A new version of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” transports the 400-year-old comedy to the contemporary, bringing empathy to center stage and giving migrant voices an Elizabethan meter.
Director Jessica Bauman will discuss her recent adaptation of the Shakespearean classic at Kresge Town Hall on Jan. 31. Bauman’s production, titled “Arden / Everywhere,” thrusts the castaways of “As You Like It” into the middle of the modern-day migrant crisis, where they find love in a forest of plywood palettes and instant coffee cans.
Bauman and UC Santa Cruz Latin American and Latino studies professor Catherine Ramírez will examine the surprising juncture between Shakespearean theater and immigration.
“How does changing the setting to a refugee camp transform the play?” Ramirez said. “What kind of themes does it bring into relief? What kind of opportunities and challenges does it present?”
Bauman decided to adapt “As You Like It” to a modern setting after teaching a two-week theater workshop at a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya.
“The story that most of us have access to about refugees and displacement is incredibly flattened out and two-dimensional,” Bauman said. “Almost always those kinds of stories make a person into the sum-total of all the bad things that have ever happened to them.”
Instead, Bauman wanted to capture migration as a multifaceted experience, containing moments of hardship and joy.
“As You Like It” has defied generic conventions since 1603. Its cast is a motley crew of disgraced lords and ladies, banished to the Ardenne Forest, who unite in their common lawlessness — and somehow, everyone gets married by the end.
Speaking on the timelessness of the Elizabethan playwright’s work, Porter College Provost and literature professor Sean Keilen said Shakespeare’s stories contain a diversity of views, preventing them from being reduced to a single message. Productions like “Arden / Everywhere” add fresh voices to this centuries-old moral dialogue.
“The best adaptations of Shakespeare are the ones that find an interesting way to show the contemporary moment through Shakespeare’s eyes in an unsettling or provocative way,” Keilen said. “[Shakespeare’s plays] give themselves at the end to the audience. […] He creates [a] world and then disappears from it.”
Since the late 1500s and early 1600s, Shakespeare’s work has been read, studied and reproduced — both on stage and onscreen. The single play, “Romeo and Juliet,” has numerous renditions, including “West Side Story,” “The Godfather” and the more literal “Romeo + Juliet,” cult filmmaker Baz Luhrman’s all-star flick.
Bauman’s “Arden / Everywhere” opened off-Broadway in October 2017. Among its original cast of 16, nine were professional actors and seven were nonprofessional immigrant actors. The production has since become the central feature of her numerous theater workshops and presentations across the nation.
In addition to her dialogue with professor Catherine Ramírez, Bauman will lead a career development workshop for UCSC theater majors and present her work at the Saturday Shakespeare Club in Aptos.
“Everyone has things that make them suffer — and that’s in fact what brings us together, not what separates us,” Bauman said. “The way to respond to that is through kindness and empathy.”
Admission to Bauman’s talk is free and open to the public, starting at 5 p.m.
Illustration by Darin Connolly.