BIPOC women shine in Phoenix mainstage production
Over the last several years, various initiatives have called for increased BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) representation in theatre, film, television, and other disciplines of the fine arts. Although representation is on the rise, BIPOC artists – especially those who identify as female or non-binary – continue to face an uphill battle for accurate representation in the arts. There are many diverse voices in the Department of Theatre, including BIPOC women and non-binary folks. As the department’s final mainstage of the semester wrapped up last week, we met with two of the female BIPOC students involved in Shakespeare’s Women to hear about their experiences working on the show.
We spoke with Tabatha Hamilton (she/her), a fourth-year performance student who is Métis. In Shakespeare’s Women, Tabatha took on the roles of Lady Macbeth, Gertrude, and Aemelia. She spoke about her experience of working with director Dean Gabourie, who is also Métis. “So working with Dean has been just a real treat,” she offered. “It’s been nice to kind of have a similar shared language and experience with someone, which has been really great for creating art.”
For Tabatha, one of the reasons working on Shakespeare’s Women was particularly meaningful was because of the minimal Indigenous representation she saw in theatre growing up. “I didn’t see any Indigenous theatre when I was young, especially not in my area,” Tabatha explained. “There wasn’t really room for my story, or even people like me on stage. … People of colour weren’t even doing theatre in my town because it wasn’t really a space for them. In Shakespeare’s Women, it’s just been great to see everyone in that space be able to tell their stories through these classic characters … who maybe have never had that lens on them before.”
This sentiment was shared by cast member Ximena Garduño Rodriguez (she/her), a second-year performance student who played Cleopatra in the production. Several of Cleopatra’s lines were translated into Spanish, on which Rodriguez commented, “It was nice to be able to incorporate Spanish into Shakespeare and make this an opportunity to bring the play to different cultures.” Rodriguez recently moved to Canada from México, and explained that although her experience has been overwhelmingly positive, it has not been without its challenges.
“It took me a while to adapt to this new culture and meet new people different from me,” she elaborated. “Even though I have been living here for around seven months, there are still some moments when I feel like an outsider, and I miss home. My main challenge and insecurity is connected to my pronunciation and accent. I find that sometimes it can become hard to say certain words in English, and I also feel worried that people might not be able to understand me.”
As Rodriguez spent more time in Canada, she became more comfortable with her accent, and now has no preference between speaking English and Spanish onstage. “I realized that my accent is not an impediment for doing a good job,” she said, “and I feel more confident every day.”
Both Hamilton and Rodriguez spoke to the level of camaraderie within the cast of Shakespeare’s Women, and how the support they received from others working on the show elevated their confidence. “I feel so grateful that I had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of powerful and talented women,” Rodriguez enthused.
“What I’m going to remember the most is how supported I was throughout this whole process, and not only by Dean but by the stage management team … and also by my cast,” Hamilton added. “Like, I haven’t felt supported like this on any show that I’ve ever worked on.”
On a final note, Hamilton called for greater BIPOC representation in theatre, and more opportunities like Shakespeare’s Women that allow BIPOC performers to take on roles that have been historically performed by white actors. “I just think there should be less of a stigma around sharing people of colour’s stories, because I think there’s always a worry that it’s not gonna make money, or that there isn’t gonna be the people who can be cast as that kind of thing, or there’s not gonna be the writers who wanna do the work and I think what needs to be done is realizing that there are many people who will do the work and who want to do the work,” she advocated. “Because there can be, and there should be, a radical change in what’s going on in theatre … The drastic change for this theatre should be that everyone gets to tell their stories … onstage.”