A portrayal of Shakespeare’s heroine for our times.
By Aigner Mizzelle aka Juliet
How does it feel to play Juliet? It seems like an easy question to start with but it’s actually quite a layered discussion. I’ll begin with a similar set of questions that I am continuing to ask myself: How does my femininity exist outside of traditionally constructed norms? What does it mean to perform an antiquated and revered text that I would have otherwise never been allowed to listen to much less speak in its original iteration? Where are all the Black Juliets? And what does it mean to love completely and unconditionally?
I had never dreamed of playing Juliet. I had no desire to play a human whom I had always believed to be weak, privileged, and frivolously in love. Or at least that’s often how she is portrayed in the mainstream media. I had never considered that someone would see me and think “Ah yes, she should play Juliet.” Me being 5’11”, with large hips, wild hair, Black skin, Jersey vernacular, and a highly conscious sense of moving through the world.
But here we are, and wow, was I mistaken.
Juliet is the one of the bravest women I have ever played. I envy her in two major ways: One, she knows exactly what she wants and does not let love scare her. Two she is in control of the way she feels. At times she may not be able to articulate her feelings, the science of her emotions don’t seem to work out evenly, but she sets the standard for control and action. She frees herself with her own calculated terms and lets instinct proves to be more valuable than rationale. She erupts like wildfire and she is a BEAST. And when I think about my anatomy for playing the embodiment of boundless love, imperceptible strength, and heightened intelligence, I return to my earlier question: Where are all the Black Juliets? We are in a magical time right now as work in the creative platform begins to shatter these glass ceilings. However, it is still past due for the type of bodies in this production of R/J to be added to the stack of representation in theater, film and even the day to day.
Within my Blackness also exists the question of femininity and beauty. Am I feminine enough? And do I meet the standard of beauty “required” to play a leading lady in a love story? And as I get deeper into this piece, I am realizing that perhaps those questions don’t even matter. None of these stereotypes, of standards and constructs and all the questions that come with it actually matter. And that is why this adaptation is so important. This is the story of two people seeing the corrupt world, the corrupt constructs, and divided societies around them and choosing love instead. Even if the whole world has not fully arrived there yet, I am humbled to be a part of a piece where ‘choosing love’ is the standard of beauty, of femininity- it is the standard for how we should discuss history. Choosing love is the standard for progress. Choosing love is the bravest choice any of us could make. So there’s gayness, queerness, Blackness, femininity, androgyny, masculinity, shortness, tallness, wildness, thinness, and then there’s the cradle of all things beautiful: Love. Come see the show and choose love.
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