In a move that shows either a complete disregard for superstition or is possibly just a coincidence, What You Will Shakespeare’s first show of the season will premiere this Friday the 13th. The student-run company’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s work The Two Gentlemen of Verona — shortened for this show to Two Gents — adds a modern flair to the proceedings in order to make the play more accessible and entertaining. The production follows two “Lords of Manhattan” who start out in their home city but end up travelling abroad. Through their experiences, each of them changes markedly from beginning to end. The play grapples with themes of love, identity, and friendship in the City of Love. I was able to view one of the company’s rehearsals, and I interviewed director Stephany Guerrero as well as Ryan Anastasia and Promise Aziaka, who play the two gents Proteus and Valentine, respectively.
Smile Politely: What’s your history with the What You Will Shakespeare Company?
Stephany Guerrero: I registered when I was a junior, so that was Fall 2013. I had just seen a random poster for auditions of Antony and Cleopatra. I hadn’t done theatre in high school or anything like that, but I thought, why not try acting? What You Will is open to anybody who wants to try out. We are a student group, but we want people who join to have fun. Of course, we get to do Shakespeare, but a lot of the appeal is getting to hang out with our friends every night.
Promise Aziaka: This is actually my first show with them. I tried out a couple times last semester, but something always seemed to get in the way. Last year, I had a lot of different things I had to be doing, but this time I really wanted to get in the show. She (Guerrero) talked to me in person about it, messaged me on Facebook, and it seemed seemed like she really wanted me to do this, so I did.
Ryan Anastasia: This is, I think, the fourth show that I’ve been in. I was assistant director in one last semester. I’m in another one right now, but this has definitely been the best experience. Stephany isn’t very subtle about getting out and getting in contact with people and encouraging them to audition.
SP: Do you think the themes of the play are still relevant today? What about in relation to your characters and the theme of friendship?
Guerrero: Definitely. The themes that I have noticed are related to first love, which kids in college will understand. For Proteus and Valentine, whose stances on love change a lot from beginning to end, this is their first time experiencing love. They have nothing to compare it to; it’s a theme that’s quite relatable. With this show, my concept, which relates to the themes, is that I wanted to explore how feelings that liken to romance or love can change a person’s self-identity. I wanted to show that with Proteus losing himself in the idea of love. I’m sure many people have felt that way when in a relationship; that their own sense of being is lost. I think we all change a little for the people we like or love. So my concept for the show, and the dumbshow, was to take Proteus, which I read meant shapeshifter, and have him change for love.
Anastasia: I think it definitely has some connections. Especially in college, you get a lot of guys thinking with the wrong head. It works really well in the modern setting. A lot of shows fall back on “Well, it’s Shakespeare, so we have to be wearing doublets,” and not everybody wants to see that. It’s not often that shows have a lot of themes that people can still really relate to, and I know in some of the earlier scenes some of the stuff about young men going off to see the world sticks to people in an identity sort of way. I think people can find something they relate to in one of those themes
Aziaka: I can’t say I’ve had a friendship broken up by [relationships with] girls, but one thing I can relate to with Valentine is that I’ve never really had success with girls. We were talking about character work, and how this is probably the first love he’s ever had that’s been reciprocated. I’ve only had that happen to me one other time. I totally get how your, with your first love, you get so wrapped up; it’s easy for stuff to happen because of it. I definitely feel that this can be related to by a decent number of guys. There has always been that case where a girl may have come in between friends. In the future, it gets better. It might not be the same, but it gets better. That’s how life works. Life gets better, or at least moves on. Seeing it in the play, especially where it ends, leaves a lot to the imagination, which I love.
SP: What’s your favorite Shakespeare work?
Anastasia: I’d like to come out and say I actually hate Shakespeare. To be completely honest, I don’t like Shakespeare because it is boring as hell to read. I hated it in high school. If I had to read it again, I’d still hate it. But acting on stage, you are able to see where a lot of modern themes come from, and that’s why I like it. Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, I guess, would be my choice — only the movie, though!
Guerrero: Yeah, you have to taste the words. I did not feel Shakespeare. It needs to be seen. We have a bias. We’re the What You Will Shakespeare Company, but I think it tends to be that when you’re in the company you build a bias towards a show you’ve been in. I personally like Two Gents, but one of my favorite dramas is Titus Andronicus.
Aziaka: Well I hated reading anything when it came to high school. As far as Shakespeare, catch me in the right mood and I actually really enjoy it. Hard read, but when you can grasp what he’s saying — the humor, the wit — it made me really appreciate him. Specifically this (Two Gentleman of Verona) is one of my favorites; which is why, when I was trying out, I thought, “I got to do this.” The other two would probably be a tie between Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. You get all these different themes: tragedy, humor, drama, a little bit of crazy. It’s all there pretty well, and when you see it come forth, I really admire it.
My last question immediately elicited ooh’s from my three interviewees. Probably a point of contention among the close-knit friends that form the Company. The interview went on for an hour in animated discussion. Their passion for the show was clear from their excited tones. Given how entertaining the rehearsal and interview were, I’d say $7 to see this fresh, funny take on Shakespeare’s comedy is a bargain. The show is this Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit the What You Will Facebook page.