Beyonce’s ‘Who runs the world (GIRLS)’ put a buzz in the air as the Greer Garson Theatre filled on March 8 for the entirely student directed SMU Women’s Day celebratory performance featuring a rendition of Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice.’
The brainchild of theatre sophomore Stevie Keese, the production was aimed at women empowering women to be their best selves.
“I can’t help but cry some proud, feminist, loving tears every time I watch our production,” Keese said. “Now more than ever women need to be supporting other women, and that is what tonight is all about.”
Keese was daydreaming in Theatre History class while learning how all the roles in Shakespeare’s plays were acted by men.
“Boring right?” Keese exclaimed.
Hence, Keese thought it only fair to reverse this and do an all-female Shakespeare production. Keese selected ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ because it was the first Shakespeare play she ever studied and loved it.
“As I started examining the play more, I realized that the three female characters in the play are only “successful” when they dress as men,” Keese said. “Casting all women in this show presents an interesting message that power related to gender only comes with the outward appearance.”
Audience member Connie Sung was empowered by this raw interpretation of gender stereotypes and their relation to strength and dominance.
“I liked the part where the three men are trying to win the women’s heart and the two men forced the legs open in order to get what they wanted,” Sung said. “I thought that was a really cool interpretation of what was going on, and it brought focus.”
The show was a truly collaborative effort as Keese wanted to feature her classmate’s incredible work and utilize their creative perspectives.
“As I approached my classmates about the project, we all got extremely excited and began adding on ideas,” Keese said.
The event was made interdisciplinary to further include other talented all-female groups from the various Meadows departments. Keese said this was aimed at exploring the deeper aspects of personality, typically tagged to the female stereotype.
“In Meadows, we often don’t get to collaborate with other art forms,” Keese said. “This project has presented the perfect opportunity to do just that.”
Performer Bonnie Scott tracked the character of Shylock from his greatest success to rock bottom where he loses it all. She found the gender and power juxtaposition challenging but rewarding, and enjoyed the collaborative feedback her fellow cast members provided.
“Everyone’s voice was heard, with some type of exploration of our thoughts or impulses,” Scott said. “Watching the women on stage be present and strong in their craft was really uplifting, I was truly moved, being able to witness the greatness in everyone on the stage.”
Women supporting women was an evident theme of the night with peers coming out in force to support their friends. Shayla Dye heard about the event via her friend who starred in the play and decided to rally the rest of her non-theatrical friends as a support crew.
“We’re here supporting that,” Dye said.
One of Dye’s recruits and aspiring writer, Sam Guerrero found the performance both expressive and different.
“It said a lot without actually saying anything,” Guerrero said.
Keese hopes to make the performance an annual event but with planning having begun in October of last year, mentioned she might need to recruit a co-producer to help her with the massive undertaking a second time around.
Keese’s passion to shine a light on powerful women and their passion for advocacy via art was evident in her commitment and direction of the show. This innate passion, she attributes to those strong females in her life and social movements such as the current ‘Me Too’ campaign sweeping Hollywood in the wake of major sexual assault scandals from prominent directors such as Harvey Weinstein.
“I have lived my life surrounded by strong female family members, and I have observed them fighting to have a voice in the room,” Keese said. “I always asked myself why this was. Why were the strong women in my life having to fight to be heard? This performance was inspired by them and their strength.”