Willful women: HMTC presents the women of Shakespeare in a new light

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Purvi Jonnalagadda, Staff Writer

The Horace Mann Theatre Company (HMTC) will give a voice to Shakespeares’ underrepresented female characters and examine their strength in “Willful Women,” which will premiere virtually tomorrow at 7 p.m. The performance will feature a collection of monologues written for female characters from Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and more, to be performed by students and teachers.

The show focuses on the empowerment of women, Bailey Hecht (10) said. “Despite often being underwritten, many of the women of Shakespeare’s plays feature strong characters whose lessons are still relevant today.” 

Jacob Shaw (11) composed music for many of the monologues based on the Shakespearian text. He said that the message also included further developing underdeveloped stories. “The production tells us a lot about the world we live in and the stories of several ‘willful’ — and sometimes rule-breaking — women who do not usually get the airtime that they deserve.” 

Shakespeare remains relevant throughout time, Administrative Assistant to the Grade Deans Ennis Smith said. “The female characters he wrote have as much to say about the modern state of womanhood as today’s headlines,” he said. “His version of the human condition never dates.”

The show does not follow a conventional progression of a single story; instead, it uses an assortment of monologues and musical interludes, which further the point of female empowerment, said Sam Siegel (10), who was in charge of cinematography and managed the show’s filming and editing.

In the show, Oscar Shah (9) plays Lady Macbeth from Macbeth and Hermia from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The scene with Hermia captures two women fighting over men, depicting women as solely focused on romance, Shah said.

The cast switched the genders of characters, so that Shah would play a man, and eventually decided on changing the pronouns in Shakespeare’s text as well. “By reversing the pronouns and having men arguing about women, the unequal literary treatment of men and women is made obvious,” Shah said. In Shah’s scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the roles played by women in Shakespeare’s version are all played by male actors.

 Hecht (10), who plays Goneril from King Lear and Cleopatra from Antony and Cleopatra, enjoyed participating in the show because of its fluidity, especially since her monologues are applicable to her own life. “It was a great experience to see how easily a monologue about a seemingly specific situation could be turned into a commentary on the misogynistic double standards of school dress codes,” she said. “We were able to keep the strength of these powerful women and see how they might act in modern day.”

The biggest challenge Hecht faced was the “archaic language” of Shakespeare’s plays. “But we got through it after small group read-throughs,” she said. 

Since Shakespearean language differs from modern language, memorizing lines was difficult, Shah said. “We had to translate each line in order to actually understand what we were saying,” he said. 

Smith also acted in the show as Peter Quince from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Smith prepares for performing any sort of Shakespeare text by making sure he understands it, usually through rewriting the dialogue in his own words, he said. He does so by using a lexicon, a dictionary of Shakespeare’s words that can define older terms such as “hight” and “twain,” which aren’t used frequently anymore, he said. 

The short scenes meant actors only had one rehearsal to read, interpret, and stage monologues and another day to film, Hecht said. As a result, the play was missing some of the cast bonding that Hecht usually looks forward to with weekly rehearsals, she said. 

The time in which the show needed to be produced was demanding, but Seigel was glad to have been able to participate in a rewarding project. “For me, it is a story of exploring the true strength behind some of Shakespeare’s female characters who appear to be weak on the surface but are really strong behind the veil,” he said. “There is power in everybody, no matter what they look like or how they act.” 

The biggest challenge Shaw faced was writing accompanying music for some of the most powerful scenes from Willful Women. “I spent hours tweaking harmonies and melodies to make the soundtrack sound how the action feels,” he said. “Like any form of interpretation, musical interpretation forces you to make tough choices about what point you want to get across and how you want to do that.”

English teacher Dr. Jonathan Kotchian enjoyed rehearsing and shooting his scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the cast, he said. “I got to interact with both students and my fellow teachers in ways that I don’t usually get to, and Ms. VanHentenryck’s encouragement helped us relax into our roles so we could come up with improvised moments of humor.” 

Despite the short timeline, Siegel’s favorite part of the show was the connections he formed with his fellow students. “We really became a family when we were working together,” he said. “It was amazing to work with such awesome people who are so dedicated to the idea of making an awesome play.”