In spirited verbal duels between a man and a woman, the words of William Shakespeare will be exchanged (occasionally loudly and quite poetically) in Smithers, Charleston, Montgomery and other parts of the Mountain State this month.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors Jeremy Gallardo and Christiana Clark will present “The Battle of Shakespeare’s Sexes” at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, in the Recreation Room at the Smithers Fire Department, adjacent to the Smithers Town Hall, 518 Michigan Ave., Smithers. The free program lasts approximately 60 to 75 minutes.
In short stage scenes, Clark and Gallardo, a real-life couple, will portray contentious couples from several Shakespearean works including “Much Ado About Nothing,” “MacBeth,” “The Taming of the Shrew” and others. Afterward, they’ll discuss the scenes and answer audience questions in a post-performance session moderated by Charleston poet Crystal Good.
The actors will reprise “The Battle of Shakespeare’s Sexes” later on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 6:30 p.m. at Taylor Books, 226 Capitol St., in Charleston. Admission for this performance is also free.
On Wednesday, Nov. 13, “The Battle of Shakespeare’s Sexes” will return to the Upper Kanawha Valley, for a free 7:30 p.m. performance at the Montgomery Community Center (formerly the Long Alumni Center), 612 Third Ave., Montgomery. This program is free, as well, although cash donations will be accepted at the door to support the event’s organizer, the Montgomery-based, nonprofit Shakespeare Studio.
Gallardo and Clark are also scheduled to perform excerpts from “The Battle of Shakespeare’s Sexes” during the week at Capital High, Riverside High and Valley Middle schools.
The pair will open the week’s run of shows on Nov. 11 at Concord University in Athens and conclude in Clarksburg Nov. 14. Tickets are required only for the Clarksburg performance, which will start at 7:30 p.m. at the Vintage Theatre, the home stage of West Virginia’s only professional Shakespeare touring troupe, at 305 Washington Ave. Tickets can be ordered at eventbrite.com/e/the-battle-of-shakespeares-sexes-tickets-76091203839. Tickets cost $7 each (plus a $2.06 online fee).
The upcoming state-spanning performances will mark an encore appearance in West Virginia for Clark, who presented “HeARTistic” talks at BridgeValley Community and Technical College’s Montgomery and South Charleston campuses, Taylor Books and local schools last year. In her presentations, the Chicago native discussed how she was inspired to pursue a career in theater through writers ranging from Shakespeare to August Wilson.
Clark has acted in Oregon Shakespeare Festival productions in Ashland, Oregon, over the last seven years and has performed on an ongoing basis with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Her local appearances are facilitated by Beach Vickers, a Montgomery native who returned to his hometown last year after working as a professional stage actor in Los Angeles and elsewhere for several years. As the founding director of the Shakespeare Studio of Montgomery, Vickers is endeavoring to bring a recurring Shakespeare festival to the Upper Kanawha Valley.
Vickers and fellow Shakespeare Studio member Tori Casey of Charleston met Clark at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival two years ago and invited her to speak and perform in West Virginia.
“The solo visit last year was just a lovely chance of coming to the area and working with Beach, Tori and the folks at BridgeValley,” Clark said during a telephone interview earlier this week. “It was a surprisingly good turnout of folks coming out to support the project and see who I was and what was going on.
“Beach and Tori returned to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival again this year, and, after the surprising amount of support I got on my visit doing my speech on ‘HeARTistic,’ they thought, wouldn’t it be fun for my boyfriend, Jeremy, and me to both come back. So, we had an over-brunch excuse to have more time together,” she said.
“This time, I was looking more at when I was growing up,” Clark said about her upcoming return visit. “When I’d think about Shakespeare or it was brought up in school, I wouldn’t necessarily see myself involved in it, especially thinking of the women in Shakespeare. I’d think of ladies in dresses three times as big as they were. Usually, they were fainting all of the time or killing themselves. And the men are these soldiers and tyrants or all these wonderful roles — for men. Sometimes, I would assume that there were less worthwhile or meaty roles, besides a handful, for women in Shakespeare’s plays.
“Now that it’s a part of my career, art and exploration and I’ve gotten to work and converse with great Shakespearean minds, I’ve really gotten to see the depth and layers of women in the plays and how there are these dynamic duos of males and females in different kinds of relationships,” Clark said. “A lot of their actions are not unlike actions within relationships we’re still having these days.
“Shakespeare wrote about the human condition and all of the ways we try to live with each other or pursue ambitions or follow love. So, in talking about some of these duos, we put together some programming that gives a chance for Jeremy and myself to act out a couple of different scenes from pretty well-known characters from pretty well-known works.
“It’s more of an exploration of, 400 years ago, the dynamic between males and females in a particular relationship, whether meeting for the first time, lovers whose love has been lost, whether it’s the ambitions of a would-be king and queen, and look at it with our eyes now,” she said.
“We’ll step back and look at it, without the preconceived notions of what it takes to be a female or to ‘man up’ or all the other words we have in our vernacular now in the container that is Shakespeare’s world.
“It’s also just an opportunity for Jeremy and me to have fun and play some of our favorite characters and do so in a space already so welcoming and receptive to everyone in an environment that Tori and Beach are launching and hoping to build upon,” Clark said.
“The major question we will be exploring together with these presentations is how gender issues, communications and relationships differ today than four centuries ago when Shakespeare wrote, and how are they are the same,” Vickers said.
“My goal is to garner enough public support by having theater performers visit from other places in order to be able to start our own Shakespeare festival here in my hometown one day,” he said.
“Add the fact that many people are not yet aware of the fun and glory of Shakespeare, which is something we aim to change over time,” said Vickers.
Clark and Gallardo’s appearances are presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council.
For more information about “The Battle of Shakespeare’s Sexes,” visit the The Shakespeare Studio of Montgomery, WV page on Facebook or wvhumanities.org