Tackling Titus: Kittson O'Neill
In anticipation of our all-female reading of Titus Andronicus, we asked the actors what it's like to work on an all-female Shakespeare production. Here's what Kittson O'Neill had to say:
These plays were written hundreds of years ago in a world that is as foreign to a modern American as rural North Korea is right now. We have no idea what their lives were really like or what they felt about sex and marriage and the social order. They plays give us some clues and that's really fun, but they don't take our modern brains and scrub out the last 400 years. We see them with 21st century eyes. And knowing Elizabethan manners and values isn't important to Shakespeare. It's dressing. We don't produce these plays because the world they happened in was sacred or important. We do them because the stories are sacred and important. And in our modern world violent stories happen on and with all kinds of bodies. Women have always been fighters and villains, but culture did not want to lionize the violent, ambitious woman. She upset the order. Gender difference, like class and race and ancestry is all part of a complicated world of divisions that those who had grabbed power NEEDED in order to function. But that doesn't make any of it true: race is not real, nobility is not something you inherit and women are not innately one thing or another. Ask the bad-ass bitches of the YJP who are currently holding back ISIS in Kurdistan.
For these plays to live now, to be seen and heard truthfully by modern audiences they need to live in the modern world. Casting women as the militant villains of these plays can help a modern audience to really and truly HEAR the text. You are attending. This character must speak her truth to us because we cannot make assumptions about who she is based on the body she is in. All that really matters is that the spirit of the actor playing the role is matched to the needs of the role. Do you need a big scary guy to play MacBeth? No. What you need is a human who is quick to rage and easily swayed; Who lives entirely in their body and their desires and taps into a terrifying violence when things fall apart. The outer shell isn't that important. The most moving Romeo and Juliet I ever saw was played by a pair of actors in their 70s. Never have I listened more intently to that text then when it came from those mouths, from those bright, passionate fearless minds. Words first. Then spirit. Body third.
Kittson played the role of TITUS in our reading of Titus Andronicus.