I can’t think of a better night for Tracy Power’s Miss Shakespeare to have opened, than the night after Donald Trump became President-elect of the United States. Much like the election, Miss Shakespeare took me on an emotional roller coaster. And, while the election and it’s outcome only made me want to cry, Power’s cast had me in tears not once, but thrice.
In addition to the crying was the loud laughter, toe-tapping and eventually the only standing ovation I ever joined in on without hesitating. In fact, I bolted out of my seat when I saw that somebody braver than me had stood first. Miss Shakespeare was phenomenal.
This is not a play by or about William Shakespeare. There are no passages to unpack at the chalkboard and there’s no film starring Kenneth Branagh. Power’s protagonist Judith Shakespeare (daughter of William) wants desperately to write a play. She persuades her friends to meet once weekly in a pub where they act in secrecy. Initially, they are hesitant, fearing they will be caught and humiliated, or worse. In a period and place where men make the decisions and are the arbiters of norms, their fears are not unreasonable. They begin with the racy Venus and Adonis, and later move on to a play written by Judith herself. The characters develop right before your eyes, and those who initially seemed steadfast in their beliefs eventually begin to question the things they once accepted as outside of their control.
It was easy to feel for these characters and root for them. I left the theatre feeling both fired up and sad, hopeful and happy, as well as warm and fuzzy. Few works have left me feeling so much at once.
Eager to get to my car so I could cry in peace, I left immediately after the very long and very well deserved standing ovation. A few blocks later and I had come back to reality, quite nervous to be walking alone in the dark along a deserted Powell Street. The warm fuzzies faded away as I thought about the fact that sure, I was wearing pants and yes, I had just seen a play written and performed by women but, I couldn’t walk confidently into the night. I remembered the program, which acknowledged that the things for which these characters were fighting, many women still did not have. Then, I thought about how women could have been replaced with any number or combinations of identities. Judith Shakespeare’s world is not so different from the one in which we live.
And what a great moment to think of Judith, how people like her exist among us as siblings, partners or peers, exposing us to new experiences, offering up their friendship and with it the potential to challenge the ways in which we see the world and ourselves. I’m thrilled to have access to works like this one, where I can be reminded of our shared humanity—laughing, crying and toe-tapping in the dark.
Miss Shakespeare will be showing at the Firehall Arts Centre until Saturday, November 26. For more information as well as tickets, go here.