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The 10th Season of Women’s Will

Re-imagining the Timeless for a New Generation

It’s a fair assumption to say that everything that has ever been written down is open to interpretation. In literature, it’s never more true than on the stage and in the theatre. Whether undergoing various translations or suffering the degradations of time, works like Shakespeare’s ubiquitous “Romeo & Juliet” and Sophocles’ “Antigone” have themselves gone through enough variations in recent years to remain relevant for a long time coming. In all this time though, I doubt they’ve received the particular kind of attention that Women’s Will is about to give them.

Women’s Will, the Bay Area’s All-Female Shakespeare Company, is currently in its 10th season of performing works by that most famous of Elizabethan bards (as well as other writers) throughout Bay Area parks. Over the last decade, they’ve performed works as varied as “Twelfth Night”, “As You Like It”, “Lord Of The Flies”, “The Merchant Of Venice” and “The Importance Of Being Earnest”. Throughout each of their 10 seasons, the actors, producers and directors of Women’s Will have challenged the conventions of the stage and theatre with a multi-ethnic, gender-bending message that has sought to entertain as well as educate.

For its 10th season as a company, Women’s Will has chosen to focus on “how [they] came into being and what [they] hope to create in the lifetime of this company.” When selecting plays to accompany this season’s theme of “Re:Generation”, Artistic Director Erin Merritt found herself thinking about “generations of all kinds: birth, legacies, energy flow and cycles of life.” She believes that “Romeo & Juliet” as well as a modern re-imagining of the Greek tragedy “Antigone” by Mac Wellman both reflect and exemplify the ways in which our lives remain affected by our time and that of those before us.

The question of how to update a 16th century play for a 21st century audience must be an obstacle most theatre companies face, but thankfully, due to its all-female initiative, the Women’s Will production already has one trick in its bag; the single-sex staging and casting of Shakespeare’s day has remained in tact, albeit with the sex opposite convention. The more novel approach to the production lies in how Merritt and co. have decided to highlight the timelessness of the piece.

“There is something about "Romeo & Juliet" that is so obviously timeless and relevant that one has just to get out of the way and let it speak for itself, and for the most part that is just what we are doing,” explains Merritt. The principals of this staging can be residents of a medieval Verona or of any modern city because of the “fact that the issues of the play pop up in the real world generation after generation.”

While the play might be more famous for the paths of its star-crossed lovers, the real issues at work are how generational feuds get passed from one generation to the next. The things that separate each generation, in addition to being depicted on stage by different costumes from different time periods for each group, are further highlighted by their alienation from one another. It becomes obvious that “the gaps in values and communication that keep this Verona at war with itself” are the very same damages that we face in our modern time.

Later on in the fall, Women’s Will stages the Bay Area premiere of Mac Wellman’s “Antigone”, which they proclaim is not the same Greek tragedy that many of us read in school. This experimental production on Greek tradition, which promises the same multi-ethnic, same-sex appeal as all those before it, acts as a pre-cursor to Sophocles’ “Antigone,” in which the main characters from the original tragedy are played by the Three Fates.

Wellman’s “Antigone” marks Sophocles’ Theban setting as the beginning of time. The way in which this play pulls the Sophoclean legend of Antigone and its clash of values out of its historical timeframe renders the performance a pre-historical take on the message of past effecting future. In what is essentially a timeless past, it follows the Three Fates as they unwind the strands of their own immortal lives on their way to becoming the Three Graces. Along the way, audiences will be treated to music, dance and a truly experimental performance.

This season's themes of timelessness and universality were selected by Woman’s Will with the intent of seeking a way to remain relevant without having to make any major shifts to the texts. Rather than change words that are in some cases millennia old, the artists at Woman’s Will make use of their unisex cast to preserve the classical themes while offering a fresh perspective and interpretation. That the ongoing success of this all-female company has in achieving its goal can be marked by a 10 year anniversary is a small feat neither on nor off the stage in any time.

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