Intersectional Theatre: Presenting a Bilingual Prince Hamlet

Our residency with Why Not Theatre spotlights their groundbreaking approach 
Dawn Jani Birley shares the story of her career and her unique perspective on the world of theatre.
Photo by Taylor Barrett

Ahead of this Friday’s performance of Prince Hamlet, Why Not Theatre joined Carolina Performing Arts for a week-long residency. This included an in-depth discussion with actor and American Sign Language (ASL) translator Dawn Jani Birley about the company’s intersectional approach to William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy.

Throughout the conversation with CPA and PlayMakers Repertory Company staff, Birley highlighted her conscious rebellion against the idea that mere inclusion should serve as a true end goal. For Birley, inclusion feels too limited, as it fails to encompass the full range of her capabilities. By contrast, an intersectional approach allows Birley and the rest of the company to explore the multiple dimensions of Shakespeare’s characters through new lenses of language, gender and ethnicity. In doing so, Why Not Theatre challenges traditional notions of who exactly gets to tell these stories. 

“I want to use my platform as an artist to break down the systemic barriers and open new avenues in the theatre. I hope work like this can be a part of that.” 

Dawn Jani Birley

Director Ravi Jain’s retelling shows us the world through the eyes of Horatio, Hamlet’s best friend, as portrayed by Birley. Within this framework, we come to understand that Horatio’s deafness is just one of many aspects that inform his perception of that world. Combining English and ASL, the production offers a bold reimagining aimed at hearing and Deaf audiences alike.

This week’s residency also included a public pre-performance discussion with director Vivienne Benesch and actor Tia James of PlayMakers Repertory Company, which will present its own take on the Bard’s famous play in January 2023. The primary topic of discussion stemmed from a common thread: Both productions will feature a woman in the lead role. Cast members spoke about these challenges and opportunities with refreshing candor, offering a rare inside look at the performances to come.

Why Not Theatre’s Prince Hamlet will be presented at Memorial Hall this Friday, October 7. The PlayMakers Repertory Company’s performance of Hamlet will run from January 25 through February 12. CPA audiences can save 20% with promo code DENMARK

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