In Conversation with Scott Emerson Moyle, director of Dauntless City Theatre’s TWO GENTLEWOMEN OF VERONA
Interview by Brittany Kay.
We sat down with Scott Emerson Moyle, director of Dauntless City Theatre’s Two Gentlewomen of Verona, to discuss the necessity for inclusive casting in Shakespeare, adaptation, and making the Bard more accessible for audiences and actors alike.
Brittany Kay: What first drew you to the original text of Two Gentlemen of Verona? Why is this comedy rarely staged?
Scott Emerson Moyle: This is the third play I’ve staged in Berczy Park, but the first since a recent renovation that installed the notorious dog fountain. A site-specific staging has to respond to its location, and there was no avoiding the aesthetic of that gigantic fountain… and Shakespeare only put one live dog onstage, so there we were. I’d guess that the text is rarely staged because it has some serious problems with internal consistency (it often reads like a sloppy early draft), but I’d personally written it off because it normalizes misogyny and rape culture with its awful handling of Silvia’s story arc.
BK: Those normalizations obviously led to a much-needed adaptation, one that is an intersectional feminist reimagining. Talk to me about your process of adaptation and why you saw the play in this way?
SEM: Wanting to do the fun stuff in the play without the baggage was always going to require an adaptation of the text, which is often necessary when trying to argue for Shakespeare’s modern relevance. Since the original text largely treats the female characters as property without agency, I figured a good starting point was casting the two title characters as women. From there, the adaptation kind of took care of itself; the characters and relationships are mostly exactly as Shakespeare wrote them. The biggest change comes at the end, where Shakespeare’s original is unpleasant and unsatisfying for no apparent reason, and where the wrap-up feels forced and inauthentic. I’ve borrowed bits and pieces of text from a few sources to fill out the end of Proteus and Valentine’s story, and that involved a lot of digging around through plays and sonnets for the right fragments to borrow.
Another interesting aspect to the adaptation is in the character of Julian: the source’s character is a girl named Julia who disguises herself as a boy to follow her love Proteus to Milan. I cast a transgender non-binary actor in the role without a clear idea of how that gender-as-disguise narrative would play out, and that actor brought a handling of the character’s arc that feels much more deeply nuanced than the original play’s fairly simplistic proto-Viola story.
The “why” comes from a need to normalize female protagonists and complex relationships between female characters, which Shakespeare’s work rarely has space for. Countless men have had the chance to play Valentine and Proteus, and I wanted to do something new.
BK: That’s really incredible. In your audition call, you asked for people who felt unwelcomed or alienated by Shakespeare. Why this choice? What did this do for you in terms of casting and how has this brought success or challenges to the process?
SEM: Everyone has the tools to speak Shakespeare – but I think we get hung up on a particular supposed “correct” approach. It can be challenging text to tackle, but there are lots of tools that can help actors navigate the technical stuff. Lots of very talented actors have so much potential in this work, but they’ve been told, implicitly or explicitly, that they don’t belong in Shakespeare, or that Shakespeare doesn’t exist to tell their stories. If we’re going to keep asserting that Shakespeare is universal, we need to stop only letting one kind of voice be heard. We have to back Shakespeare’s purported universality up with a diversity of voices.
It’s really simple: a cast with a wide range of life experience makes for richer art. The more actors have space to reflect and represent their audience, the better.
BK: I feel like this has a lot do with who you are as a company. Who is Dauntless City Theatre? What makes you different from other Shakespeare companies in Toronto?
SEM: Dauntless City Theatre has been in operation since 2009, formerly under the name Urban Bard (with a rebrand as Dauntless in 2014). There are certainly other site-specific/immersive companies in town (Outside the March and Convergence Theatre, for example), and other companies doing classical theatre with a focus on inclusive casting (like Shakespeare in the Ruff or Theatre Why Not’s recent Prince Hamlet), and amazing groups like Buddies in Bad Times and Maelstrom Collective making theatre that centres marginalized voices, but I think we’re the only folks trying to work at the intersection of all those ideas. I want to take these great old plays and make them approachable and fun to engage with while creating room for a diversity of voices in the work.
BK: You have just been accepted into Generator’s Artist Producer Training program for the coming year. Congrats! What does this mean for the future of your company?
SEM: I’m excited to work with a class of brilliant and talented humans, and I look forward to learning how to produce riskier and more progressive theatre in sustainable ways. This, of course, means that I will bring those skills and connections I’ll develop with Generator back to Dauntless.
BK: How has it been working in Berczy Park? What makes Shakespeare performed in parks desirable as a theatre maker and also for audiences coming to watch?
SEM: Berczy Park can be a tricky space! We’re very close to traffic, and it’s always a challenge to get the audiences to move around and get close to the action. It’s also a highly visible space, and that means the audience always grows over the course of a performance. Working in a park is a great way to find an audience of people who, for a range of reasons, might not go to a traditional theatre space.
BK: There are elements of live music in your show (I saw some very cool Facebook videos!) Can you talk about how it is used in the performance?
SEM: The music in The Two Gentlewomen of Verona is performed on boomwhackers, which are a series of hollow plastic tubes that each produce a particular pitch when struck. Each of the ten actors has two or three of them, and they get played together to create some fairly complex music. The boomwhackers also become other items in the world of the show, the outlaws’ weapons, the Duke’s staff of office, and so on, which let our composer David Kingsmill compose a rich soundtrack that integrates tightly with the play.
BK: There’s also a real dog on stage! How has working with this cast member added to the show?
SEM: Starbuck, who plays Crab the Dog, is actually a fantastic scene partner – attentive, present, and willing to roll with anything. Her human, Leslie McBay, plays Crab’s owner Launce, and their existing relationship translates well in performance. She’s also very patient about wearing a tiny cowboy hat, which is pretty important.
BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?
SEM: The play talks a lot about loyalty, about honesty, and about how tough forgiveness can be; I’d love for the audience to still be thinking about how they’d handle those situations themselves. I also really value how many audiences seem to be taking at face value that Shakespeare wrote a play called The Two Gentlewomen of Verona – I hope this leaves them questioning the amount of space that male characters take up in classical theatre.
Two Gentlewomen of Verona
CAST – Uche Ama – Antonia/Thuria
Eric Benson – Lucetto / Eglamour
Tallan Byram – Outlaw Captain
Naya Guzman – Valentine
Isabel Hornstein – Speed
Jordy Kieto – Silvio
Jesselle Laurén – Proteus
Leslie McBay – Launce
Christopher Mott – Duke of Milan
Jordi O’Dael – Julian
featuring Starbuck The Dog as Crab The Dog
Scott Emerson Moyle – Director
Lucy McPhee – Stage Manager
Stevie Baker – Producer
Annelise Hawrylak – Assistant Director
David Kingsmill – Music Director
Christopher Mott – Fight Director
Stevie Baker – Costumes
Dahlia Katz – Poster Design
August 18, 19, 25, 26 at 7:30 PM
August 19, 20, 26, 27 at 1:00.
All performances are Pay-What-You-Can!
This is an immersive performance, so wear comfortable shoes! The entire show is accessible to wheelchair users.