Bard’s females get their due in Awaken
Winter's Tale revelation reignites Steinbach-born playwright's spark
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/01/2020 (1160 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Steinbach-born actor Tracy Penner could be described with a hyphenate — actor-playwright — except she’s been holding off on that latter vocation for about a decade and a half since she hit the fringe theatre circuit with her self-scripted Mennonite-themed show Simple Gifts.
Since then, the University of Alberta theatre grad has emphasized the actor, appearing on Winnipeg stages multiple times, in the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre production of Shiksa, for example, or last year in the Royal MTC mainstage’s It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play.
The hyphenate returns with a vengeance with the production of Awaken, which premières this week as part of the Master Playwright Festival’s ShakespeareFest. A co-production of zone41 and Shakespeare in the Ruins, it tells a story that, to Penner, begged to be told: What exactly happened to the character of Hermione in The Winter’s Tale in the 16-year-gap between when she was reported dead after being exiled by her jealous husband Leontes, and when she reappears at the end of the play as a reanimated statue?
“(Simple Gifts) was very close to my heart and after that, I just didn’t find the passion or the drive or the inspiration to dive into another play,” Penner recalls. Then, in 2018, she participated in an SIR workshop on Shakespeare with Stratford coach and director David Latham.
“He uses specific exercises to try and dig deeper into the text and the story, and so they invited him to come out and work with actors and directors,” Penner says.
“The script that he used for the exercises was The Winter’s Tale and I recalled I had seen a production of it many years ago. I remembered that last scene and I thought: That’s the play where that statue magically comes to life.”
Penner returned to the play and came to the conclusion there was nothing magical about Hermione’s resurrection.
“I thought to myself: That’s not what happens at all. In my mind, I thought (her servant) Paulina had the queen hidden for all those years. And I was so amazed by this.
“The Winters Tale isn’t done very often because of many structural reasons and all that. But Hermione and Paulina are very strong female characters and they have some really good monologues in there that a lot of actors will dig into for audition pieces.”
Penner googled to see if anyone else had ever written a play conjecturing about this mysterious time gap, and found no one had.
“So I got very excited and I said to (zone41 artistic director Krista Jackson): I’m going to write about what happened with these women.”
“When I got home, it just poured out of me,” she says. “I could envision what scenes I needed to write. Honestly when I started with the first scene, it was like the characters took me there… but the characters were discovering the stories themselves, through me.
“The first draft took about two weeks.”
Penner, who also plays Paulina opposite Daria Puttaert’s Hermione, says the time is right for deeper explorations of Shakespeare’s female characters.
“The characters he creates for women are such strong and interesting and smart characters, but we just don’t get enough of them,” she says. “And I think more and more, especially now in our changing times when we’re searching more for equality and giving women more of a voice, I think female artists want to go in there and discover these female characters and they want to find out more about what they had to say.”
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In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.