We hope not!

Weird Sister Courtney Glenn recently wrote and published the following article about our upcoming play and the issues surrounding it.
Originally published on theexaminer.com June 29, 2011

A Midsummer Night’s Pipe Dream? Austin’s Weird Sisters Vie for Same Sex Marriage

“Full of vexation come I, with complaint against my child, my daughter Hermia.”

So speaks the character of Egeus in one of Shakespeare’s most famous (and most performed) comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The story is one we’ve heard before (Romeo and Juliet, anyone?) — two lovers, barred from marrying one another by the will of a meddling parent. Since it’s a comedy, it all works out in the end — Lysander and Hermia get hitched, as do the other pair of lovers, Demetrius and Helena. Midsummer is literally a fairy tale (just ask Oberon, Titania and Puck) and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is a happily ever after.

Of course, the Weird Sisters Women’s Theater Collective rarely take “happily ever after” at face value.

For the last seven years, the Austin’s Weirds have been putting their feminist spin on Shakespearean classics. From their first production, an adaptation of Macbeth called The Weird Sisters, Hand in Hand, this collaborative, all-female theater group has been addressing gender equality in an imaginative way.

This year, however, the Weird Sisters are planning to tackle a very specific civil rights issue: same-sex marriage.

“Finding resonances of today’s world in Shakespeare’s plays is so easy to do and so satisfying,” says Dr. Susan Todd, co-founder and director of the Weird Sisters. “In considering A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Weird Sisters’ own midsummer rumble, I had to think about the play’s fit to contemporary issues.”

And what’s a more fitting contemporary issue than same-sex marriage? In New York, the Marriage Equality Act goes into effect on July 24, 2011, and while Texas doesn’t seem to be particularly close to doing the same, the Weird Sisters are hopeful that change is on the horizon. Through its setting in present-day Austin and the clever gender bending switch of the male LysandER to the female LysandRA, their adaptation of the classic addresses the possibility of same-sex marriage legalization in Texas.

“Nowadays, a father like Egeus might rant about his of-age daughter marrying a guy he doesn’t like, but he wouldn’t have the law on his side,” says Todd. “That’s not so in the case of a daughter wanting to marry another woman–or a son another man. The Texas law would stand firmly on the side of the patriarch, as is depicted in the first scene of Midsummer. Theseus is a perfect match for Rick Perry, or any figurehead of any state that has yet to legalize same-sex marriage.”

To Alyson Curtis, a long-time Weird Sister, there’s a sub-issue at stake in the legalization of same-sex marriage that she is happy to address on stage. She is concerned that, “…women, in particular gay women, are often overlooked in our patriarchal society even within the gay community.” Since the Weird Sisters are primarily a feminist theater group, it’s no surprise that they have twisted the tale to explore same-sex marriage from the female perspective. “As we move forward in our thinking as a society and the walls surrounding hetero marriage crumble down, it’s often the two tuxedos on the wedding cake that we imagine first; it’s not two brides in full wedding gowns that comes to mind,” says Curtis. “With our version of Midsummer, we’ll bring this dynamic front and center, exploring the issue of gay marriage in an imaginary patriarchal world, not unlike our own.”

“A world not unlike our own” is a key phrase when it comes to the Weirds’ August production. Though it has a particularly strong LGBT community, Austin is only one city in a state that often seems bogged down with antiquated ideals. But Dr. Susan Gayle Todd is hopeful:

“With the recent ratification of same-sex marriage in New York, Texas couples like our Hermia and Lysandra hang in the balance between oppression and hope. I like to think this Dream is not far-fetched.”

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And maybe Austin’s too!

Just thinking back to 2006 when I played Pistol to Courtney Glenn’s Fallstaf, I couldn’t agree more.  The Weird Sisters set the Merry Wives of Windsor in the 1950’s, Falstaff taking on an unmistakable bad-boy Elvis persona (sideburns and all).  We had screaming audience members, groupies, possibly even fainting.  We all had character envy that season, Falstaff was a deliciously fun, even complicated character to play.  It was hard not to be enamored.  I think we all carry a little bit of Shakespeare’s favorite foil inside us.

This article about the pop-star-like influence of Falstaff by Henry Hitchings from The London Evening Standard proves an interesting read:

Falstaff is a glutton, a coward and an idler. His enthusiasms include drinking, boasting, petty criminality and, when the chance presents itself and his body doesn’t fail him, sex. To be “Falstaffian” is to delight in excess: a Falstaffian night out is more likely a stag party or a booze-up after a big football victory than an elegant soirée.

