire, a plot twist in which the partners’ positions were reversed, and finally, a rekindled and mutual desire felt by both parties. (This is a great simplification of what was actually a very powerful exercise.) The most important part was that, after this purposefully-adopted passion was experienced by both partners, we were guided in how to smoothly disengage from the imagined scenario, shake hands, and return to a safe and neutral relationship with our work colleague. It was the perfect answer to the question, “But how do I create the necessary passion onstage without it accidentally bleeding into our offstage relationship…or risking misinterpretation by the other actor?”

  Another personal favorite was a way of codifying body language and gesture in order to most appropriately tell the story. For this exercise, we categorized embraces on a scale of 1-10, once again using guided, imagined scenarios. For example, “Coworkers offering a moderate greeting at the office Christmas party” might be designated a “3”, with a “side hug” in which the fronts of the bodies did not connect. Slightly more friendly coworkers might embrace at a “4”, with collarbones touching, but anything below the ribs kept at a respectful distance, and with a duration of only one or two seconds. However, “Greeting a very close friend or relative at the airport after a long absence” might be more like an “8”, in which not only might full body contact occur, but in which the hug might last for 10-15 seconds, and might involve swaying back and forth together or cheeks being pressed tightly together. Being able to break down an embrace into quantifiable attributes -- such as duration, amount of contact, and hand position -- is both an important part of storytelling and a way for artists to clarify and choreograph the embrace to ensure comfort and safety between the storytellers.  

  In preparing to write this blog, I had the opportunity to speak with Ash Anderson, whom Tavern audiences may remember seeing as the young Prince Richard in 2017’s Richard the Third, and Kristin Storla, whom Tavern-goers will recall most recently as Mercutio in 2018’s Romeo and Juliet. At present, Ash is the only IDI-trained Intimacy Director in Atlanta; Kristin is the only Intimacy Choreographer with IDI training.

Rivka: Firstly, Ash, what is the difference between an Intimacy Director and an Intimacy Coordinator?

Ash: “There are tiers of IDI much like the SAFD [Society of American Fight Directors]. Certified Intimacy Directors are at the top. Intimacy Director means you have the training and experience to take on that title and are working towards Certification within the Program. Intimacy Choreographer means you have some experience within the Pedagogy.”

Rivka: Thank you for explaining that. Kristin, why do you think the Tavern was the right place to host the workshops?

Kristin: “The Tavern is a great host for this workshop (and hopefully more!) as we have a long standing reputation in the Atlanta market. To take the reins and adopt this practicum for our artists keeps us progressing into a new era of awareness. What a great opportunity to add a fresh level of safety to what can be seen as dusty text/work! I've personally seen and heard of incidents wherein actors weren't in control and fully aware in moments of heightened physical contact. I feel proud and relieved knowing the Tavern is now tackling these issues and allowing a specialist to craft these scenes through the director's vision.”

Rivka: I’m so glad to hear that! Ash and Kristin, can you please tell our readers your personal thoughts on why ID is important? What are some of the more common ways it’s being used?

Ash: “[The website sums it up perfectly:] We believe that scenes of intimacy must be handled in a professional manner that adheres to the highest standards of artistry and safety, whether that be on stage or on set. Intimacy Directors International utilizes The Pillars as a standard for simulated intimacy. The choreography of these scenes must accurately tell the characters' stories, as intended by the writer through the interpretation of the director and the actors involved while respecting the physical and psychological safety of all.”

Kristin adds that Intimacy Direction is important because it “strengthens storytelling while keeping an artists' physical and emotional health a priority”, and that the desire to keep a scene passionate and “real” can lead to trauma.

Kristin: “Think of a fight scene; one particular move bruises an actor. Maybe not terribly, but after the repetition of rehearsal and performance, what was once a small bruise has grown deeper. Now apply that pain to an artists' emotional and psychological health,” as might happen in a play where scenes involving sexual intimacy or abuse might cause internal trauma. “In an age of growing awareness, empowerment, and empathy, the work of [an Intimacy Director or Choreographer] helps to carry that care over into theatre/film.”

