My friend and Rachel’s colleague Will Wilhelm at Oregon Shakespeare Festival wrote this piece about the experience of changing the language of Shakespeare – yes, Shakespeare – in order to include all the genders.
Our #AsYouLikeItOSF director, Rosa, came in with many ideas for the “all the world’s a stage” speech that focused more on an inclusive experience-It comes at the end of the play, not the middle, as a parting gift to this audience, who we’ve tried to represent more fully in this feminist, diverse production. Some of the women stand powerfully behind Erica Sullivan’s Jacques onstage. The rest of us run into the audience to stand within the patrons, our faces glowing from the lanterns in our hand. The effect is stunning. However, after our first read of this beautiful treatment, I noticed one line that still felt exclusive.
I approached dramaturgy team to ask for an edit of “and all the men and women merely players.” A part of me almost quieted this impulse. My worst inner demons asked, “why do you think that your qualms merit changing one of the most iconic lines Shakespeare ever wrote? Why is the rest of the inclusion in the speech not enough? What does it really matter?” I’m so glad I asked. Amrita, Wiley, and Rosa were more than receptive. They’d in fact already been thinking about it themselves.
Last week, at a discussion with some students, I noticed one teenager in the circle having sort of a rough time: a little weepy, clinging to the hand of their friend. No one was addressing it much, so I assumed everything was okay and kept leading the discussion. Halfway through, they were able to take some deep breaths and raised their hand. The student, Star, shared that they are non-binary and had yet to meet a non-binary adult, let alone see one onstage.
Star let me know that as soon as they heard the line “and all the people in it merely players,” they burst into tears. So did the rest of their classmates. Because they know and care about Star. Such a simple change might be nonsensical to a Shakespeare purist, but this class knew it meant everything for Star to be included in this moment.
So here’s a reminder for those who still say “ladies and gentlemen” or “boys and girls”: ask yourself if you really mean to include “all the people.”