Monday, January 23, 2017

Women on Shakespeare: Jade Anouka as Ariel

Since most Shakespearean casts are male-heavy and even male-only, coverage tends to focus on men who create the work. Let's balance that out! This is the second season of my interview series, Women on Shakespeare. I'm talking with the women who produce and perform Shakespeare and related work in New York City.

Jade Anouka has taken a central role in Phyllida Lloyd's Shakespeare trilogy. She took over as Marc Antony last year after appearing as Calpurnia in Julius Caesar (NY '13), and she stood out as a tender Hotspur in Henry 4.1 (NY '15). In the third production, set as before in a women's prison, Anouka plays Ariel to Harriet Walters' Prospero. Ms. Anouka emailed with me about her roles in the all-female company.

Let’s start with Ariel. What have you discovered about her that you find fascinating?

Firstly I don’t see Ariel as 'her', he was written male, but I just try and play the scenes, play the intentions of the character and not focus on genderizing Ariel. I found the desperation of Ariel for freedom and liberty is what drives him throughout the play. He is fulfilling these tasks for Prospero happily, but only because if he does it well Propero has promised him his freedom and soon.

Ariel gets my favorite stage direction in all of Shakespeare: [Re-enter Ariel, invisible…]. How do you and Lloyd stage that? More generally, how is the magic of the role (and play) treated, especially given the vivid reality of the jailhouse setting?

Haha yes! As you say the prison setting could restrict us in someways as to plausible theatrical effects... but then again it opens us up to the real magic of theatre... of make-believe... of pretending. I love the youthful idea of how invisibility is realised in our production. When Ariel is invisible nobody looks at him. It's been funny where fellow cast members have forgotten I'm on stage in some scenes because they have invested so much into pretending they can't see me that they start believing it!

By framing the trilogy with the setting of a women’s prison, Ms. Lloyd doesn’t simply ignore her actors’ gender. How does this complex approach to gender and sexuality affect your performance of Ariel?

I honestly don’t think about it. I don’t try and be a boy, I don’t [try] and be feminine, whatever that means, I just play the character of Ariel, use what Shakespeare has wrote and what I find interesting to serve the production. Also we are all playing inmates playing characters, so my prison character, Sade, affects how I play Ariel. Sexuality on the other hand is something entirely different. I don’t think we have had an approach to sexuality with these plays. People may have made judgments about our characters' sexuality but it's not something that affects the work I don’t think.

You’ve appeared in all three plays of Lloyd’s Shakespeare Trilogy. What similarities have you noticed between Marc Antony, Hotspur, and Ariel? How have you approached Ariel differently in rehearsal?

Sade is what links them, they are all played by the same prisoner. All three are very determined characters. All three are charismatic and successful in getting people to follow them. Anthony gets all of Rome to do a 180 and believe in him, Hotspur rallies armies to fight on his side against the odds and Ariel uses magic to get anyone to do, well, anything. In rehearsal there was lots of discussion about how Sade might want to represent magic [as] what feels like freedom to her. The movement/dance/song/rapping came from that idea.

How does the Lloyd’s rehearsal approach and aesthetic of the Shakespeare Trilogy fit with other Shakespeare you’ve worked on?

Phyllida is very inclusive, rehearsals are collaborative and every voice is heard. It's also very playful and very thorough. I have been in quite a few Shakespeare plays and no two rehearsal approaches have been the same. I've done very 'traditional' productions at the Globe, I've done very minimalist arty productions at the RSC, productions with only 'two planks and a passion', with directors who are unashamedly strict with the iambic verse & those less so. What I love about doing Shakespeare is that the plays stand. The stories always hold up. But what I really love about this Trilogy work with Phyllida is that those stories can now include me and people who look like me. It has shown how Shakespeare and Theatre is, can be and must be non exclusive.

Talking about Shakespeare more generally, what’s your perspective on his parts for women?

He has some great parts for women. But there is definitely not enough of them. I have loved playing Ophelia, Juliet, Olivia in the past. But when I got to speak Mark Antony and Hotspur I was like wow this is awesome stuff. The boys have been having all the real fun! I don’t think they know how lucky they are. These roles are meaty, powerful, complicated and big. Shakespeare wrote in a very different time to now, women's roles in society were not what they are now. Assuming his works reflected the world he lived in then we need to bring it up to date. His words are great which is why his plays live on and people keep producing them. But if we do we must move with the times too. The good women's roles run out quickly and so we are taking on the men's now too. What new things can we discover by playing... Surely that’s what theatre is all about....?

Do you have any other Shakespearean roles you’d love to play, or to go back to? Not just the women either—any dream-roles traditionally played by men?

Hamlet. I played Ophelia at the Globe in London and absolutely loved it. But when I was backstage listening to Hamlet I couldn’t help thinking how great his speeches are and how honest the character's reactions to an awful series of events are. Hamlet is young and going through a hard time there is something we can all relate to in that. Male, female, black, white, gay, straight. It's so human. I wanna give him a go!

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The Donmar Warehouse's The Tempest runs from January 13 to February 19 at St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO. Tickets are $40-$90.

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headshot  Donmar Warehouse
photos  Teddy Wolff
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