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Cymbeline actors Colleen Madden (Posthumus/Cloten) and Melisa Pereyra (Imogen) answered some questions about what it was like working on this adaptation, and with this amazing group of women. Get the As to all of your most pressing Cymbeline Qs on APT's News section.
Can you talk a little bit about the Cymbeline Rehearsal process?
Colleen: Totally free and empowering!! We were a room of women from very different and diverse backgrounds and experiences; there was plenty of variety of opinion and insight to provide good balance.
Melisa: I think as artists we are always questioning things from a variety of angles, independent of how we identify or present to the world. Being in a room with all women, for me, was special because I had to question the world from an even deeper and multitudinous perspective. I had to ask myself, what aspects of storytelling come from a patriarchal perspective and how does that affect my "performance" of womanhood on stage. Without the male gaze, how do I see myself in the world and in this story? I loved that investigation during this process. Being women doesn't make us intersectional feminists--in a room with all women, you get to really study this dynamic and figure out what being a woman in these plays really means to us as artists. We use and discard the patriarchal structure at our will and to our benefit and on purpose. I think that's powerful to our journey as artists but also as global citizens and women in the world.
Was the experience of working with an all-female cast different from other Shakespearean productions you've worked on that may have had some women cast in traditionally male roles?
Melisa: Watching women step into these male energies and characters was special because on a very basic level, no one had to explain the patriarchal, misogynistic, and problematic perspectives at the center of this play. Having conversations about how we were going to deal with all of those subjects was invigorating and hopeful. I know that I do not have any space in my brain at this point to hear men speak the words written in this play-- I don't see how healing can be gleaned from that anymore. What I am hungry for is healing; as a woman, a human, and a person in this broken world. I think casting all women in this production was healing for me and I am not sure I can articulate it beyond that. For anyone that comes to see it, I hope to engage in conversation about what it meant to them. As women, we understand (on different levels) the harm of misogyny in our society. By simply putting the words of these male characters in the bodies of a multiracial and multiethnic cast of women, we were able to let the problems see themselves. Instead of having to teach what the problems are. I think that's a worthwhile endeavor in any work of art. I think it is this cast and the work being done by them that makes the play worth seeing.
Colleen: Women have played traditionally male roles as women: Banquo [in APT's 2019 production of Macbeth], played by Laura Rook, for instance, was played as a female character. Tracy Arnold’s Jacques [in APT's 2018 production of As You Like It]was female. I’m about to embark a journey playing a female Tranio, in The Taming of the Shrew. This felt very different. Playing men as men was in many ways more challenging, most obviously because we had to figure out what playing a man meant in the physical dimension, though I think we pretty soon mostly did away with too much concern over the physical and focused on the psychological. But in many ways it was easier and more exciting, because we could lean into the language of violence toward women—all over this play!!—without doing backbends to justify why women would be saying these words.
Is it different when you're playing a woman disguised as a boy (usually for her safety), than when you're playing a male character?
Colleen: Well, yes! In this case [playing Posthumus and Cloten in Cymbeline], you want the audience to mostly forget you are female, until you say something really shockingly misogynistic, at which point it should feel a bit uncomfortable.
Melisa: I remain the female character in boys' clothing--but being surrounded by all women while dealing with the play was a joyous and liberating experience. It gave me a chance to trust my instincts in a way that helped me grow as an artist.
Have you been part of an all-female Shakespearean cast before Cymbeline?
Melisa: This was my first one but I don't know how I will ever go back! These are some powerful energies to be around and I am already missing learning from them.
Colleen: No, and I HAVE BEEN MISSING OUT! It has been a really fun room. A deep place of discovery and creativity. But it was also scary, because the level of honesty and accountability asked of us could be daunting.
I really loved the camaraderie of the experience. The play is so clearly Shakespeare sending up hyper-masculinity and it’s consequences in politics and in intimate relationships—the things that make our world go round—and exploring these themes with other women was, to be sure, rad as hell. We dug in, we supported each other totally, and we laughed our asses off probably daily.
Does the gender of the actors disappear? Or does it offer a lens through which people can experience this story in a new way?
Colleen: I think both! I think that gender often does disappear in this production, because we are really investing in the story, and it’s an exciting story! Love, betrayal, war—even an evil Queen and a beheaded villain. We all love a good story, whether it’s told by puppets or people, and we suspend disbelief so that we can receive the events as they are told. When Posthumus’ heart is broken, I at least hope that the audience sees a broken-hearted, humiliated, betrayed man who uses anger to exorcise the pain. However, when he turns his anger into rage against all womankind and murderous revenge against his own wife, I do hope the audience also sees the woman speaking those words and the very real and familiar madness we see on TV EVERY DAY is magnified.
There are moments that we pour the macho on pretty thick—look no further than Cloten, who I play as a fella with a testosterone problem and perhaps one too many concussions—but even then, he’s not so far removed from some of the gentlemen we might meet at the gym, or at the bar on a Saturday night. Just don’t give the guy on steroids a sword, really, is all we are trying to say.
Melisa: Instead of disappearance, I wish for visibility; to what degree...now that's up to the audience. For those with the gift of sight, you see what is in front of you. What you make of it or how that grows as you experience the piece is so personal. But I know that the more eyes present, the better the vision. Come see us.