The Weird Sisters, Hand in Hand
Written and directed by Susan Gayle Todd
Performed by The Weird Sisters Women’s Theater Collective
April 8th, 9th, 15th & 16th, 2005 at the Chapel at 4100 Red River
The Weird Sisters Women’s Theater Collective and the The Weird Sisters, Hand in Hand production result from my graduate work in Women’s and Gender Studies. The project is an attempt to solve a problem that has long bothered me. Based on my experience over the past twelve years as first a Shakespeare student and actor, and afterwards as a teacher and director, I approached graduate school deeply concerned that women and girls are typically denied full participation in Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s plays continue to figure heavily into both English and theater curricula at the high school and college levels, as well as in community theater. However, attention is seldom given to the obvious inequality in the practice of straight-casting these works whose characters are predominantly male and whose few female characters are either marginal or possess limited outcomes. I also contend that through inquiry-based instruction Shakespeare’s work can serve as an unsurpassed vehicle for tackling social issues regarding gender, race, and class issues, but most often it inadvertently becomes a tool of hegemonic oppression. My graduate work has convinced me that the best solution to the problem of keeping what is valuable in the canon while attending to gender equality lies in centralizing women in three ways: feminist interrogation and adaptation of the texts; collective planning and collaborative rehearsal process; and all-female, cross-cast production.
I am influenced by multi-genre, interdisciplinary feminist scholarship, such as Ann Cvetkovich’s An Archive of Feelings and Karla F.C. Holloway’s Passed On, wherein the authors manage to centralize communities of people (lesbians in the case of Cvetkovich and African-Americans in the case of Holloway) who are typically shoved to the edges of social discourse. I have adopted their de-marginalizing methods by placing both the fictitious female characters of a Shakespeare play and the real-live female actors and aficionados who are drawn to Shakespeare’s center stage. This project tackles the lack of opportunity for women in Shakespeare by providing a space for woman-centered process and production while reconsidering the historical positions and motives of the women on whom vilified female Shakespearean characters are based.
Christa French and I actually began discussions about a women’s Shakespeare collective during the summer of 2004. I was frustrated because of the women students’ and actors’ limited and marginalized roles in Shakespeare programs here and abroad. Christa contacted Lisa Wolpe, Producing Artistic Director of the LA Women’s Shakespeare company, who suggested “an all female team because if you bring in some men it will change the vibe. Not bad, just different.” We’ve tried to adhere to the all-female policy as much as possible, but we have occasionally sought the help and advice of men who understand our desire to be woman-centered.
We began in October of 2004 with a salon in my living room. We’d invited any and all women to join us. There I laid out my plan to write a female-centric adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and produce it collaboratively with an all-female cast. The response was overwhelming. We followed with another salon that invited women to present their own experiences, scholarship, and activities related to feminism and Shakespeare. The presentations ranged from conference-style academic pieces on contemporary marriage and relationships to an interactive improvisation exercise entitled “Walk Like a Man.” We held readings of related plays like Caryl Churchill’s Vinegar Tom, a feminist play about the European witch hunts and Desdemonna: A Play About a Handkerchief, written by feminist playwright Paula Vogel. All along, I was adapting Macbeth to my purpose, and finally we held a reading of my play, with Professor Lisa Moore facilitating and using the Liz Lerman method of artistic criticism. From there we put out the call for those interested in performing and being otherwise involved in the production.
Our process has been one of continual exploration. Monica Regan and I were the official directors, but all of the women directed and produced this play. We enjoyed the benefits of various members’ strengths in vocal work, direction, improvisation, actor training, dramaturgical scholarship, critical and analytical expertise, business sense, kinesthetic prowess, clarity of expression, tenacity, determination, poetic sensibility, commitment, enthusiasm, technical skill, artistic talent, and the list goes on and on. This combination of skill, experience, imagination, and enthusiasm – driven by our desire for women’s agency in theater – culminated in a product that was unique and rich for us and our audience.
- Susan Gayle Todd: author, director
- Monica Regan: co-director
- Christa French: Anna Duff, Groom, coven
- Carra Martinez: Lady Beth
- Vicki Yoder: Macbeth
- Elisabeth McKetta: Barbara, a healer
- Laura Smith: Neele, an escaped battered wife
- Sara Chauvin: Walpurga, a midwife
- Lauren Bilbe: Margaret, gentlewoman in service to Lady Beth
- Hollie Baker: Bessie Porter, coven
- Suzanne Julian: Duncan, King of Scotland; Christine Duff, wife of Macduff
- Penny Smith: Malcolm, son of the king; Murderer #2
- Courtney Brown: Examiner, Groom, coven
- Danielle Gilbert: Ross, Duncan’s captain
- Michelle Lee: Macduff
- Leslie Guerrero: Lennox, Duncan’s captain
- Kim Solga: Banquo, Doctor
- Noelle Fitzsimmons: Fleance, son of Banquo; coven
- Shannon Baley: Tortured Woman, Murderer #1, coven
- Melissa Johnson: Sheriff, Messenger, coven
- Amy Masuda: Priest, coven