Rivka: Kristin, I understand that The Three Musketeers, opening this weekend, was our first time utilizing an Intimacy Choreographer during the rehearsal process.  I’ll lay out some context for our readers, after which, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you and the artists discovered as part of that process.

For context, readers, the inclusion of an Intimacy Choreographer wasn’t an out-of-the-blue procedural decision. As a company, we have been making our way toward adopting this practice, beginning with our having formally adopted the Chicago Theater Standards as company-wide policy, applicable both to the art and to our administrative practices.

While attending the international Shakespeare Theater Association conference, our Board Chair, Cheryl Davis, came to learn about the Chicago Theater Standards. The Standards are described by their website as, 'a voluntary tool for self-governance that seeks to nurture communication, safety, respect, and accountability of participants at all levels of theatrical production. Its mission is to create spaces free of harassment, whether it be sexual, or based in race, gender, religion, ethnic origin, color, or ability. Theatres [adopting them] strengthen the safety net in their theatres, and provide a process for response without reprisal.'

These codified standards were specifically created for the theatrical community, where actions that constitute bullying, sexual harassment, and appropriate paths for conflict resolution can be more vague than in traditional corporate organizations. At the start of our 2019/2020 Season, we formally adopted the Standards, identified paths through which concerns may be addressed, and created a structure of consequences for infractions. That company-wide standard having been set, it was only natural to take the leap to inclusion of an Intimacy Choreographer  as part of our rehearsal process.

Three Musketeers was an ideal show for which to initiate this inclusion, as many of its scenes involve, in Kristin’s words, “romantic and sexually-charged” moments. In order to create trust and comfort for the actors in these scenes, Kristin choreographed the moments of intimacy the same way one might choreograph the violence: each move is planned, the timing of it dictated by the choreographer, and both actors knowing ahead of time what the moment will look like each and every night. The intended result is that -- while the passion may look real and spontaneous and abandoned from an audience’s perspective -- there are no questions in the actors’ minds about whether an intimate touch or kiss will be changed without their consent, or mistaken for something more personal than professional. Everyone remains safe because the touch, and even the exact placement and duration of that touch, has been worked out in the rehearsal hall.

Kristin: “It’s been very enlightening to work with these different actors on how we tell those stories for each character and for each actor, keeping their consent and safety and well-being in mind. The script and the choice of casting gives permission for these artists to tell those specific stories, but it’s always a negotiation on how we interpret those for the stage. I’m very excited for the work that we’ve done.”

Rivka: I can’t wait to see the product of all your hard work! Last question for both of you: what do you see as the future of ID/IC?

Ash: “I cannot speak for the founding members of IDI, but the future, in my eyes, [is for the community to acknowledge] Intimacy Directors [as being as necessary] in the theatre process and the theatre community as we do Fight Directors or Stunt Coordinators for film.”

Kristin: “IDI's exposure has blown up over the past few years. I believe 'intimacy direction/choreography' is no longer a buzzword but a culture shift that theatres across Atlanta (and internationally) will embrace. I personally have found a strong voice through this work. Previously I've felt coerced and mistreated by directors and scene partners alike. I no longer accept staged contact without breaking it down to its contextual essence. The 'why' of it all. Advocating for myself has allowed me to make stronger choices as an actor and hone my aesthetic as a director. I aim to teach my peers, mentors, and younger artists alike how to voice their own self-autonomy in artistry.”
Readers, thanks for joining me on this, my maiden voyage into blogging! If you have a topic you’d like me to write about, please drop me a line at If you’d like to read more about IDI, head over to their website at

Until next time, “When I am forth, bid me farewell, and smile” - Coriolanus

Friday, August 18, 2017

Leaning In to Shakespeare Intensive for Teens

Lean in.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard those two little words in the last four weeks. My Teaching Artists used them to encourage students to embrace the final few days of SIT or to beg a teenager to take a note and run with it. I, personally, muttered them under my breath whenever I had to teach on the fly. To me, “Lean in” totally encapsulates the spirit of SIT: remain open to others and to the work, and embrace whatever comes up.

