I recently submitted a play to an organisation that strongly recommended the writer adding in a #DiversityPledge to the script – explicitly encouraging producers to think of a diverse and representative cast. It’s an interesting idea to get the writer engaged in this and it got me thinking again about our responsibilities as artists to reflect the world and challenge perceived norms of representation.
In Souliloquy is at the heart about re-representation. It is about the selective voices we get to hear in a text, it is about giving forgotten characters a stage and it is about entering a dialogue with classic Shakespearean texts and deepening our understanding of them. Our tagline:
A question, a consequence, a soul seeking an audience.
Is an unrelenting promise. These are voices that have something to say and they are going to say it, however confronting it might become.
Much of this engagement is explicitly feminist -the majority of the characters we have produced so far are women, for the majority of the female characters in Shakespeare’s play have little agency or have time and presence when it suits the plot and are then discarded. Characters such as Lady Macbeth (one of the most feared and reviled women) and Ophelia (the most fetishized) are so much a part of our collective culture but are silent in response. They both die offstage, their deaths only registering in brief reactions of their male love interests.
Undersung or misrepresented are the two words we chose to help shape the project early on and they have guided us through curating the characters we have chosen. It is not surprising that most are women.
Characters such as Viola and Marina are rarely taken seriously – are dismissed as silly women in silly situations. But at their core both of these women are incredibly strong, take initiative and control of their life and situation and it is them that drive the action of the plot of their plays. These pieces give them a chance to express this, a platform to share directly with an audience.
Those with a traditional happily ever after are too given chance speak beyond that. Our Titania surprises both herself and her husband and Miranda dreams of the sea. These are complicated people, who exist beyond their titles and roles in society.
Our work also addresses the graphic violence towards women in a very different way to the source texts – where it is often used as little more than a plot device (Emilia’s murder in Othello) or as a way to illustrate a man’s character development (Lady Macduff and her family’s murder in Macbeth). Lavinia of course is so brutally treated – there are no words – but to not listen is far worse.
Our other characters (female and otherwise) fall into similar patterns of reclaiming their words (Cassandra), their position in society (Doll Tearsheet), their death (Cleopatra)…
…their love (Helena) and (Katherina) and their humanity (Margaret of Anjou).
And then of course, there is Juliet – our first released video from all the way back in Cycle 1 – unpacking the meaning of her final choice.
There is so much there in all of these words and experiences and characters – we felt the need to share these. I felt the need to write them. Because at the end of it all what is a Souliloquy? It is a testimony that we are forced to listen to.
Our Lavinia speaks of a truth that we shall one day listen. This blog is about the truths of women in Shakespeare’s works (we have a fair few blokes given new voices and truths too) and how they might address an audience directly as so many of them are denied. The female voice and experienced is so often viewed and distorted through a male pen, lens and direction we hoped to do something a little different.
Across our four cycles of In Souliloquy we have 16 new monologues written for female characters – classical characters redefined, re-imagined – angry, wistful, playful, heartbroken, strident and defiant they exist. They address their words to you, without waiting for permission or for another to speak. This is quite an unusual feat and we feel a pretty successful realisation of how we wanted to represent these characters.
However, we had an interesting experience as a team recently that made me feel the need to justify this project in terms of feminist representation and contemporary relevance. Sometimes I think people can be a little dismissive about revisiting and engaging with classical texts. Anyway, I started this post irritated at having to explain ourselves again but I don’t feel that anymore – writing this and revisiting the performances, words, direction and our production – I know.
Although there is always room for better, more diverse representation and we will strive for that in our developing project – In Souliloquy is proudly feminist – every step of the way.