On September 26th, I was able to go see the UNCG Theatre perform “As You Like It: A Musical Adaptation” based on Shakespeare’s Play titled “As You Like It”, adapted by Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery. After having watched the show I was able to have several interviews with different people who were a part of the production. The first two people that I interviewed were the Director of the show, Karen Sabo, and the Choreographer, Alison McCarthy. “Maximum joy, maximum spectacle,” stated Sabo, describing the play. She says that the story of “As You Like It” is joyful, full of fun moments, fun characters, and a setting that is an escape into a place of love and happiness. McCarthy says that the Forest of Arden, a setting of joy within the play, is full of inclusivity, acceptance, and is a community-oriented setting. “What do people need right now?” expresses Sabo, “It has been a really hard time in the world.” This play, according to Sabo, was a piece that she and the cast were able to connect with because of its joy and that this is the first musical that has been done at UNCG since the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down musical theatre all over the world. She believes that the play is a great piece to bring joy to others in such a difficult time.
In this adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, there were not one but two LGBTQIA couples, as compared to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production talked about in last week’s article, which only featured one of these couples. This is one of the key factors to understand the significance of this play within today’s world. I was able to speak to two of the actors in the show, Soraiah Williams who plays the character of Jaques, and Jack Muzyczka who plays Orlando. “It is a memoir of our current time period,” says Williams, “Nobody is left behind in history and nobody is forgotten.” In this discussion I had with them, the two actors meditated on the idea of how Shakespeare’s work could still be relevant in today’s society. Williams expresses that Shakespeare “wrote for the people” and created stories that could relate to the general population, which is one of the reasons that his stories and stories like his stay with us today. But I wanted to understand the bigger picture here of why specifically works like “As You Like It” and not others like “Rosalynde”, which is the play that the original “As You Like It” is adapted from, are remembered and still performed today.
Williams expresses that Shakespeare’s work is for everyone and explores concepts of “finding grace and acceptance” as well as characters who are trying to find themselves and their true identity. With her own character that she portrayed, she was able to understand herself better and she believes that playing Jaques allowed her to express emotions and characteristics of herself that she is not able to usually openly express in her own life. This shows the power of Shakespeare’s storytelling, but it goes beyond just that. There is a bigger picture throughout human history as to why certain stories stick with us and never leave.
The musical adaptation of this play is key to understanding this bigger picture. The use of music in this adaptation and the modernizing of dialogue creates a spectacle that allows many people to relate to it more in modern times, but yet still keeping the same original story. McCarthy brings up a song titled “When I’m Your Wife”, and says she was really able to connect to this song, due to its modern language. McCarthy herself is about to get married, and she was able to understand the character of Rosalind at that given moment. This is an example of not only how Shakespeare’s work still is relevant, but also how we can still manipulate the story to make it easier to understand and connect to in today’s society. Stories like these evolve over time to match with the current political and social environments of the period. This, I describe as “Intergenerational Collaborative Storytelling”, where a story is still being written and rewritten throughout history to adapt to the current times.
I also had a chance to speak to Karsen Green, the costume designer for this show. She is a third-year Graduate student here at UNCG studying costume design. She was also able to connect with Shakespeare’s play and use the lessons that it taught in her own life. She specifically talks about the Forest of Arden and how it is a place where “you can be who you really want to be”. She discusses how in designing the costumes for the show, she wanted the Court of the Duke to be limited in color, describing it as “a place where you cannot be what you want to be” which is in contrast to the Forest of Arden with its bright colors and “almost commune-like” community. She made these costumes resemble these aspects of the two settings and had a “mash-up” between Elizabethan Era clothing and modern dress. This is yet another example of how such an old play can be manipulated into the current times to connect with people on a level that they can relate to, but this time visually; the story is the same, but the costumes match more with current times.
Throughout all of these interviews and in my own personal viewing of the show there is a conclusion to the question of how certain stories stay with us while others do not. The costume designer, Karsen Green, wrapped it up best by saying that plays that stand the tests of time have “universal human truths and vulnerabilities. It speaks to a part of us, and tells us something about ourselves.” This could not be more true. McCarthy’s connection to Rosalind’s song and Williams’ connection with Jaques because the character which helped her express her inner emotions both show that “As You Like It” has the qualities of telling people something about themselves. Even in adapting the play into a musical, the story is still fresh and new, allowing the story to speak to an audience of the current times but still keeping these “universal truths and vulnerabilities.” Karen Sabo, the director, said that storytelling was around when humans created fire. People would tell stories to entertain each other so that they could stay up to guard the fire and the camp, making storytelling a way for humans to survive. She says, “[Storytelling] would literally keep people alive longer. There is something deep within us that just craves story.” Storytelling is powerful and will never go away as long as humans exist. Stories like Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” go through the generations because as humans we are able to connect with the innate human question of who are we? This is why we tell stories and continue to digest them. The Musical Adaptation of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” continues this tradition of handing a story off to the next generation and allowing people to reflect on their own lives and who they truly are.