Shakespeare’s classic pastoral comedy As You Like It is being produced by La Jolla Playhouse in association with Diversionary Theatre, the third oldest LGBTQIA+ Theatre in the country, with its home here in San Diego. The exciting aspect of this new adaptation of the play (with some musical aspects and songs) is that the entire creative and cast is composed by Trans, Queer, and Non-Binary artists. Christopher Ashley and Will Davis, co-directors of the show, re-imagine this piece, giving the power to the cast so they can bring their own story to these gender-ful characters.
In a recent talkback with the show’s creatives, the discussion of bringing a joy driven story to audiences, was one of the focal intentions in producing the play, as opposed to any violent or traumatizing events driving the plot. The lightness of the story helps discover new layers and wonderful complexity in these characters, as Ashley describes. Davis mentions his excitement of co-directing this piece, which in itself disturbs the binary to its core. “In a very future forward thinking, as we continue to think about the way that we are accumulating and expanding ideas, the concept of having a single director is not that great, so co-directing the play seems more effective.” “Something about Shakespeare seems incredibly Punk-Rock and Gay, and As You Like It feels incredibly Queer, because it is light in plot,” he adds. The concept of not jumping up to Shakespeare, but bringing him down to us, summarizes how this work will reach contemporary audiences.
The basic storyline of the play, set in the 1600’s revolves around Rosalind and Orlando being enamored with each other during a court wrestling match won by Orlando. In the midst of family and political turmoil, Rosalind is banished by the duke Frederick, and seeks shelter in the Forest of Arden with her cousin Celia, and Touchstone, the court fool. Both Rosalind and Celia disguise themselves; Rosalind as a young male, Ganymede, and Celia as his sister and shepherdess Aliena. During their visit, they meet a number of interesting characters, including Orlando, who runs into the forest seeking nourishment for himself and his crew. When Ganymede (Rosalind) encounters Orlando, she convinces him that she can “cure” his love for Rosalind by wooing “him” through daily lessons and tasks. After the duke learns about Orlando’s disappearance, he sends his other son Oliver, bitter about the whole situation, off to the forest to find them. After several encounters of all the characters, who end up falling in love with each other, Rosalind decides to end her impersonations with Orlando, who accepts the idea. After they all return, the old duke, who had been banished, gives his daughter Rosalind away, while duke Frederick leaves court to become a hermit. Four weddings happen and the joy returns to court.
Gender is without a doubt one of the main themes of the play, as characters disguise themselves in search of another frontrunner theme…love. This text opens the conversation of this adaptation being gender-ful as opposed gender-less or gender-formative, making it a fascinating piece to bring Queer, Trans, and Non-Binary creators to the forefront.
Casting the production was an important process, because of the directors’ vision including the actors’ personal lives to the piece. A gender open pool of talent massively expanded the concept of who these characters could potentially be. Davis explains that when auditioning, the team asked the actors to decide themselves which character(s) they identified with and were interested to play, as opposed to what the creatives saw them as. “The energy between artists in the audition room is the most important aspect of the process,” he added.
T. Carlis Roberts, musical director and arranger, also brought the cast’s skillset to the musical aspect of the show. Being able to adjust whatever vocal range the actor feels most comfortable in, is yet another way this production brings an organic approach to the storytelling. The show will also include some body percussion provided by the stage actors, that will add to the atmosphere and emotional feel of it.
“The journey into the forest, is not just how your gender identity evolves, or how your sexuality evolves, but how your sense of personhood evolves,” mentions Regina Victor, the dramaturg of the production, who also points out the cyclical feel of the play, regarding the political uncertainty of the times, same as our current state.
The creative team has also put together a playlist of contemporary songs that they think could potentially fit in the play’s time and setting, giving us another clue of their vision for the production (the list can be found on the show’s website below).
Collaboration seems to be a common thread in this team. The core subject of As You Like It is learning something about yourself that drives you to understand your importance to the collective, hence why it makes complete sense to produce this story from a Queer point of view. This series of mirrored relationships, as Davis calls it, metabolizes the questions and queries they have through these relationships they build in this forest of freedom and nourishment. This undoubtedly resonates with the Queer community and our development as gender-ful joy driven human beings.
As You Like It is presented by La Jolla Playhouse in association with Diversionary Theatre with performances November 15 – December 11, 2022, and the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, San Diego. Tickets and info: https://lajollaplayhouse.org/show/as-you-like-it/