April is often regarded as a month of contradictions. In April, the stress of finals mingles with the fresh optimism of the coming spring while the cheer of blooming foliage refreshingly juxtaposes the melancho ly of April rain.
Appropriately, April is also the birth and death month of the notoriously ambiguous yet brilliant playwright, William Shakespeare.
Seeking to honor Shakespeare's works and to explore the blurred and often contradictory gender and sexual lines they present, the Sundress Academy for the Arts is presenting a Shakespeare-inspired First Friday event entitled "Shakesquery: Shaking Up the Bard."
For this event, a variety of well-known Shakespearean sonnets and monologues will be performed, such as "Hamlet," "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Henry IV," but with one distinction—the genders will be swapped.
"Women will be playing the men's roles and vice versa," said Erin Smith, UT English lecturer and managing editor at Sundress Publications.
Of Shakespeare's 38 plays, about one-fifth involve cross-dressing, which creates a montage of gender-bending, paradoxical themes.
Additionally, as Elizabethan women were generally forbidden to perform in the theater, the female roles were bestowed upon young or effeminate male actors. These performances became especially complex in plays such as "Twelfth Night" and "As You Like It," where the female protagonists disguise themselves as men.
"We want to play around with the gender notions that are already present in Shakespeare and celebrate his work in a different way," Smith said.
Author and SAFTA Literary Arts Director T.A. Noonan chose to perform a gender-swapped version of a monologue from one of Shakespeare's most famous plays, "Othello," after recognizing the depth of gender-challenging notions the speech presented.
"I knew I wanted to do this particular selection because there is so much going on that lends itself to playing with gender," Noonan said, "partially because Othello is speaking as an – albeit respected – outsider to Venetian society."
The event will also feature a variety of Shakespeare-inspired original poems and sonnets as well as an exclusive screening of local filmmaker Rob Simpson's post-apocalyptic film adaptation of "Macbeth."
"We really want to bring together all of the different types of art—writing, acting, filmmaking, etc.," Smith said. "Shakespeare gives us such an excellent opportunity to do that. "
To end the evening, audience members will be given the opportunity to showcase their acting skills in "Shakespearoke," a fun-filled Shakespeare karaoke event in which participants can choose from a selection of monologues and then perform them onstage as the words roll on a screen.
"You might crash and burn, or you might do surprisingly well," said Adam Crandall, SAFTA performing arts intern and UT alum. "Either way, it should be a lot of fun."
"Shakesquery: Shaking Up the Bard" will be held Friday, April 4, from 5-9 p.m. at The Jack Cellar on Gay Street, located in the downstairs of Skybox restaurant. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet and greet performers, writers and SAFTA staff from 5-6 p.m. with performances starting shortly after.
For updates and driving directions, visit the event page "Shakesquery: Shaking Up the Bard... A SAFTA First Friday Event," on Facebook.