When I first pick up a script and start to work on a character, I look for commonalities between myself and my experiences and the character and their experiences. I recognized May immediately. May was the darkly romantic vision I had of myself at 30 when I was 16. When you hear her story, it sounds thrilling. No attachments, no responsibilities, unbridled passion. In reality, it’s a very sad life. No family, no career, no stability.
As a feminist, I’m always interested in my character’s emotional, intellectual, and creative life, not just her romantic life. The thing with May is, she doesn’t have any passions besides Eddie. Often, in Shakespeare, I have played women who are very similar to May. Hopelessly in love and with no real idea of their future outside of the men they are aligned with. Somehow, May is more helpless than any of them. And this play definitely doesn’t pass the Bechtol test. So, how, as a feminist, do I approach this kind of play? It’s a strange thing for me, a woman with so many passions outside of romance. Happily, I have someone I choose to share my life with, but many of my pursuits are entirely independent of him, like teaching, creating, and learning. But just as strongly as I believe women have a right to agency outside the home, I believe the stories of women who live their lives for and with others deserve to be told. Their voices are not to be silenced; their lives are not of any less value. Now, I know a man wrote May and I know Shakespeare was a man as well, but to me, characters have lives beyond their authors, and it is an actor’s job to bring them fully to life.
Telling May’s story begins with a setting aside of judgments so that I can work on understanding her and, eventually, loving her enough to do justice to her story. It’s important because May’s story is full of truths that mirror the lives of many women — from the Renaissance to today. And they all deserve to have their stories told.