Theyta produced virtual reading of ‘Or What You Won’t’

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Media: Courtesy of Lee Forrest

Lee Forrest, Director of ‘Or What You Won’t’ produced by student organization Theyta.

By Clarah Grossman

A bell rings through the theater, announcing the start of the show. People take their seats, the room goes dark, and the curtain rises. At least, this is what Theyta’s original production of Or What You Won’t would have looked like if theaters weren’t shut down due to the pandemic in March. 

Instead, on Oct. 17, through the intercultural club of Theyta—a community and resource center for non-binary and trans individuals—Director Lee Forrest was able to share their work with a staged Zoom reading of the play.

Since the play revolves around a narrator-like character, transitioning to Zoom wasn’t all that hard, said Forrest, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. 

“I do think it ended up working well on Zoom even though that wasn’t what I had in mind,” Forrest said.

Once the spring semester ended, Forrest said they took time over quarantine to write and edit the screenplay. The idea came to Forrest while helping to put on a production of the Twelfth Night with the Emerson Shakespeare Society, one of their favorite plays from the Bard.

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“Last semester, before everything COVID happened, I started to get the idea for it but it was during the semester so there wasn’t much time to write it,” Forrest said. 

It wasn’t until the end of this summer that Forrest knew they wanted a production of what they call their “love and hate letter” to Twelfth Night

Or What You Won’t is about a community theatre production of Twelfth Night, in which the actor playing Viola starts to question their gender. There are content warnings for the production including harassment and internalized transphobia.

Twelfth Night, by contrast, is a romantic-comedy from William Shakespeare where Viola is separated from her twin brother Sebastian and then dresses like a man. She then falls in love with a man, who in turn falls for a fair maiden, who in turn falls for Viola disguised as a man.

“The cross dressing [within the play is] interesting, and [it] ties in a lot to the trans experience,” Forrest said. “Like a funny pitch would be like ‘Hope this doesn’t awaken anything in me.’” 

In the past, Forrest worked on directing projects with the Emerson Shakespeare Society but never an original production. Forrest credited their Directing 1 class for being a helpful resource, especially with Zoom.

“Figuring out how to direct over the Zoom was another interesting experience: what kind of space you’re working with, and what it means if I’m back talking to you verse up here,” Forrest said. “It’s one of the main things I’m studying. I’m a Theatre BFA, concentrating in directing and arts management, and now playwriting is starting to creep in there too.”

When considering what organization to ask for help when putting on the production, Forrest knew Theyta was the one.

“The [best thing about Theyta is] community and being able to talk to people with similar experiences as you,” Forrest said. “Theyta was the most direct way to find and source queer actors for the five roles in the play.”

Forrest described Theyta as not only a community but a resource center for tips and tricks, specifically those related to the trans or non-binary experience on campus. Forrest said this includes getting help with name changes or dealing with teachers that misgender. 

There is no actual recording of the staged reading, but Forrest said a final dress rehearsal video might be released to the public in the future. Forrest said if anyone is interested in viewing the rehearsal video, they can email them  at [email protected]