Suffragette City: Interview Shows Chicago Shakes Shaking Up ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

The Taming of the Shrew

“There is no denying that ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is a sexist play,” Director Barbara Gaines told Rebellious Magazine. But that doesn’t mean it can’t undergo a makeover with a few tweaks by transporting it to the Suffragette era and adding lines by The Second City’s Ron West.

In our interview, Gaines discusses how re-staging the classic with Chicago Shakespeare Theater speaks to audiences today.

Janet Arvia: How did the Suffragette setting come about? 

Barbara Gaines: The entire concept came to me as one thought, “The Taming of the Shrew,” all women, with Suffragettes in 1919…By creating a new, very funny framework…against the backdrop of women fighting for the right to vote, we reclaim the play from a women’s perspective. It gives the women the opportunity to interact with the story’s inherent sexism, to comment on it, and eventually to rise above it – all with humor!

Is that why the productions has an all-female cast?

With all of the conversation on gender roles within the play, I felt like we needed the women’s point of view on “The Taming of the Shrew” with a woman’s perspective on masculinity, and the idea of males wanting to tame the females…Not to mention the fact that all the roles in Shakespeare’s time would have been played by a company of men, so why can’t we do the same, in reverse?

I feel over-the-moon blessed to be working with this incredible company of smart, strong and thoughtful women…From the incredible performances of this company, these characters become more three-dimensional to me, and I’ve encountered new wisdom in the play that I’ve never seen before.

Why do you feel it’s important to update a classic?

The reason Shakespeare’s plays have survived 400 years, and will continue to inspire artists for generations to come, is because the themes, the conflicts, the characters are all timeless. The same ideas and issues are at the forefront of the human experience – whether it’s 1619 or 1919 or today. By transforming the setting and the period, we can highlight just how universal our experiences are.

What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing this new interpretation?

My goal for this show is to make people laugh. There’s no greater unifier than laughter, and no better way to make a point. The point being: We’re still fighting for women’s rights all over the world, including here in the States. Through the play, I want to address women’s rights and equality, and highlight how important freedom is – freedom for all, not just for the select few. I hope the audience walks away with a better [sense of] how the issues of hundreds of years ago resonate with Shakespeare – and in 2017 with us.

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“The Taming of the Shrew” performs through Nov. 12 at Chicago Shakespeare’s Courtyard Theater on Navy Pier. For details, visit www.chicagoshakes.com/shrew.

Pictured: Alexandra Henrikson (Katherine) and Crystal Lucas-Perry (Petruchio). Photo by Liz Lauren.

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Ms. Arvia is a freelance writer, former filmmaker, artist and Janet-of-all-trades who is pleased to contribute to our magazine since she’s always been Rebellious.