Enjoy this transcript of a talk delivered by Lily Goldman, the Festival’s Literary Intern, to celebrate the final dress rehearsal of As You Like It: a new musical on June 28, 2019. Lily, a Napa Valley native, is a theater major at Bard College, a lover of vegan ice cream, thrift stores, and inclusive art.
In an effort to bring our audience into our process, I am here today to walk you through the world of our play and how we made the decisions we did.
Our world of As You Like It is one of severe differences. The Court is a version of modern urban living, but heightened to the extremes. It’s a world where the class divisions are even more stark than what they are now. A space where the only people who can survive are wealthy, and subsequently, where corruption and hunger for power run rampant. The few members of the lower classes who remain are ignored, discriminated against, and eventually forced to leave.
Which brings us to the Forest of Arden. By no means is it an easy place, especially when we first arrive in winter. The effects of climate change have taken hold and the seasons are harsher than ever. That reality coupled with the lack of resources makes the Forest a harsh and unwelcoming place on the page and stage. However, it is also a place of community. Those who live there know that they cannot survive on their own. They remember acts of kindness and share what they have with all those who are in need. Our Forest is still a place of transformation and magic—as it is in Shakespeare—but one tempered by real danger.
When workshopping and staging our play, we were constantly thinking of the intricacies of the world we created. Every choice reflects this.
First, our set. The world of the Court is signified by red banners, soon to be emblazoned with the Court’s logo. Our designer, Neal Ormond, took inspiration from the corporate logos that dominate the skyline of San Francisco. The curtains also create a feeling of enclosure, surrounding our cast with stifling walls of blood red that obscure the vision of what’s in front of them, above them, and around them. You never know who might be just around the corner, listening and waiting.
The Forest is a different story entirely, populated solely by trees, it is far easier to see your surroundings. There is a feeling of openness, but also of vulnerability as the Court’s skyline looms in the background. While the Forest is mostly natural, it is definitely not the lush wonderland of the pastoral memory of England.
Resources are something we thought about often, hours spent deliberating on which character would have what and where it would come from. It made sense that the Court would be a place of technology and waste—ease always favored over sustainability, with single use plastic, fast fashion, and fast food in abundance. To put it simply, a place of gross excess.
This meant a lot for our Forest as well. It helped us discover that the Foresters live on a combination of natural resources and things they salvage from the Court’s piles and piles of trash. A lifestyle was born, coupling the natural with the reusable and recyclable. At the Duke’s campfire ‘feast’ you will see this in action. A good old forest potluck would not be complete without the natural food grown or caught by the foresters (and more adept exiles). Mostly in the hands of Audrey and Corin will you see bountiful natural resources. Audrey, a forester born and raised has been cemented in our world as a hunter, fisher, and queen of all things meat related. Corin, a kind and calm older man is an expert gardener and, logically, is the source of fermentation, bringing much cherished homemade alcohol to the cold winter night.
In the hands of a returning Phebe, we see the role the Court has to play in the Forest. Phebe is a woman who takes on the difficult task of running in and out of the city. She is a Robin Hood in her own right, bringing donated (and stolen) goods from inside the Court’s walls. She is proficient at navigating the treacherous forest and the even more treacherous city.
Which brings me to props! I feel it is important to mention something about our play that you will never actually see. For a long time, we were toying with the idea technology. What would a near future world be without it? It couldn’t have disappeared, but we also despised the idea of having smart phones on stage. So, for quite some time we played with the idea of futuristic headsets attached to the forehead, a technology that would project into the air in front of the eyes. On stage, however, this ended up looking more like an actor with something shiny on their forehead batting at the air in front of them. So, the idea was scrapped.
That wasn’t a problem for the Forest, though, where there would be no cell service and hardly any power. But props appear in the forest in other ways. It was important to us to realize that these people have been living in the forest for quite some time, some even for their entire lives; and structures tend to form when life is sedentary. So, we asked a few questions: how would they grow food? How would they get water? Would they have any form of power or light? To answer these questions, we settled on things like tire planters and tarp rainwater collectors which repurpose plastic. We even toyed with the idea of solar panels on the homes of the life-long forest inhabitants.
Another place these themes are very apparent are in the wedding decorations. Created by our props master, Amelia Adams, they are a wonderful amalgamation of natural and salvaged resources, utilizing pvc and seashells side by side.
Our costumes by Susan Szegda fall right in line with everything else. As you will see on our stage, the clothing of the Court is extravagant and completely impractical, inspired by the age-old practice of proving your status with self-inflicted dependency. The more money you have, the less you have to do for yourself. “There are people for that,” right? This is evident in the high heels, high neck lines, corseture, and suits worn by the elite. They flaunt their worth in elaborate, colorful displays of physical rigidity. This rigidity functions along gendered lines. Women in the Court wear dresses. Men wear suits. Everyone is colorful and decadent, but women are by far the more restricted. Bound in corsets, feathered neckwear, high heels, and the occasional leather pant, they are tied tightly to their perceived gender.
The Forest offers a stark contrast. A space of necessity and practicality calls for only the most functional and mobile of clothes. The Forest welcomes queerness. If you can contribute in any way, you are welcome. What is most important is being able to stay alive and functional. There is not ready access to new clothes; they only keep things that are accommodating for the rapid changes in weather. The modern materials they find or receive from Phebe’s Court missions like water proof fabrics and insulated blankets or jackets are incredibly useful. We also discovered that army surplus goods and clothing would be perfect since they are durable, help to camouflage, and are built for intense activity.
Some interesting things that come up in a space of function and practicality are the desire for individuality and the distancing from gendered appearance and understanding. As our Community Consultant Jade Blackthorne, has explained to us, individuality is deeply important when living anywhere, especially so when living in the woods. Accessories, trinkets, and embellishments help proudly assert identity. We see this on our stage in Jaques’s Misfits logo shirt, Orlando’s necklace from Rosalind, Celia’s blue skirt that ties her to her roots, and Touchstone’s refusal to accept function over form. Everyone expresses themselves through clothing.
We also learned that when you are exiled from a place or life, you bring the thing that is most valuable to you. People who flee tend to bring things they can’t imagine leaving behind, whether they be sentimental or monetary or both, We envisioned that Rosalind’s wedding dress would be something of that kind– something that was saved because of its personal significance. You will see all of these things and more on our stage tonight.
This is the thirty-seventh year of Free Shakespeare in the Park, yet another year of telling stories. The story we are telling today, is one of exile. It is a story of community. Of fear. Of heartbreak. But mostly, it is a story of love. Love no matter the circumstances. Platonic love and romantic love and familial love. Love that conquers, love that heals. That is what we are here to do. Spread love, encourage healing, inspire hope, and offer escape.
Thank you all so much for your time and enjoy the show.