By: Vanessa Polojac
From Nov. 10 to the 18, Peter Cockett’s Theatre and Film class hold the world premiere of Barbara Fuch’s English translation of Women and Servants.
Women and Servants, written by famous Spanish playwright Lope De Vega, has been lost for over 400 years.
But in 2014, University of California at Los Angeles English professor Barbara Fuchs rediscovered the manuscript hidden at the back of a library while vacationing in Madrid.
The Fall Major Production is a yearly event held at McMaster. It is a required for the students in Theatre and Film 3S06 to be a part of the play although casting is open to all undergraduate and graduate students at the university. This is the first year the production will be held in L.R. Wilson Hall. The building offers many innovative areas for the crew to work with.
“This building is an enormous step-up and improvement from the Robinson Memorial Theatre,” explained Cockett.
“One of the many new elements that the L.R. Wilson building has is a trampoline grid for the lighting. Usually in other buildings there would need to be a 50-foot ladder that is much less sufficient.”
Women and Servants was chosen by Cockett when doing research and planning for the Theatre and Film program in the spring.
When approaching Women and Servants in the fall production class, Cockett and his students were all captivated by the excessive emotions of the men in the play and the comparatively calm intuition of the women, whose actions drive the plot.
“The research was about the performance of gender on European stages in the 1600s. The questions that were asked were asked in my research were: what did the boys learn from the female performers? In what ways were the boys different from the female performers? How were the women performing femininity? In the summer I went to a press conference where I met Barbara and we related these questions to Women and Servants. This is when I concluded we had to put on this production,” said Cockett.
When holding the open casting calls, Cockett and his class didn’t cast people strictly based on their gender identities. Cockett wanted audience members not to be able to assume what characters are based on their actors’ identity alone.
“While this would have been extremely unlikely in Lope de Vega’s world, it is more familiar to us today, and that has added advantage of reminding us that these are performers who are making choices about how to play the radicalized, class and gender roles assigned to their characters,” said Cockett.
Even though the play was written in the early 1600s, there is a feminist theme that is evidently portrayed throughout the plot.
The protagonists, sisters Luciana and Violante, take control of their own love lives and fate despite their assigned roles in a patriarchal society. The playwright reverses the hierarchy by having the servants, who are expected to be loyal, go against their masters for their own personal desires.
“The play investigates the social relationships of past societies. The playwright reveals the 16th century society to be more complex and less conservative than we might be inclined to imagine,” explained Cockett.
Cockett, along with assistant directors Toni Holmes and Pricilla Lou, hope to introduce the idea, radical in its day, that one’s social identity is something that is performed rather than given.
“There was a time when we were considering an all-female cast. We were breaking down the male characters and how they were reducing stereotypical male roles and that’s why we chose to stick with male actors,” said Holmes.
“Our performance celebrates our relative freedom to be who we desire to be, and love who we desire to love, but also, in its playful way, it asks us to consider the enduring influence social power structures have on the free expression of love,” added Cockett.
Cockett hopes that audiences will enjoy the mischief and antics of these once lost characters and uses their story as an opportunity to explore historical and contemporary questions about gender performance.