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Shakespeare in Yosemite: Imogen and Arviragus

By Cymbeline Anthropocene on Sep 30, 2021 at 03:41 PM in Project News

On Tuesday we posted an interview with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks’ Imogen, played by Mikey Gray, and today we present a second Imogen interview—this time, from Shakespeare in Yosemite! While filming Imogen in the Wild, Shakespeare in Yosemite’s research assistant Monica Perales interviewed the cast and crew about their experience adapting Cymbeline. This tenth interview presents Monica in conversation with Sofia Andom, the production’s Imogen, and Angel Nuñez, who plays Arviragus. 

Monica Perales: Can you please give me your full names, your preferred pronouns, and any roles that you play?

Sofia Andom: Hi, my name is Sofia Andom, and I go by she/her pronouns, and I'm playing Imogen.

Angel Nuñez: My name is Angel Nuñez. I am playing the role of Arviragus, and I'm also part of the production staff and pronouns are he/him/his.

MP: Beautiful. What is your personal experience with environmentalism and eco-theater?

SA: I  have no experience in eco-theater at all. This is actually my first time ever being in any production or acting at all, but besides that I'm actually very new to environmentalism ever since getting into UC Merced. I feel like this campus kind of makes you become more aware of the environment. I am from LA, so I feel like you either choose to be a part of the environmental movement or you choose not to. I feel like personally, I was in a place in my life where you kind of choose to ignore rather than be totally open to hearing everybody, but I feel like these past three years of being here have really made me open my eyes to environmentalism.

AN: For me, I don't have as much experience with eco-theatre or environmentalism, but I kind of feel like I might understand the idea with it through this production in terms of critiquing how, we as humans, interact with our environment and nature, and how we maintain or break that homeostasis of balance that we have with it and how we disrupt it as well.

MP: What is your experience acting in Shakespeare, and what draws you to these plays? 

SA: I actually got into Shakespeare my freshman year of college after taking my director's [Dr. Katherine Brokaw’s] class. It was an intro to Shakespeare class, and for one of our creative projects, it was either do a full-on creative project or read a monologue in class. So I chose, in my eyes, the easy route and decided to read a monologue—and that kind of opened my eyes to Shakespeare and acting. 
I really enjoyed being a part of that class and really immersing myself in Shakespeare. I feel like a lot of people in high school, when you're kind of first introduced to Shakespeare, either love it or hate it. I personally loved it, but I feel like I didn't understand it as much. But Dr. Brokaw really helps you understand word by word, line-by-line, iambic pentameter, and everything about it, and really just makes you invested in the characters. 

If we know one thing about Shakespeare, it's that a lot of the stories can be open-ended and manipulated. [The plays make] room for a lot of diversity, which is something I think that this production has really focused on: diversifying and kind of coming out of that traditional Elizabethan drama that we all know.

AN: Besides just reading his plays and works during high school, I think for me it really came into play during 2019 when I first participated in Shakespeare in Yosemite's As You Like It. That was the first time that I feel like I've had an engaging experience with Shakespeare, it being a performance rather than just reading it and studying it. I guess the thing that has drawn me to Shakespeare more is adaptation, and how [performers] take the story and create [something new]; how they take this Cymbeline and give it an eco-theater lens. 

MP: How does your character relate to or understand the environment in the play world, and how might this differ from other characters?

AN: So my character, Arviragus, he's basically a character that was presumed to have been dead in the original length of the play, then he was taken care of by [Belarius]. I won't get too much into the backstory, but the point is he is one of Imogen's lost brothers and who ends up living and being raised by someone who was in touch with nature, and he loves nature.

So they're basically in the wild living in the forest, and I think that my character is in touch with nature, but at the same time not so much, because he questions why. He kind of questions what else is there to see, he kind of whines and complains about not wanting to keep living the same style. He doesn't see the beauty and love for the nature as his adoptive father does. But that kind of comes full-circle when he meets Imogen, and then he comes across the protest scene [added in this adaptation], and then he has this appreciation of nature and the wild.

