Arts & Culture

Gender-bending the Bard at Pacific Theatre

By Lorraine Graves

Published 3:10 PDT, Fri June 7, 2019

Last Updated: 3:31 PDT, Tue July 2, 2019

Richmond’s Shelby Wyminga in on her way to regal things, literally playing a king on stage.

Richmond’s Shelby Wyminga in on her way to regal things, literally playing a king on stage.

Wyminga is producing and starring in Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” with a twist. As in the days of the Shakespeare’s own company of actors there is gender-bending in the roles and the script has been adapted. The Bard’s original play runs many hours and has a cast of 43. Wyminga’s adaptation has a cast of 11, albeit playing many roles, and runs two hours.

This version will be a play within a play.

Wyminga says, “The short version of the story is my friends are getting together to tell my little sister a story.It’s a war story on the surface but they wrestle a lot with the ethics of war and what is a righteous war, that’s a big one.”

“We never come out and say exactly what’s going on. If you play close attention, you can see the war that’s happening within Henry’s context becomes a way for these young women coping with the battles within their own life.“

While the play may not be commonly known by all English-speakers, the phrases we use in our everyday language resonate when heard from their source. For instance, “Band of brothers,” from whence comes Spielberg’s Second World War’s movie title, and “Once more unto the breach,” both originate with Shakespeare’s Henry V.

Wyminga says the theme will resonate with people today. It’s not only for Shakespeare-lovers: “A huge part of it is about watching Henry wrestle with the responsibility of a monarch, the loneliness that comes with that and how heroism is a choice one has to make. At times it can be a very painful and difficult choice.”

After she graduated from theatre school at Trinity Western University, Wyminga spent the last year as a formal apprentice at Pacific Theatre where she worked alongside the company’s established professionals.

“My apprenticeship has been a very empowering experience, being able to create my own work and develop that. The ability to not bet bound to somebody else’s choices.”

One of thing Pacific Theatre is known for is actors playing multiple roles during a play with great veracity. Wyminga is no exception: “My real world character is a woman but Henry is a man and I’m playing him as a man.”

In Shakespeare’s day, male actors played female parts.

In a presentation that echoes Classic Chic Productions’ work with all-female casts and crew, this offering from Pacific Theatre has a predominantly female cast.

Asked how she feels about this upcoming production, Wyminga answers, “Scared as always but really excited.”

Taking the lead on this production both in terms of acting and as producer, Wyminga looks to the future, “I identify primarily as an actor, but I don’t want my ability to do the work I’m passionate about to always be contingent upon someone giving me the job.”

To that end, Wyminga and her sister have started their own theatre company: “Our first production is planned to be ‘The Cariboo Magi.’”

“There’s always nervousness because this is a very uncertain profession I’m in but there’s a lot of possibility on the horizon which makes me excited.”

And, back to “Henry V “ at Pacific Theatre, doing it with a mainly female cast in an innovative way, isn’t that risky?

Wyminga answers like a true thespian, “I think that the best art always comes with risk and so I’ve set myself up so that I am risking big.The show could either fail or succeed spectacularly.”

So, if you are up to something a little different and very familiar at the same time try out “Henry V” at Pacific Theatre, 1440 W 12th Ave (at Hemlock), Vancouver which runs from Tues. June 25 through Sat. June 29 2019. The June 25 is a pay-what-you-can preview performance. Regular tickets are $15 other nights so this is affordable live professional theatre. Remember to check out the other offerings at this venue’s Stone’s Throw Theatre Festivalrunning this month and into July.

Click for information and tickets.

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