As the intern for the June session of SIT, I spent four weeks assisting the incomparable Dani Heard and Chris Rushing in simultaneously teaching classes and directing a production of Twelfth Night with thirteen teenagers (oof). In SIT, words like “good,” “bad,” and “Sorry!” simply don’t fly. SIT asks teenagers to recognize and name every emotion, not just “happy.” That’s a tall order for anyone, let alone teenagers. To me, SIT’s goal is to encourage students to put themselves into the work. That means no backing up, no apologizing, no hiding behind punchlines, and no deflector shields. Rather than say “Stop being closed off!,” Dani and Chris would encourage students to “LEAN IN.” Lean in, whether that means lean into physical openness, lean into breathing deeply, or lean into vulnerability. Lean in, both to supporting fellow cast members and to having fun. Don’t just take a note, EMBRACE the note! Be inspired by the spirit of the work, lean in, and HAVE FUN!

Along the way, I learned that telling students to lean in and be open while simultaneously judging my own actions as a teacher was pretty hypocritical of me. While I had a decent amount of Shakespeare and acting experience, I hadn’t ever formally taught anyone. That changed rapidly. I led a section of warm-ups on the first day of SIT and on just about every subsequent day. Dani and Chris encouraged me to offer feedback on scene work and monologues routinely, and I led a number of acting or movement exercises I’d encountered in my own training. The first few days of SIT, I found myself criticizing my ideas or actions quite a bit. I realized that I couldn’t exactly point emphatically at the anti-sorry sign 10 times a day if I wasn’t going to forgive myself for my own slip-ups. Once I started to forgive myself a little more, I was able to really throw myself into the work. Towards the end of the program, I led a two-hour workshop on Michael Chekhov’s acting technique. I was honestly terrified to teach such a long workshop; I’d studied Chekhov over the course of a few productions at school, but I’d definitely never taught it. The technique is largely movement and imagination-based, and I was petrified that they wouldn’t like anything we did, or that I would lead them wrong somehow. However, all the students embraced the exercises and made gradually bolder choices over the course of the workshop. Their ability to lean into the work encouraged me to lean into trusting myself.

Overall, SIT has taught me that I will never be done leaning in. At the beginning of the program, I thought that confidence and excitement would make me a great teacher. Working with Dani, Chris, and the students showed me that, while confidence and excitement are fantastic sources of energy, encouraging teenagers to lean in is a lot more successful when you’re living your own words. Getting teenagers to stand still, make eye contact, and be vulnerable is so much easier when you’re opening yourself up to them. Who knew?

By Delaney Clark, Summer 2018 Shakespeare Intensive For Teens Intern

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mixing History and Drama to Create Richard III

Before Richard, Duke of Gloucester, kills Henry VI in Henry VI, Part Three, the prescient king predicts the devastation that Richard will inflict in his relentless pursuit of the throne, saying “And thus I prophesy, that many a thousand,/Which now mistrust no parcel of my fear…Shall rue the hour that ever thou wast born” (5.6.37-44). Henry’s prophecy proves true in Richard III, the final of Shakespeare’s plays in the tetralogy illustrating the War of the Roses, during which Richard, a deformed, duplicitous, yet sometimes masterfully charming villain, creeps into power with cunning malevolence, leaving a string of murdered kinsmen and supposed allies in his wake. First performed in 1594 by the Lord Chamberlain’s men with famed Elizabethan actor Richard Burbage in the titular role, Richard III was a great success that drew large audiences, earned five quarto publications during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and solidified Shakespeare’s reputation as a playwright who excelled in dramatizing English history.
            In composing Richard III, Shakespeare carefully appeased royal egos and drew from historical and literary sources. By depicting Richard III as a man who is both physically and morally defective, even evil, Shakespeare perpetuated what scholars call the Tudor Myth, which emphasized the legitimacy and morality of the Tudor Dynasty. Queen Elizabeth was the granddaughter of Richmond, who, in defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, became King Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor Dynasty. Queen Elizabeth’s lineage and the expectation that playwrights would appeal to her worldview demanded that Shakespeare make the moral difference between the virtuous Richmond and the villainous Richard as clear-cut as possible in his play. Shakespeare drew from literary sources for Richard III that facilitated his depiction of a loathsome character; Thomas More’s History of King Richard the Third, Edward Halle’s The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre & Yorke, and Raphael Holinshed’s The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland all provided details about the physical and psychological makeup of a wickedly ambitious man. 
          Modern historians note that the historical Richard III, whose remains were found in parking lot in Leicester, England in 2012, was no doubt corrupt and criminally inclined but was also a strong administrator and organized leader. The enduring perception of Richard as a consummate villain with no redeeming qualities is in a large part due to Shakespeare’s portrayal of him, which illustrates the power of Shakespeare’s plays to influence the way we think about historical figures.

