Shakespeare Reimagined: Women during COVID-19

In the midst of coronavirus, William Shakespeare’s literary pieces will be re-envisioned in the production of “Willy Shakes!” Performed by the all-female cast of the Marshall University Theatre ETC! (Educational Touring Company), schools across southern W.Va. will get the chance to see the performance via short film. 

According to Charles Creighton’s book, “A History of Epidemics in Britain: From A.D 664 to the Extinction of Plague”, at least 15,000 people died of the plague that hit during 1592 and 1953. Eventually the plague shut down the theaters and forced Shakespeare to write in quarantine. This time period allowed the English poet to write significant works such as “Venus and Adonis”, “The Rape of Lucrece” and “Romeo and Juliet”. 

The deadly outbreak may have influenced Shakespeare’s work in the same way that coronavirus is influencing productions today.  

Theatre ETC! will be spending the fall semester filming the scenes in hopes of an edited 45-minute film, in addition to short lectures addressing Shakespeare’s language regarding gender norms, politics and violence.

 The group will be presenting scenes from “As You Like It”, “Henry V”, “Julius Caesar”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Twelfth Night”. 

Although Shakespeare’s plays during the 1500’s did not have female cast members, Theatre ETC! is an all-female cast this school year and will change the historic gender roles of Shakespeare’s time period.  

Leah Turley, theatre ETC! artistic director, said a female-dominated group represents the department, as well as Shakespeare’s work, as a whole. 

“Educational theatre, as well as community and professional theatre, is made up of approximately 75% women and 25% men,” Turley said. “Shakespeare provides endless opportunities for gender bending adaptations and treatments.” 

The Theatre ETC! features students of the school of theatre and dance as they produce adaptations of literary classics that they design, rehearse, and produce throughout the fall and perform in the spring for free.  

Shonna Reeves, senior theatre major, said it is difficult transitioning from a live audience to a camera, even for the few students who have experience with film.  

Since Shakespeare’s work is royalty free, Turley said she could reimagine multiple of Shakespeare’s scenes and save the company some money during the uncertain times. 

Educators can receive the digital production link of “Willy Shakes!” by contacting Leah Turley.

Xena Bunton can be contacted at [email protected].