No other character of Shakespeare‘s is quite so loaded with faults and foibles. And yet watching him carouse on a summer evening — Roger Allam is the latest to take on the role, in Dominic Dromgoole‘s productions of the two parts of Henry IV at The Globe — we understand immediately why actors so relish playing the role. We see, too, why audiences lap up his antics with such eagerness and why he is the only one of Shakespeare’s characters to have got his own spin-off play.

Though a knight — technically Sir John, even if more convincing as Plump Jack — Falstaff dismisses what he calls the “grinning honour” of chivalry, acclaiming instead a passionate vitality. He does so with the three simple words “Give me life” — and the life he wants is one of dissipation. No wonder he is such an English icon.

Falstaff appears in three of Shakespeare’s plays. First come the two parts of Henry IV, which he dominates. Then there is The Merry Wives of Windsor, written to capitalise on the success of the earlier works (and staged later in the Globe’s season, with Christopher Benjamin as Falstaff). There is a rather doubtful story that Shakespeare wrote The Merry Wives at the request of Queen Elizabeth I; she allegedly wanted to see more of this inimitable figure, and liked the idea of witnessing the effects on him of being in love.

But it is the Henry plays that define our vision of the character. In the first of them Falstaff is a tutor and surrogate father to Hal, the “truant” prince. When we initially see them together, they are discussing Falstaff’s offences: his skill in stealing purses and his fondness for sleeping in the afternoon.

For Hal, Falstaff is a welcome antidote to the stuffy seriousness of court life. Hal calls him “my old lad of the castle”, a thinly veiled reference to the inspiration for the character, the knight Sir John Oldcastle, as well as to a popular Southwark brothel. Oldcastle was condemned as a heretic yet later celebrated as a Protestant martyr, and a 16th-century audience would have grasped the connection.

Other characters view the relationship between Falstaff and Hal with horror. Falstaff hardly seems a worthy companion for a prince. His preferred environment is the Boar’s Head Tavern on Eastcheap, where he quaffs sherry.

He is strangely free from constraints. His affection for Hal appears to be his only tie; otherwise he is unfettered by protocol, and he is ready to challenge his society’s fundamental values, as when he asks “What is honour?” and curtly answers his own question — “A word.” The poet WH Auden aptly suggested that “if Falstaff were running the world, it would be like the Balkans”.

As Hal matures and begins to show regal qualities, the two men grow apart. Falstaff becomes a scapegoat. In the first part of Henry IV, his presence is always the occasion for ebullient buffoonery; in the second he appears diminished and is constantly the butt of other characters’ sour jokes.

He is a magnet for artful use of language. He’s called a “huge hill of flesh”, a “fat-kidneyed rascal”, a “stuffed cloak-bag of guts”, a “white-bearded Satan”, a “trunk of humours”, a “horse-breaker”, a “villainous abominable misleader of youth” and a “whoreson obscene greasy tallow-keech” — these not even the assessments of his enemies.

Yet it is Falstaff’s own language, which he uses to create a myth around himself, that thrills those who play him. He is a vehicle for Shakespeare’s verbal inventiveness. His speeches are tricked out with ludicrous similes: one moment he says he is as melancholy as a “lugg’d bear”, the next he likens his mood to the “drone of a Lincolnshire bagpipe”.

On the stage, there have been many magisterial Falstaffs. The definitive 20th-century interpretation is often said to have been Ralph Richardson’s at the Old Vic in 1950. The great critic Kenneth Tynan applauded this “dry and dignified” Falstaff, who in his moments of disgrace affected “the mask of sulky schoolboy”.

But Falstaff has a dynamic life beyond the theatre. There are several operas about him. Of these the best-known is Verdi’s, in which Falstaff’s love of intoxicating substances impels a tribute to the exhilarating power of music.

The character emerges in a different guise in Gus van Sant‘s film My Own Private Idaho, where he is a scruffy, drug-addled hustler. And while Falstaff does not appear in Shakespeare’s Henry V, Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh both found ways of working him into their big-screen versions.

The most remarkable Falstaff on film is Orson Welles, whose rarely seen Chimes at Midnight (1965) is one of his finest efforts as both actor and director. Welles identified closely with Falstaff, describing him as a “refugee” and a model of innocence; in portraying him as a good man ill-equipped to deal with the roughness of modernity, he was commenting on his own rejection by a film industry that had little time for his grand ambition.

Still, it is in the theatre that Falstaff’s charisma is most palpable. Watching Allam at The Globe, one cannot help feeling that Falstaff embodies certain quintessentially English attributes, a mix of the admirable and the execrable. He exhibits a drunken, slippery selfishness, yet also a resilient pride and an instinct for self-preservation. In his vices he is never odious, only ridiculous. His fabled fatness symbolises the magnitude of his humanity, and, alert to his own moral weakness, he is full of witty comment on the subject. He turns out to be a liar, but he is also capable of articulating unsettling truths.