            The elements of the Richard III that Shakespeare invented without relying on other sources demonstrates that he was primarily a dramatist, not a historian, and that he knew that captivating plays should not be limited by absolute historical accuracy. Despite the fact that the historical Queen Margaret died in exile before the events of Richard III, Shakespeare used her presence in the play and her curses and prophecies to incorporate the themes of revenge and just punishment that were crucial to the three parts of Henry VI. Delving into ideas of psychology and performance, Shakespeare emphasized Richard’s inherent theatricality, linking him to the character of Vice from morality plays and Elizabethan interpretations of clowns as heralds of dark comedy. Shakespeare crafted scenes like the one in which Richard woos Lady Anne, despite having killed her father-in-law and husband, to force the audience to question what characteristics can attract people to a villain. Like all of Shakespeare’s plays, it is ultimately the inventiveness, truth, and power of the language the characters speak that makes Richard III so compelling, suggesting that the lasting appeal of the history plays is Shakespeare’s ability to bring historical figures, and all their hopes, fears, and ambitions, to life onstage.

submitted by Samantha Smith, ASC Education and Development Coordinator 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Lady Shakes: Celebrating Women in Traditionally Male Shakespearean Roles

The talented women of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company performed, directed, and produced scenes from Shakespeare on Monday for the second annual Lady Shakes, an event created by Artistic Associate and Special Events Coordinator Dani Herd.  Think of great Shakespeare roles and you will likely think of male roles like Hamlet, King Lear, Richard III, and Romeo.  Casting women to play male roles is an increasingly popular artistic choice, as evidenced by the decision to cast Mary Ruth Ralston as King Henry VI in the three parts of Henry VI at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse last fall.  Lady Shakes gives female artists the opportunity to tackle traditionally male roles, continuing a tradition that was begun by pioneering women in the 1700s.

Beginning in the eighteenth century, many well-known actresses played male roles in Shakespeare’s plays.  Sarah Siddons, who was famous for her portrayal of Lady Macbeth, played Hamlet to great acclaim in 1775.  Kitty Clive followed suit, also playing Hamlet and earning praise from Dr. Samuel Johnson, who commended her performance as being even better than that of David Garrick, one of the most famous Shakespearean actors of the eighteenth century.  More than fifty actresses appeared as Hamlet between 1775 as 1911, including Sarah Bernhardt, who was the first actor to portray Hamlet on film in 1900.  Other actresses took on the roles of Romeo, Iago, Othello, Richard III, Shylock, and Hotspur.  While women playing male characters was not the standard in productions of Shakespeare’s plays from the eighteenth to twentieth century, the consistency with which actresses took on male roles demonstrates that it was an important theatrical trend. 
Choosing to perform male Shakespearean roles allowed actresses to tackle parts that were often more complex and better regarded by critics than traditionally female roles, but women appearing as men challenged patriarchal assumptions about the place of women on the stage.  Concern over the growing trend of actresses taking on male roles is evident in “Women in Male Roles: Long List of Prominent Actresses Who Have Yielded to That Ambition,” an article that appeared in The New York Times on February 12, 1911.  The reporter described women who played male roles as “usurping man’s place on the stage,” suggesting that the author saw actresses who played Hamlet or Romeo as challengers of male dominance of the stage.  The reporter also expressed confusion about the allure of certain male characters to actresses: “One can understand how the roles of Hamlet, Romeo, Prince Hal and other youthful heroes might appeal to actresses, but it is hard to discover why any of them should wish to play the crooked-back Richard III, with all his ugliness and all his malignity.”  This comment implies that a character’s virtue and physical attractiveness should be the most crucial factors in deciding whether a part is suitable for a woman to play.  The article, which notes that many attempts by actresses to play male parts were “lamentable failure[s],” demonstrates the criticism aimed at women who chose to play male roles in Shakespeare in the early twentieth century.  However, it is in part because of such derision by male critics that attempts by actresses to play male roles during this time were so crucial.

