‘Wonder of Our Stage’ combines Shakespeare and robots in Sarasota world premiere

From Herald Tribune, July 19, 2019

Local playwright reimagines Shakespeare as an existential automaton in “The Wonder of Our Stage,” winner of the 2018 Players New Play Festival.

Monica Cross has been obsessed with Shakespeare since she was 10 years old when her father introduced her to his plays.
Now, her own unique spin on the playwright’s works and legacy will be presented in “The Wonder of the Stage,” which has its world premiere this week at The Players Centre for Performing Arts. Cross won the theater’s 2018 New Play Festival with a script she said “cheekily answers the old question ‘Well, who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays?’”
Cross’s production is a historical sci-fi set in the Elizabethan era imagining William Shakespeare was an automaton created to be the perfect husband for the queen. When rejected, the machine experiences a loss of purpose that it rediscovers in the world of theater.
“I come not from the premise that a robot is Shakespeare, but a robot becomes Shakespeare,” explained Cross.
The play deals with themes of existential angst, father-son dynamics and exploring the meaning of humanity with the dramatic monologuing and comedic wit of a traditional Shakespearean production. Many of the characters are figures from 16th-century England such as Queen Elizabeth I, alchemist John Dee and legendary Globe Theatre actor Richard Burbage.
“Combining Shakespeare and robots was really a way for me to look at how a young person figures out their life, rather than a Shakespeare on a pedestal. He’s a little shaky — hence the name. He doesn’t know what to do, but finds his confidence through theater and through art.”
Cross said the concept for the play spawned out of a satirical assignment hypothesizing who Shakespeare really was, and an episode of the NPR program Radiolab about a 16th-century automaton monk that could walk, raise and lower its arms and move its head when wound up. The actual characterization of Shakespeare, she said, was inspired partly by the android character Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
“My two major interests both academically and personally are sci-fi and Shakespeare, and they both have a long history together. Many episodes of ‘Star Trek’ were inspired by Shakespeare,” she said.
Cross said the play took about five years to create, as she was busy teaching at New College of Florida and with other writing projects, but over the years the project kept expanding. “It actually started as a bit of a joke, then an idea for a one act. Then as I kept writing I thought of more things I could do for the story.”
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Founded in Sarasota in 1960, New College of Florida is the state's only legislatively designated Honors College of Florida. New College prepares intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement by providing a highly individualized education that integrates academic rigor with career-building experiences. New College offers 45 undergraduate majors in liberal arts and sciences, a master’s degree program in data science, and certificates in technology, finance, and business skills.

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