Author/Director Scott Kaiser has written a new play, “Shakespeare’s Other Women,” to be presented Feb. 16–19 at Southern Oregon University. Kaiser, who first came to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as an actor in 1985, is now OSF's Director of Company Development. We met in his office at the new Hay-Patton Rehearsal Center on the OSF Campus. This is the first part of a two-part column. The second will be published on Monday, Jan. 9.
EH: How did this project come about?
SK: I do a lot of auditioning and teaching. For women, there are few Shakespeare monologues. Young women in particular are often forced to use the same monologue over and over. Most of the monologues do not represent the full range of the female experience. I started to write speeches to try to expand the canon of material for women to use. It’s meant to be a new collection of monologues for women. I’m writing them in verse, the way that Shakespeare would have written them.
These are characters mentioned by Shakespeare (but who don’t appear), historical characters and mythological characters that are invoked. I have drawn from the canon, characters that you are curious about and given those women a chance to have a full appearance.
EH: How do you direct Shakespeare?
SK: I take a Stanislavski approach. It’s a very American way to look at Shakespeare. It’s just the simple questions of: “Who are you? Where are you? Who are you talking to? What do you want? What’s making it difficult to get what you want?” As you dig deeper and deeper, it’s much more sophisticated than that, but those are the foundational tools to help you immerse yourself in any scene, speech, monologue or play.
EH: How does the verse come in?
SK: The language is highly structured, but it doesn’t really matter whether you’re doing ,Mamet, Pinter, August Wilson, Lynn Nottage, Shakespeare or some other verse play. You still have to ask the human questions.
If you’re a violinist, playing Stravinsky is different from playing Mozart. You’re still a violinist; you’re still looking at notes on a page and interpreting them. It’s a matter of density. It’s a matter of style. It’s a matter of rules of structure being used by the author, playwright, or composer, but it’s still an interpretive act.
EH: How are these women going to find their characters?
SK: That’s what I’ve given them as a playwright. I’ve given them circumstances. I’ve given them a scene. Mythological characters have stories attached to them. Shakespearean characters (that are mentioned but don’t appear) often have events that are reported. A lot of these are speeches for scenes and characters that are very well known. Venus, Dido and Hero are out of mythology. Many of these characters are in numerous paintings and sculptures in the museums. A lot of what I’ve done is to look at old master’s paintings. For many of these scenes, you can find a painting in the Louvre.
I’m not the first person to look at these characters and try to create new realities for them. It’s something that we’ve been doing for thousands of years in Greek, Roman, and Renaissance sculptures. What I’m doing is a very old idea. We all know "Venus on the Half Shell" ("The Birth of Venus"). Shakespeare wrote a poem, “Venus and Adonis.” I’m not covering new ground. This is very old ground. The problem is that it has been neglected ground for a long time.
”Shakespeare’s Other Women” plays Thursday, Feb. 16, through Sunday, Feb. 19, at the Stevenson Union Arena on the Southern Oregon University Campus, Ashland. For tickets and information call 541-552-6348, or visit sou.edu/performingarts/boxoffice.html.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding cast member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at email@example.com.