“What is This Feeling” Wicked’s Subtle Queer Reading

When a few of the people from Destination Theatre and I decided to watch the blockbuster musical Wicked, I was in for surprise. While I was awed by the spectacle and sheer talent on the stage, as a queer person I felt particularly drawn into the musical and how it used conventions I had seen in previous musicals to hint at a romantic relationship between Galinda and Elphaba.

Galinda and Elphaba

For those who have never seen the musical, Wicked is a retelling of the Wizard of Oz, a famous film in the queer canon, told through the perspective of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Galinda, the Good Witch, becomes her roommate at Shiz, a magical school, and although they start off rocky, their relationship slowly grows to friendship and is hinted to possibly be more.

One of the key moments that critic Stacy Wolf identifies as playing with classic musical love story conventions occurs early in the musical with the song “What Is This Feeling”, which mimics songs like “If I Loved You” (9). Both songs play with dramatic irony. In “If I Loved You” from Carousel, Billy and Julie sing about what their life would be if they loved each other while we, the audience, know the truth: that they are already in love. “What Is This Feeling” works similarly with both Elphaba and Galinda asking “What is this feeling / So sudden and new / I felt the moment I laid eyes on you … What is this feeling / Fervid as a flame / Does it have a name” before pausing and saying: “Loathing.” Many of the symptoms of this “loathing” Elphaba and Galinda describe are similar to how one would describe the feelings of falling in love. Additionally, the song’s placement at the beginning of the show calls back to the classical musical canon like Carousel and Oklahoma! which each have songs at the beginning of their narrative that have characters denying their feelings for each other.

This all implies that the ending will involve Elphaba and Galinda acknowledging their feelings for each other. But instead, the musical chooses to keep the subtext just that with the introduction of Fieryrio, the male love interest for both characters. As the curtain fell on Elphaba and Fieryrio leaving Oz as Galinda gazes mournfully off in the distance, I felt immense sorrow over the fact that although musicals are viewed as queer, often queer viewers can’t fully see our stories on stage in them. In “Defying Gravity,” Elphaba throws back the words that her oppressor, the Wizard, had previously said: “Everyone deserves the chance to fly.” I think we are overdue for a set of wings.

Works Cited:

Wolf, Stacy. “‘Defying Gravity’: Queer Conventions in the Musical ‘Wicked.’” Theatre Journal, vol. 60, no. 1, 2008, pp. 1–21.

Carling DeKay is a fourth year English language and literature student.  She lives and writes in a haunted farmhouse with three cats.

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Traditional Shakespeare Meets a Hilarious 1970s Spectacle at The Globe Theatre

On Wednesday, our group saw a production by the playwright who has built an unmatched “historical pedigree” (Fallow) around British theatre when we attended William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Globe Theatre. I was particularly excited for this show, having marvelled at the reverence people around the world attach to a small structure that was built over 400 years ago and stood for barely 50 (“Original Globe”).

Earlier on Wednesday, we spoke to Dr. Catriona Fallow about the primacy of Shakespeare in British literary and cultural identity. The evidence for this primacy is plentiful in London: Shakespeare merchandise sold miles away from any theatre, a colorful Shakespeare mural painted on a side street , and a British Council poster that asserts “Shakespeare IS Great Britain”.

shakespeare muralshakespeare is

With the weight of a centuries-old legacy and a theatre that was painstakingly reconstructed to match the original 1599 Globe (“Rebuilding the Globe”), I assumed performances at today’s Globe would embody a similar effort to reconstruct the past. However, Cat informed us that the Globe also presents adaptations and new productions. In performing only “museum” pieces, the Globe would not encourage the artistic exploration that characterized Shakespeare’s original company.

However, experimentation can be controversial. After less than a year as the Globe’s artistic director, Emma Rice announced in October that she was stepping down due to disagreements with the Board over “experimentation” in light and sound that deviates from traditional Shakespeare (Furness). Experimentation can also damage a theatre’s revenues; audience members described the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Marat/Sade as “utter filth and depravity” and up to 80 people walked out of the theatre one night (Alleyne).

I continued to consider this balance between upholding legacy and encouraging exploration as we entered the Globe on Wednesday night. As I took my place in the standing section, I heard an usher confide that this would be a “very modern adaptation”. It seemed I was not about to watch the museum piece I expected.

the globe panorama.JPG

As I watched Emma Rice’s production of Twelfth Night, I decided this production struck that elusive balance between tradition and experimentation. The show, set in the 1970s, features an array of musical genres and choreography styles. Drag queen, Le Gateau Chocolat, appears as Feste, and the company boldly adds modern allusions, such as a verse of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, to the text. However, most of the text remains true to the original, and Rice includes genius homages to Shakespeare’s style. Physical comedy and farce would certainly have been used at the original Globe, as it is in this show. Rice also gives a nod to the tradition of male actors cross-dressing as female characters by casting actress Katy Owen as Malvolio.

Most importantly, the performers fed off the energy of the audience and gave us permission to laugh, jeer, “aw,” and even dance through the performance, just as the original Globe’s rowdy crowd may have done. Emma Rice’s Twelfth Night succeeds in balancing the old and the new while selling out shows for the entire season. We need artists like Emma Rice who are willing to respect tradition, but also push boundaries and make art for 2017, not the 17th century.

twelfth night

This exercise in balancing legacy and experimentation is connected to my research question for the course: how do artists balance commercial viability with artistic integrity? I thought the answer would lie in manipulating business models to make space for new theatre, in finding new monetization strategies to make up for the lower ticket revenues I assumed would accompany new, experimental theatre.

However, as the Globe’s artistic director, Emma Rice has not staged a season full of period Shakespeare pieces to make room for one new show. Rice has combined tradition with experimentation. Perhaps, I need not think of manipulating business and art separately. Maybe theatre can be new, innovative, and maintain artistic integrity without sacrificing profit.

Works Cited

Fallow, Catriona. “A Matter of Life and Death: Shakespeare and UK New Writing Industry.” Destination Theatre Lecture. United Kingdom, London. 28 June 2017. Lecture.

“Original Globe.” Shakespeare’s Globe. The Shakespeare Globe Trust, n.d. Web. June 2017.

“Rebuilding the Globe.” Shakespeare’s Globe. The Shakespeare Globe Trust, n.d. Web. June 2017.

Furness, Hannah. “Emma Rice Leaves Shakespeare’s Globe.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 25 Oct. 2016. Web. June 2017.

Alleyne, Richard. “Audience Walks out from ‘depraved’ Royal Shakespeare Company Production.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 24 Oct. 2011. Web. June 2017.