Theatre Profile: Wyrd Sisters Shakespeare Society
The Wyrd Sisters Shakespeare Society is one of the latest innovative companies to spring up during the age of stay-at-home orders. The "Wyrd Sisters" derive from the three witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth. An offshoot of the widely acclaimed, Strand Theater Company, Wyrd Sisters Shakespeare is also a womxn identifying company from its performers, directors, and producers.
I spoke with Erin Riley, Founding Executive Director, to learn more about the Wyrd Sisters:
What is the mission of Wyrd Sisters?
The Wyrd Sisters Shakespeare Society is a digital classics company that was founded by womxn identifying artists and uses womxn identifying artists as directors, tech directors, actors, designers, composers and musicians. The Society's premise is to lend the voices of womxn to the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, as well as other classical pieces to show gender is a construct and powerful characters can be crafted and played by any performer based on their skill and ability to tell a compelling story. Our goal is to provide entertainment and create thoughtful, inclusive art while we're all stuck at home during the pandemic.
What was the impetus for creating the company?
Several weeks ago, Melissa McGinley (our Company Director), Emily Karol (our script supervisor), Judy Streeb, and Laurie Simonds (both company members) were having a chat via Zoom because we were all going stir crazy. I happened to say - hey! You know what would be fun? We should read plays. It would give us something to do. Then we happened to talk about how much we admired The Pandemic Players and the work they've been doing in response to the stay at home order. The conversation snowballed into the idea to start the society and add to the growing number of groups providing this sort of entertainment. We then vetted a number of our Shakespeare loving friends and found the response was overwhelmingly positive. I talked to Elena Kostakis, my colleague at Strand, and said, "What do you think about Strand producing this project? " She was thrilled and so, so supportive. The voices of womxn are very important to us at the Strand, where I'm the Associate Artistic Director, and Wyrd Sisters was a natural progression.
What is your first project & why did you choose it?
Our first project was on May 7th and it was William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. We chose this particular play because it's such a very light-hearted romp. It is the epitome of silliness and is about as zany as Shakespeare can get. We figured people absolutely need a laugh these days and wanted to give folks at home something to tickle their funny bones. Our tag line is "Thanks for helping us keep Shakespeare Wyrd." We thought starting off mistaken identities, shipwreck survivors, drunk uncles, and a happy ending would hit the spot. It was fun!
What considerations are you making for the digital space?
The digital space is really, really crazy to try and work in, truth be told. The Pandemic Players did a workshop a little while back and our Tech Goddess, Theresa Olson, attended the webinar. It's a ton of broadcasting and labeling and break out rooms and shuffling. I am constantly amazed by what I.T. folks can do. Our first production was a little rough around the edges, but Theresa did an AMAZING job with the technology and keeping us all in line.
The biggest considerations we're making, I think, are twofold:
We're trying to really learn how to develop relationships between characters when those characters aren't able to see or touch each other. Playing to a camera can be very isolating and we don't want our audiences to feel that. We are developing ways for actors to watch each other in order to understand how to react.
We're looking at ways to make the broadcasts interactive. To have the audience participate in different ways. Keep an eye out for our first audience participation style performance later in June... details to come, but we're really excited!
Who are the Wyrd Sisters?
Right now, the executive staff is me [Erin Riley], Founding Executive Director, Melissa McGinley, Founding Company Manager, Emily Karol, Founding Script Supervisor, Donna Korn, Composer and Musical Director, and Theresa Olson, Technical Director. We also have a core group of founding company members that includes Cheryl Campo, Valerie Dowdle, Hannah Fogler, Barbara Madison Hauck, Emilie Zelle Holmstock, Bethany Mayo, Heather O'Shaughnessy, Laurie Simonds, Judy Streeb, Elizabeth Ung, Katharine Vary, Stephanie Via, Sophie Fraser and Julia Williams.
Who/what are your favorite inspirations when you think about the direction of the company?
First and foremost - I need to give shout outs to some of the amazing companies we belong to and who have inspired us. I'm a director at the Maryland Renaissance Festival and Carolyn Spedden has entrusted me to work with The Company of Women, which is a ground breaker for the festival scene. All womxn Shakespeare is not a new concept, but it strengthens the womxn identifying place in the canon every time it's done. Strand Theater Company and Son of York Shakespeare Company out of York, PA are supporters and inspirations of ours. BSF, CSC, Fells Point Corner Theater - all of these houses are integral to our performers and to the way we perform.
Speaking on a larger scale in terms of womxn performing Shakespeare, The Donmar Warehouse series directed by Phyllida Lloyd and featuring Harriet Walter comes to mind. The National Theater is also doing amazing work featuring womxn identifying artists in roles traditionally played by men. We want to be like these awesome folx when we grow up!
Erin Riley holds her BFA in Theatre Studies with concentrations in Classical Performance and Directing jointly from Notre Dame of Maryland University and the Nuffield Studio at Lancaster University, United Kingdom. No stranger to the Baltimore theater community, she has been directing, acting, and designing in the area since 1997.
You can view their inaugural live stream of Twelfth Night on YouTube.
Their next live streamed production, Measure for Measure, will premiere on Thursday, June 4th.