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SF Shakes chats with Maryssa Wanlass, Director of Free Shakespeare in the Park: Cymbeline, Summer 2023.

Maryssa is a long time Resident Artist with SF Shakes and Program Manager for Shakespeare For All Neighbors. Maryssa is also an actor, director, and educator, with an emphasis on social justice and classical theatre. Wanlass has appeared on the mainstage in multiple shows and taught in nearly every program. Maryssa discusses themes and directorial vision for one of Shakespeare’s late romances Cymbeline.

SF Shakes:
 Tell us about your history with SF Shakes?

Maryssa: I started with SF Shakes in the 2011-2012 school tour of Macbeth, where I played Lady Macbeth, a witch, and a murderer (I think). I had just been laid off from a corporate retail job and I wanted to throw myself into acting and teaching, and SF Shakes allowed me to do both of those things. Since then I’ve had a robust teaching career with SF Shakes, teaching in almost every program. I have been a Resident Artist since 2013. I’ve also appeared on the Free Shakes stage in maybe six productions, getting to play such roles as Hermione in Winter’s Tale and Jaques in As You Like It. In 2019 I developed a program to deliver storytelling workshops to our neighbors experiencing homelessness, using Shakespeare as an inspiration point to empower people to make up and tell their own stories. We currently have four teaching artists working in SF’s Tenderloin district doing this work in our “Shakespeare for all Neighbors” program.

SF Shakes: What attracts you to Cymbeline?

Maryssa: Since working on Winter’s Tale, I’ve been drawn to Shakespeare’s late romances for their parable and fairy-tale qualities. Shakespeare puts a little bit of everything in his romances, and always has an eye to redemption and healing. Cymbeline’s plot is a little wild; the characters are broadly drawn. But if we think of it as late career impressionism, we can see that Shakespeare was playing fast and loose with his tools to interweave themes of consent and individual determination, family and nation integrity, and personal and political accountability. All things we are grappling with today.

SF Shakes: What is your directorial vision and/or what excites you about it?

Maryssa: I wanted to lean in to this broad fairy tale quality that is present in Cymbeline, and present it in a format that resonates for me: the 80’s fantasy film. I grew up on Labyrinth and Legend and Fraggle Rock, and think those aesthetics can support a big wild story like Cymbeline. We won’t be setting it in the 1980’s, but that will be the aesthetic inspiration – shiny fabrics, big hair, fantasy, and synthesizers. Early Britain meets ancient Rome meets David Bowie.

SF Shakes: Why this play for this audience at this time?

Maryssa: In our season selection process, we really wanted to welcome folks back to the theatre. The Resident Artists came up with a theme: The Air We Share. Meaning that being in shared space together is a powerful and unique condition to tell stories and build community. Cymbeline is so theatrical and allows us to create a big, fun, family show. Our 90 minute version will have songs, romance, coming-of-age, battle scenes, and reconciliation. It is also important to me to stand with our trans youth right now, and we have worked on the script to portray the leading man as a transgender man. His love story with Imogen becomes a coming out as well as a coming-of-age story. Spoiler alert: they end up together, and I love a happy queer ending.

SF Shakes: Anything else you want us to know?

Maryssa: An exciting aspect of this production will be the music by composer Min Kahng. We hired two actor/musicians who will be carrying the show musically with backstory, funeral dirges, appeals to the heavens, and a piece to teach to the audience.

Learn More about Cymbeline and our Free Shakespeare in the Park 2023 Venues and Times HERE