Bristolatino’s Art editor Helen Brown talks to Paula Rodriguez, director and producer of The Other Solos, about combatting anti-migration sentiment through Shakespeare.
The Other Solos is a series of six Shakespeare monologues, released on Youtube, tackling issues of migration, exile and identity, performed by accented actors whose second language is English. These performances use Shakespeare, traditionally emblematic of Englishness, to assert the multicultural nature of British society and to open a debate over the issues that have plagued us from his time to ours. Shakespeare’s performances are being imaginatively pushed even at the traditionalist Globe by Emma Rice, with an influx of female roles and contemporary music. Despite these innovations, it is striking that performers with foreign accents have been long ignored as a means of providing a different perspective on timeless works. The first monologue released on Youtube, a lesser known Sir Thomas More speech (Act III scene IV) is performed by Israeli actress Liraz Chamami, whose beautiful accent lends it a freshness and elegance. In this speech Sir Thomas More pleads with anti-migration rioters on the streets of London to imagine themselves as newcomers in a foreign land: “Would you be pleas’d/To find a nation of such barbarous temper/That breaking out in hideous violence/Would not afford you an abode on earth?” More’s words address eerily well the refugee crisis and the anti-migration sentiment surrounding Brexit, imploring the audience to feel the injustices suffered by others.
H: What current affairs do you think are addressed particularly well by the monologues?
P: We live in a dark political time framed by fear and the rise of nationalism and populism which proves that history repeats itself. Some have called our project anti-Brexit Shakespeare. It is definitely a reaction to current events, but not only in the U.K., it is a global phenomenon. Each of the monologues touches upon different themes that resonate strongly with our reality as such; they talk about migrants, racism, refugees, exile, fear, rage, power. Despite the fact that these texts are more than 400 years old they evoke incredibly powerful and poignant ideas that directly appeal to a modern day audience, as it seems that, unfortunately, the world is still dealing with the same old conflicts. Some of Shakespeare’s thoughts appear in the form of a question,”What would you think?”, “What should I say to you?”, is an invitation for global reflection, let’s all think. The selection of sentences from the six monologues I choose for the project’s trailer open and close with the word justice. Hopefully that speaks for itself.
H: How did you choose the actors for the monologues?
P: From the beginning the idea was to work with foreign actors and celebrate their accents, so actually they were the trigger for this project, I just made a few phone calls. There is a large number of foreign actors in London and they create a strong network. The cast is formed of six actors Lise Aagaard (Denmark), Liraz Chamami (Israel), Hervé Goffings (France), Paul Sebastian Mauch (Argentina), Konstantinos Kavakiotis (Greece), and myself Paula Rodríguez (Spain). They all have brought a very strong and personal point of view into the project and they all know their Shakespeare. They also know very well what it feels like to be a foreigner in a country with a different context, perspective, weather, food, humour, rules, and moreover to try to build an artistic career in it.
H: Do you feel like it is more of a struggle to get roles as an actor with an accent?
P: Yes it is. Of course. The Industry is very tough with this issue – the way you sound must be labelled and there is not much to do outside that box: exotic, foreign, cleaner, terrorist. Those are a few options, and you only represent the stereotype of your culture or any other you can pass as. Luckily this is beginning to change very slowly, but still I feel most directors think that they need to justify themselves when they choose to have an actor with a foreign accent onstage, it is a very rare thing to see in big venues, and not so common in Fringe Theatre either, especially on a Shakespeare production. A professional actor is completely capable of speaking with an accent and communicate and be 100% understandable, sometimes even adding a new layer, and discovering new and vibrant colours in the text. In my opinion, theatre is not only words, it is what happens in between the words: it is energy, flesh, conflict. The most interesting actor to look at on a stage is the one that has the most interesting conflict. The experience of being a foreign actor and having to perform in another language is already bringing up the stakes. I think there should be more of a place for it, it needs to be explored further, celebrated and respected.
H: Do you think there is an underrepresentation of accents in English theatre, given that many scenes are set in foreign countries or feature foreign characters?
P: Absolutely, for instance lots of Shakespearean characters are foreigners. His plays take place in lands far away, what an amazing opportunity to explore an international cast in a play like The Tempest for instance! And how about new writing? Every time I go to the theatre at some point during a play when a new actor appears I think that character could have an accent, and then they start to speak in a beautiful perfect R.P (Received Pronunciation accent) that is always a little bit less exciting than what my imagination was playing with. I believe theatre should represent everyone. I take the bus every day in London and hear so many accents which I am totally fascinated by, they are unique, beautiful, and hide a story I want to know more about, which is such a powerful element for theatre, in my opinion. There is an urgent need to hear these accents on stage, the R. P accent is beautiful and represents a tradition I admire and respect a lot but there should be space for much more. The theatre community should be open minded and excited about new ways and new sounds.
H: What messages would you like to get across to viewers through these Shakespeare monologues?
P: Every time I speak with the team and we discuss different things about the project it seems like our last thought is always the same, the project speaks for itself. For us there are many messages in it, that will hopefully come across at first view and they strongly resonate with current socio-political events, but there is one idea that prevails throughout: we have a voice…foreigners, refugees, the others…we have a voice too and it should be heard! And this voice is asking for respect, for justice. Shakespeare gave us the perfect platform to speak, his wisdom and knowledge about mankind is not out of date.
H: Was the title of this project in reference to the Guardian’s Shakespeare Solos? What contrast does this represent?
P: There is a Cheeky wink, yes. The Guardian’s Shakespeare solos are wonderful, I truly admire that project and keep watching it, especially when I have to prepare for an audition. But we have worked with total independence and freedom. We feel this is a change of gear that is speaking on another level and detached from branding. We would love to reach a wide and eclectic audience, with different views and realities, and not only in the UK but an international audience that might or might not have heard about Shakespeare. We would like to send these words into the internet void just with the hope of sharing and opening a possibility, a question, a need, we aim to open a crack so the light might break through.
Subscribe to their youtube channel and follow them on twitter @theothersolos