Following the success of their original musical Chelsea Hotel, Vancouver writing duo Tracey Power and Steve Charles turn their attention from the music of Leonard Cohen to the daughter of William Shakespeare in their latest collaboration, Miss Shakespeare.
An imagined world at a time when women were not permitted on the stage, Miss Shakespeare explores ‘what if’ Shakespeare’s daughter Judith had created an opportunity for women to perform.
“When I first started researching the time period, I discovered that women had the same creative aspects as men at that time, but they couldn’t explore them,” says Power. “The way I imaged Judith was that she had the same creative aspirations as her father and the only way for her to explore that side of her was to do it behind closed doors.”
And while on the surface it might appear to be a far cry from the infamous New York hotel of their more famous work, there is a similarity in Miss Shakespeare as it is set inside the dingy walls of the real-life tavern that Judith ran at the time, where a group of women secretly explored their creative side.
“Women at that time aren’t that different to women now,” says Power. “They just had different rules.”
Power goes onto to explain that because history was recorded by the men of the time, there is virtually nothing written about women having participated in theatre 400 years ago.
“Of course women would have been looking for a voice for themselves theatrically,” says Power. “It wouldn’t have led to women actually being on the stage, but there had to be some sort of progression from nothing.”
Not content to tell a their story as a straight play, Power and Charles turned to a genre they are familiar with to tell Judith’s story, a musical.
“Using music allowed us to explore Judith’s story on another level that allowed us to capture a voice that was different from her father,” says Power.
With music inspired by underground European cabaret, much like the Kander and Ebb musical about the rise of the Nazi regime, Miss Shakespeare’s music of similarly out-of-tune pianos was a perfect genre for the exploration of Judith’s world.
“It had the right feel, this idea of fighting against being oppressed,” says Power of their music choice. “Judith ran a tavern called The Cage in Stratford, so the tavern and its name helped set the world for me as writer and for the music.”
Not content to just bring a new musical to the stage, Power is also performing in both Miss Shakespeare and in repertory with an all-female adaptation of Julius Caesar. Renamed J. Caesar, this re-imagined telling of one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies is set in the year 2415 where a plague has wiped-out the males of every living species. It is, for Powers, a natural complement to the musical.
“We like to say Miss Shakespeare is 400 years ago, and J. Caesar is 400 years from now,” says Power. “The shows examine the progression of women throughout time, what they had to be fought for then, now and in the future.”
Miss Shakespeare runs in repertory with J Caesar May 5-17 at Performance Works (1218 Cartwright St, Granville Island) May 5-17 and The Kay Meek Centre (1700 Mathers Ave, West Vancouver) May 21-29. Tickets are available through Tickets Tonight. Visit http://escapeartists.ca for more information.