By Michelle “Shell” Garcia, Production Dramaturg
Eddie DeHais opened the December 13th workshop of their adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It by stating that the original Globe Theater neighbored, and competed with, what was known as the Bear Gardens: a place where hundreds of Londoners flocked to watch animals fight to the death. DeHais brought this up to emphasize the point that even though this bear baiting game was loved by many (because what else do you do in Elizabethan times?), Shakespeare’s plays continuously won the attention of the crowd. A theater which could fit 3500 audience members remained packed weekly. This speaks to both the power of the text and of the actors who hold it in its truth, a power that the cast understood that they most surely hold today.
The workshop style mixed the energies of a classroom and summer camp. A place where lessons were learned through open discussions and play. Beginning with having the company bring in different devices of light and sound, the start of collaborative playing began. With different tools such as lava lamps, a violin, flashlights, and even a cat keyboard, the company experimented with the different ways both light and sound can be manipulated, shaped, and used. Discussions of what associations were made led to ideas of how these same concepts could be applied in this production. This sort of group playing is a theme that has threaded throughout the entire workshop experience and into the rehearsal process, thus creating the perfect real life example of “queer joy” that DeHais worked to have in their adaptation.
While subsequently diving intro text work, the workshop’s energy transferred into a safe classroom; one where we were able to have candid conversations about the importance of making this show queer and why we need to tell this story now. Queer has been defined as inclusive; a queer world is where everyone (yes everyone) can be seen as equals. The term “queer joy” sprouted from that definition. A queer joy is a joy that can be shared by all and shared abundantly. The multiple identities that the cast embodies speaks to the why now of this production. BIPOC, Trans, Queer, Questioning, etc., this cast is filled with a queer voice that has been silenced so many times before. Together, in combination with the text and the ways they already see themselves in it, the cast launched into the process, trusting themselves and each other to create a show where a queer joy can touch all who come.
Emerson Stage’s production of As You Like It, adapted and directed by Eddie DeHais opens to the public on Thursday, February 17 at 8 p.m. EST and runs through February 20 at 2 p.m. EST. More information and tickets are available at emersonstage.org/as-you-like-it.