Although St George is the patron saint of England, in truth he was a Roman soldier. Falstaff’s Englishness admits no such ambiguity. He seems to re-awaken a Chaucerian spirit of comedy and carnival.

Falstaff is a patriot of the kind governments fear: a force for liberty, with an Englishman’s aptitude for making words do just what he wants them to. Much too fat to be a fighter, he can nevertheless wriggle out of a tight situation.

At the tavern, he is a Lord of Misrule, a ruffian full of topsy-turvy wisdom. In this he prefigures Johnny Byron, the maverick anti-hero of Jez Butterworth‘s recent smash hit Jerusalem. He is a man of irrepressible appetites, whose favourite meal would be breakfast if only he could get up in time. We are even told that he “sweats to death” — and that, surely, is a very English kind of problem.

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This article about Sherwood Forests Faire’s players originally appeared in the Hill Country News on February 25, 2010

Playing ‘faire’ with Shakespeare

by Kate Goeke, Hill Country News

Former Leander ISD superintendent Tom Glenn spent more than two decades ensuring the district’s students were ready for the future. How surprised he must have been when his own daughter, Courtney Glenn, chose to live in the past.

Courtney’s not living in just any past, though. She’s chosen to go back to the year 1189 as a cast member of Sherwood Forest Faire, a new Renaissance and medieval faire opening Saturday, Feb. 27. She will be performing in William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” along with the “Bard” himself, portrayed by Robert Deike of Austin. True, Shakespeare was not born until 1564, but for the purpose of the faire’s activities, he and his troupe will be transported back in time by a wizard.

Courtney, a 2001 Leander High School graduate, was introduced to the works of Shakespeare by Susan Todd, who taught English at LHS from 1995-2003. Todd pioneered a program at the school called “Shakespeare Through Performance.” Each year, her class would begin with a study of Shakespeare’s plays which would culminate in the spring with a theatrical performance.

Todd is now a professor at the University of Texas. She is also the director of the Weird Sisters Women’s Theater Collective of Austin. (The “Weird Sisters” were three witches in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”) The all-female group performs classical and original plays which explore issues of gender and race equality – as well as the works of Shakespeare.

Courtney reconnected with Todd through the Weird Sisters, and has performed in four of their five productions. She will also be in their next production, “Sycorax,” in June. She has wanted to perform at a Renaissance faire for some time, but until now hasn’t been able to work it into her schedule.

“It’s a big commitment,” Courtney said of balancing her studies at Texas State University with her desire to act. Faire performers practice many weeks before opening day, as well as performing the weekends of the faire.

“It was daunting at first, juggling school and this [faire], but it’s easier now that I’m into the routine,” she said.

Susan Todd had a hand in leading Courtney to the forest, and through more than their Weird Sisters connection. Susan’s brother Eric Todd is one of the co-owners of the faire, with George Appling. They have invested blood, sweat, tears – and $2.5 million – to bring the faire to life. Construction began last year on the 106-acre site, including campgrounds, parking and a 23-acre medieval English village, which brings Sherwood into the category of medium-sized faires.

“I can’t believe he did it,” Susan said of Eric. “I don’t know where he’s found the time and energy to do this.” Much more than just a “rennie,” Eric works full-time for the Brazos County Health Department.

Courtney auditioned for the faire several months ago, not knowing at the time what role she would be given. As it turns out, she will be a busy girl. As part of the Shakespeare show, she will play multiple characters from “The Winter’s Tale,” including Paulina, Camillo, Dion, Clown and Florizel.

Of those characters, only Paulina is female, but playing men is nothing new to Courtney. She has been Falstaff in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and Malvolio in “Twelfth Night,” as well as the nasty Examiner in “The Weird Sisters, Hand in Hand” (an original adaptation of “Macbeth” written by Susan Todd).

In Elizabethan England, all parts were played by male actors and there were laws prohibiting women from acting onstage. Female roles were played by teenage boys or young men. In a reversal of those times, the Weird Sisters’ all-female company portrays both sexes.

“I really prefer to play men in Shakespeare’s plays,” Courtney said.

Sherwood Forest Faire is located 35 miles east of Austin on U.S. 290, between the towns of McDade and Paige. The faire is open Saturdays and Sundays, Feb. 27 to April 4, from 10 a.m. to dusk.

The family-friendly faire is Robin Hood-themed, following the folk hero and his Merry Men throughout a day of adventure. Each day the faire will feature more than 75 performances on nine stages. Jousters will go full-tilt twice a day and betrothed couples can exchange vows at Marian’s Chapel. Artisans and merchants will sell their wares in 136 shops, including a special area just for kids. Food, drinks and games are available.

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