Women have come a long way since 1911, and female Hamlets, Lears, and Caesars have appeared on stages and film screens across the world and have been met with admiration by critics who now recognize the artistic value of women playing traditionally male characters.  From New York to London to Atlanta, when women take the stage in male roles they continue the legacy of Sarah Siddons and challenge the audience to question gender biases and more closely analyze interactions between characters.

Photography provided by Sarah Beth Moseley

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Shakespeare Made No Error in Adapting Sources for The Comedy of Errors

Antipholus (Andrew Houchins)

Shakespeare wrote The Comedy of Errors, his earliest comedy and shortest play in 1594, and he showed great skill in incorporating elements from other literary sources while making creative changes that made his play more compelling and entertaining.  

For this play, which was first performed as the final entertainment for an evening of merriment for a group of lawyers at Gray’s Inn, Shakespeare drew primarily from the Roman playwright Plautus’ play, Menaechmi.  Despite Ben Jonson’s claim that Shakespeare knew “small Latin and less Greek,” Shakespeare certainly read the entirety of Menaechmi in Latin because there was no English translation available in England in 1594.  The preface to Menaechmi explains that a merchant from Syracuse took one of his seven-year-old twin boys on a business trip abroad but was tragically separated from him during a festival.  The merchant died from grief over his lost child, but the boy was found by a trader and raised in Epidamnum.  The surviving twin boy, still living with his mother in Syracuse, was renamed Menaechmus to honor his lost brother.  The plot of Menaechmi centers on the confusion that is created when Menaechmus of Syracuse comes to Epidamnum to search for his lost twin.  Menaechmus is perplexed when he arrives in Epidamnum and is greeted warmly by the townspeople, and he is delighted but befuddled when he is embraced by two women claiming to be his wife and mistress.  Meanwhile, Menaechmus of Epidamnum is immensely frustrated that his friends and family, who have all been interacting with his long-lost twin, believe he is mad.  Menaechmi’s influence on The Comedy of Errors is evident in the plot of the two separated Antipholi, their experiences in Ephesus, and their reunion.

Egeon tells the story of the twins!
However, Shakespeare showed his incredible skill in choosing what to take from another literary sources and what to create himself in his additions to the Menaechmi plot that make The Comedy of Errors the hilarious, madcap, and touching play that it is.  Shakespeare drew on the use of identical slaves in Plautus’ play Amphitruo in adding to the Menaechmi-inspired plot two identical twin slaves, both named Dromio.  Shakespeare’s decision to name both slaves Dromio was his own invention, and his choice led to the amusing moment in which the two Dromios are situated on opposite sides of a door, both protesting that they are the rightful Dromio.  Dromio of Syracuse announces he is “The porter for this time, sir, and my name is Dromio” (4.1.41-42), to which Dromio of Ephesus replies “O villain, thou hast stol’n both mine office, and my name” (3.1.43-44).  Shakespeare also changed the setting for the play from Epidamnum to Ephesus, which is a city that Shakespeare’s audience would have associated with exorcism, cults, and sorcery.  The audience’s knowledge of Ephesus would have let them appreciate when Dromio exclaims “This is the fairy land: O spite of spites!/We talk with goblins, owls and sprites” (2.2.189-190).  Finally, Shakespeare added a touching element to the play by adding the characters of Egeon and Emilia; their reunion at the play’s conclusion makes the reassembled family complete.   
Dromios reunited

To learn more about Shakespeare’s sources for ASC’s next play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, check back on this blog during the play’s opening week.  To read more about sources for The Comedy of Errors, take a look at the introduction to The Comedy of Errors in the second edition of The Norton Shakespeare, from which the information in this blog comes.  To see our Suzi-recommended production of The Comedy of Errors, contact the box office at 404-874-5299 or purchase tickets on our website at  

Posted by Samantha Smith