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Louisville theater company views Shakespeare through LGBTQ+ lens

The cast and crew of three witches shakespeare's production of "As You Like It" aimed to create a safe, community space both on and off stage.
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three witches shakespeare
The cast and crew of three witches shakespeare's production of "As You Like It" aimed to create a safe, community space both on and off stage.

LGBTQ+ focused theater company three witches shakespeare is taking on their second show with a production of the Bard’s comedy “As You Like It.”

Three witches shakespeare was created with the goal of telling classic work through a decidedly LGTBQ+ lens. That’s true for their latest production of “As You Like It.”

“We really came out of this desire to see a lot of the queer talent that we have in Louisville in the theater community, shine in ways that they don't typically get to, both on and off stage,” said three witches shakespeare co-founder Tory Parker.

She said the theater company doesn’t want people to have to read the subtext of famous works to see the queer themes within.

“We came at with this idea of love and building a community around this thing that we love, which is Shakespeare… and exploring the process of making theater in a really a more sustainable, healthy way that really embraced and highlighted queer identity rather than alluded to it or winked at it,” Parker explained.

She plays Celia in the production.

The tale of exile and finding a safe haven is being told in a new way. Mollie Murk adapted the show, and they’re directing it.

Murk said their approach has been largely working with what’s already there.

“‘As You Like It’ specifically has so many different relationships in it,” Murk said. “That's why it really lends itself to like a profoundly queer cast is because everybody's experience is so different, everybody's story is so different, every relationship is different.”

For Murk, finding the LGBTQ+ themes in Shakespeare doesn’t take a lot of searching.

“There's so many lines in it, that when we were doing our first read and stuff, people would chuckle out, or people would laugh at,” Murk said. “And I would be like, ‘That's Shakespeare. I did not put that in there, that's him.’”

Murk said a lot of the changes they made were to make the characters better align with the identities of the people playing them.

“I really wanted this to be like, by queer people, for queer people. And luckily, the story itself is so inherently queer,” Murk said.

Actors like Vic Leon, who plays Orlando in the play, have been a part of other productions of “As You Like It.” But this is the first time revisiting the play since his transition.

“I wanted a shot at Orlando because I've always loved his language and the scenes that I had with him when I played opposite him, so I just was like, I'm gonna give it a shot,” Leon said.

Leon has been acting for half his life but said this production is like nothing he’s been part of before.

“It's one of the most cathartic experiences I've ever had in a play, period,” Leon said. “We know that to get the best in each other, we have to respect each other and support and, and do what we need to do, to be in the most open space possible to tell the story.”

Stepping into a classical space like Shakespeare, one that hasn’t been and sometimes still isn’t welcoming to all communities, is important for the all-women and gender non-conforming cast.

“We can take up space within this lexicon of works that are typically very heteronormative and be like, well, there's nothing structurally heteronormative about it, we can make it whatever fits us,” said Adama Abramson.

Abramson plays Silvius in the production.

They said being a part of the show has been an empowering and healing experience, something the characters of the play also find through the plot.

The safe space created behind the scenes by the play’s cast and crew is mirrored by the actions of the characters in the production.

“As Dutchess Senior, I have created this forest, this safe space for basically anyone who feels the need to leave such a structured, organized life in court and come into my forests in here we can be liberated,” said Kimberly Ding, who plays Dutchess Senior.

The place her character created in the Forest of Arden is akin to the lesbian and gay bars seen in the modern world. The play itself will be staged at one of the city’s own LGBTQ+ bars, Play Louisville.

Ding said that as an educator and parent, it’s important to give younger generations clear and numerous representations of LGBTQ+ people and other marginalized groups.

“This is a welcome to a different pulse of what our community and our nation might be looking like or what the direction that we want,” Ding said. “We are creating ethics and values and compassion and kindness and inclusive activity for the type of leaders we want to have.”

The play’s cast and crew aim to create a show where anyone who sees it feels seen.

That was partially important for Murk as the person adapting the story.

“I hope that they're inspired to be brave and take that risk and tell somebody you love them. And, you know, leave the situation you have to leave the community that's stifling you if it's stifling you, and take that risk and what could be on the other side of taking that risk?” Murk said.

Three witches shakespeare’s production of “As You Like It” runs at Play Louisville March 15 - 24.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.