SA: As Imogen, as the title suggests, I feel like my character kind of takes a journey throughout the play. In the beginning, I feel like my sole duty is to my husband, and I am just so in love with him. Leo is fully immersed in environmentalism, which I personally feel like I ignore in the first episode of the play because I'm just like, "just don't leave me, just don't leave me." It's all I care about, and him disappearing eventually is what actually makes me go into the wild and into Yosemite National Park.

I feel like while being in there, I truly learn the beauty and the importance of nature and why we should preserve it. It's not until I get into the park [and] I have this moment with the protesters; I then realize, "wow, my dad is a really bad person." And it's not just because he sent my husband away, but because this deal that is going on is really, really terrible and I have the power to stop it, being his daughter.

MP: How do you think ecotheatrical productions can impact environmental consciousness in the cast, crew, and/or audience?

SA: I feel like plays and performing arts really give people the ability to have a more—it's more approachable in acting, singing, photography—if it's easier access to people, I feel like it invites people more to learn.

AN: I feel like that's an interesting question because I find that hard to relate with like a theater production that's in that space, like in a Black Box theatre… as opposed to this production, where we're outdoors in a national park, and it has that advantage of actually proving that environmental consciousness. We see it, we experience it as cast and crew, and then it goes out as a final product to our audience; I think the story that we tell and using these visual images and all the ambient sounds, follows that narrative [of] Cymbeline and Imogen finding [their way of] being in touch with nature.

SA: Actually, scratch my answer! I totally agree with Angel on that one. I feel like if this production was on a stage rather than through video in a film, I feel like it wouldn't have the same amount of impact because we wouldn't actually be physically going anywhere, and we would be in one space whereas with the film, moving from place to place, the audience is really able to see our perspective as characters and how we feel about the wild, how we feel about the environment.

MP: What do you hope viewers will take away from this performance?

AN: Well, it being a Shakespeare in Yosemite production, and having that ecotheatrical tone to it, I think that obviously the goal that we'd like for audiences to take away from it is to appreciate and take care of our home, our earth.

MP: We can go ahead and move on to the next question, if you feel like that works! What has been a highlight and the biggest challenge of your involvement in this production?

SA: Okay, my biggest highlight: I would definitely say my biggest highlight would be the connection that I've had with all the staff and crew members that have been behind this production. This being my first production, my disadvantage would be my lack of experience, obviously, but my advantage would be having a fresh mind to acting. I think what I've learned the most is that if you have a crew and fellow actors who respect you and really understand your boundaries, who understand who you are as a person—I feel like it makes it really easy, and it makes everybody flow. 

The biggest hardship would probably be the amount of times we would have to move filming. We did a couple of scenes that were pretty hard for me to execute in that I'm very new to being in the forest and the environment. A good half of this movie is filmed in Yosemite National Park, so there were times I had to climb into rocks and caves and dirt and climb really, really steep and really, really high hiking trails that looked over a river that probably could lead to 300 feet plummeting to my death. There was a lot of fear involved, a lot of gross kinds of things going on! Other than that though, it was very refreshing for me, and honestly so worth it. I feel like when it goes onto the big screen and we see it, I'll go through—it's definitely worth all the hardships. 

AN: Well, I guess my biggest challenge would be my involvement: just having the opportunity to do this [during a pandemic]. We're in a place where we can kind of do these normal things again, and just kind of having this project to work on [was uncertain at first]. The challenge was, "Can we get it done and kind of safely, in a safe manner?" Which we did, you know, follow protocols when we were not on camera filming without masks. Yeah. There were a lot of things to take into consideration. 

But it has a new reach because it's not just how it's normally done, as a theatrical production within the park, but it has a further reach because it's a film that will be able to be shared everywhere online, and people will be able to appreciate it. That's another thing that I took away: I appreciate, I'm amazed, and glad we were able to work with such a great cast and crew, and I would do it again any time. Just being able to get this project off the ground was a big accomplishment. We've made it through, and I think it's going to be great.

To hear more from Angel and Sofia, watch the video above, which they and their collaborators from Imogen in the Wild presented as part of April's Globe 4 Globe symposium. Stay tuned as we anticipate the upcoming October launch of Shakespeare in Yosemite's film adaptation, Imogen in the Wild!