Renaissance Colloquium

‘The Roaring Girl’: In Search of a ‘Playable Cut’
Nov 14, 2023, 4:30 pm6:00 pm



Event Description
Sawyer Kemp

As mainstream theater slowly adopts more transgender-informed casting practices, plays like The Roaring Girl, Middleton and Dekker’s city comedy featuring the notorious and historical Moll Frith, become attractive vessels for nonbinary and genderqueer character readings and staging. While infusions of contemporary stakes within a historical text can make early modern drama feel relevant, theaters often shy away from anything beyond a surface-level invocation of feel-good "inclusion:" a sentimentalism that trans studies as a field cautions against. Rather than using Moll as a battleground for the butch border wars, what would it mean to approach the sundry philanderers, gulls, rogues, gender ne’er-do-wells, and weary fathers with the methods and questions of contemporary trans studies? And how could that possibly be represented in performance? And, tougher still, would any audience care to see it? In this talk, I will discuss an ongoing practice-as-research project investigating performance possibilities for The Roaring Girl and thinking through the thorniness of making a “playable cut” of the script without causing “irreversible damage.”

Sawyer Kemp is a scholar of Shakespeare, early modern drama, and performance. Kemp's first book project, “Shakespeare and the Paradox of Access” investigates the rhetoric and industry of “accessibility” in contemporary Shakespeare performance. Exploring access as a tool for feminist and queer critique, this project analyzes theater’s impact on and outreach to communities of trans and gender non-conforming people, sexual assault survivors, and people with disabilities. Kemp's other ongoing research project, “Trans Methodologies for Early Modern Texts” imagines how contemporary social justice issues like homelessness, state violence, and dysphoria could inform and situate historical investigations of early and pre-modern gender nonconforming figures. Kemp's work has appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly, Shakespeare Studies, The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, and the edited collection Teaching Social Justice Through Shakespeare. Kemp's most recent article, “Two Othellos: Transitioning Anti-Blackness” was published in a social justice-themed special issue of Shakespeare Bulletin edited by David Sterling Brown and Sandra Young.

  • Department of English
  • Lewis Center for the Arts
  • Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities