By Dara McBride
As I’m talking to Mariah Ghant, a director of Delaware Shakespeare’s Rosalind X 3, I’m reminded of the question my middle school English teacher – perhaps the first person to teach me Shakespeare – leaned on to launch classroom discussions.
What resonated with you?
In any talking about work and art, there is a tendency to compare, especially when multiple versions are involved. But Rosalind X 3 – which will feature three director-actor pairs and their interpretations of the lead character from As You Like It – aims to peel back the layers, of both character and artistic process, not to reveal one, ultimate interpretation of Rosalind but many different possibilities.
“We’re trying not to say the word ‘compare,’” Ghant says, as she’s explaining Rosalind X 3. “Instead of comparing and contrasting all three next to each other, [we’ll be] highlighting what stood out from one person to another.”
For two nights in July, as part of the 2021 Delaware Shakespeare Summer Festival at Rockwood Park, audiences will see three actors explore Rosalind through individual and shared monologues. The performances will also feature conversations with the actors’ directors, with everyone bringing their unique personal and cultural perspectives to the production. A bare-bones stage will set the scene, and performers may briefly put on a piece of costuming or hold a prop to help transition from talking about to being Rosalind.
In a way, Rosalind X 3 isn’t so much lifting the curtain, but rewinding to the beginning, from casting to character- and world-building. It also asks what would happen if artists felt free to bring their whole selves to the stage. It could be that the work is more rewarding – for both artists and audience.
(“Live talk show meets Shakespeare performance” is the go-to description in the Del Shakes community.)
In fall 2017, Del Shakes produced As You Like It – a romantic comedy in which Rosalind flees persecution in court to find love in the forest of Arden (while disguised as a boy). Bi Jean Ngo portrayed Celia, Rosalind’s cousin, in that production and has used Rosalind monologues to audition. Now, as a director for Rosalind X 3, Ngo is thinking about those experiences as well as non-theatre ones. While working with performer Lexi Thammavong, Ngo says they have had conversations about the performance of femininity and masculinity in Shakespeare, as well as their respective Vietnamese and Thai-Laotian-Cuban upbringings.
(Tanaquil Márquez is the third director, and Rachel O’Hanlon Rodriguez and Satchel Williams round out the group of performers.)
“We’re all different sizes and shapes. We’re all different colors. We’re all different,” Ngo says. “And we’re all doing it right because we’re doing it in a way that’s specific to us and making these words real and meaningful.”
The discussion feels timely, and not only because the past year has brought reckonings and calls to build anti-racist theatre systems. Connection, too, is something we’ve been missing over the past year.
One of the most moving artistic moments I’ve experienced this year was during the virtual Del Shakes Shakespeare + St. Valentine event. As established actors Kim Graham and Leonard Kelly performed the “It was the nightingale, and not the lark” exchange from Romeo and Juliet, the split-screen Zoom barrier between the two performers seemed to melt.
As it turned out, Ngo directed the scene, a fact I had forgotten when I brought it up during our conversation. In removing the expectation that Romeo and Juliet needed to be cast like teenagers, audiences could unpack deeper meaning.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten about writing (and life) is to get out of your own way. But in any story, the writer is a translator. They apply whatever veil or filter they inherently have, interpreting their experience for others. With Rosalind X 3, I don’t want to get in the way (which I admitted to Del Shakes Producing Artistic Director David Stradley after he assigned me this piece). I want to get lost in the forest for a few hours with these artists and listen to their conversations.
What resonated with you?
Thinking back to Ghant’s request to avoid surface-level comparisons, I see this as a piece about different takes. It’s about coming together and listening – actively listening – to others.
“If you were Rosalind, what song would you be listening to getting ready for the show in your dressing room?” Ghant says, sharing an exercise she, as a director, might do with an actor to build character. “Everyone’s going to have a different answer. Even if people have the same answer, they would have chosen it for a different reason.”
“We will all have a different interpretation,” Ghant continues. “But that doesn’t mean that you can’t connect to it. It doesn’t mean that you can’t find something to latch onto and bring it back to yourself.”
Dara McBride is a Delaware native who currently writes and creates in the greater Philadelphia area.