The Word from Stratford
Multidisciplinary performance artist Jamie Milay/Sah Milay wrote this spoken-word piece for “Engendering the Stage in the Age of Shakespeare and Beyond,” a conference held at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, September 18-21, 2018. Challenge, clarion call, and opportunity:
Let Shakespeare Die
When will we lay Shakespeare to rest.
When he gives his last breath,
maybe then there will be space
For me to offer my own.
But another director putting me on stage to recite text written for a white male body. Having
those words bounce off my queer black feminine body. No significance or alteration just lazily
leaving it to the imagination. “The words will do all the work”.
Other than another adaptation of shakespearean text that believes it’s revolutionary because
they’ve reversed the genders.
Because there are only two genders.
Or an all female cast because having women perform the roles of classical kings is more inspiring than writing strong contemporary Queens.
Give me literally anything else.
But another strong female role that includes a handful of scenes and a tragic death after being
driven to romantic insanity. Give me anything but queering up that story and giving me a tragic
queer death and romantic insanity. Visual representation is not enough.
Give me the work of a Straight Black Quebecois transwoman from the 2010’s.
Give me the work of a Queer Non-binary Latinx playwright from the 1800’s
Give me the work of an Asexual Genderqueer Egyptian performer from the 60’s.
Give me the work of a Bisexual Transman from the 1500’s.
Give me the work of a Disabled Chinese-Cuban poet from the 70’s.
Give me the work of a Filipina playwright before her country was colonized.
Give me the work of a Blackfoot Woman before her country was colonized.
Give me the work of Indigenous people around the globe before their countries were colonized.
Before their art forms were deemed lesser. Before performance and community and ritual had
to be defined as theatre.
. . .
Give me a Queer Nonbinary Congolese performer playing a role for a Queer Nonbinary
Give them a thousand more roles written for a Queer Nonbinary Congolese performer.
Give them a thousand more roles that don’t depend on Queer Nonbinary Congolese suffering or
archaic, outsider representations of their identity.
Give them a thousand more roles that don’t ignore their Queer Nonbinary Congolese existence
in favour of “keeping it relatable”.
And then pay them.
. . .
Give me a complexity of experiences.
Give me an abundance of narratives and characters to become.
Teach me about more than just shakespeare in school.
Stop making it seem like he is the only one who existed.
I want somebody else’s name on my tongue when asked about classical theatre.
Anyone else’s work on my mind when someone says the word theatre.
I want to see diverse faces on a stage that is telling a diverse story.
Not an unacknowledged rainbow of bodies being stuffed into binaries
Except for when marketing the show.
Casting them is not enough.
Presenting the text as is, is not enough.
I want to see shakespeare
being torn to bits.
Like actually torn to bits.
Then destroyed again.
And then torn again.
I want the language destroyed and made relevant again.
Because no one fucking understands unless they’re an academic.
I want shakespeare to return back to its orgins.
Back to the dirty places where anyone can access him.
Shakespeare was not for the elite
Yet here we are, the elite, discussing.
The privilege of discussing.
I am ready for other voices to be incorporated into the conversation.
Of what is Classic and what is Theatre and who is Worthy of being Included.
I want shakespeare to stop.
shakespeare is dead.
So let him die.
And give us.
—Jamie Milay/Sah Milay