One of our favorite things to do is check in with former TVP students and see what they’re up to! We sat down with Wendy to talk to her about how the Viola Project has influenced her life and where she’s at these days!
Check it out! And don’t forget to register for summer camps just like the ones Wendy was part of all those years ago!
TVP: When did you first start doing Viola Project and why?
Wendy: I started doing Viola Project the summer I moved to Chicago, in 2012. I moved from downstate, in Champaign-Urbana, and Chicago was a big adjustment, to say the least. I was a stranger in Chicago, and with school starting three months from when I moved, I would be a stranger for awhile yet. With that in mind, I wanted something - not familiar, but relatable. Back in Champaign, I had taken another all-girls camp, for fencing, and really enjoyed it. Back at my old school, I really enjoyed theater. Viola Project was the place I found that I could relate to.
TVP: Tell us about what kind of impact Viola Project has had on you.
Wendy: The Viola Project had a remarkable impact on me. For one, as the need arose to fit a social image and clique entering middle- and high school, being not only an all-around nerd, but also a drama kid who enjoyed reading, analyzing, and performing Shakespeare really helped cement my “nerd cred” (as the kids say). Starting at Payton, many worry about what they’ll be, since they were “the smart one” at their old school just like every other freshmen. But with a love of Shakespeare, I could be secure as a nerd among nerds.
All jokes aside, the Viola Project really did change me in that it didn’t just provide me with new knowledge (which it did), but the framework to explore further. The Viola Project taught me how to question things through different lenses, something that has impacted me not just in regards to Shakespeare, but the broader world. I have a distinct memory of one camp, I think focused on The Taming of the Shrew, and the discussion we had. Our instructor asked, Is Shakespeare sexist? Uh, yeah, I thought at the time. Many of Shakespeare’s plays not only had female leads, but ones whose intelligence and fire were portrayed as strengths that needed no correction (The Taming of the Shrew a notable one-off). But then the instructor did something I never would have thought of, that made me reexamine my perspective: she compared the number of words male leads versus female leads spoke in different plays. The major, positive characters (Viola from Twelfth Night, Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing, and Portia from The Merchant of Venice) virtually all had fewer lines than the men in their plays. Now, my general belief is that Shakespeare was progressive (in terms of women and, I’d say, Judaism, but that’s my own hot take and Merchant is still really dicey) compared to his contemporaries. However, that leads to the question, why is his 16th century representation of women often favorable compared to the portrayal of women now? And that’s the kind of question that the Viola Project taught me to ask, and the kind of question that expands not just knowledge, but thinking.
On a personal level, the Viola Project helped me interact with groups (crucial to staging group scenes) and interact with others. Funnily enough, when I was an awkward freshman entering high school, the knowledge and love of Shakespeare provided a link between me and a classmate who would go on to become one of my closest friends.
TVP: What's next for you?
Wendy: This summer, I’ll be doing a summer program with St. John’s College, in which we’ll be using Shakespeare’s The Tempest (paired with other works by Machievelli, Plutarch, and DuBois) to examine how governments balance freedom and order, whether it’s possible to find a perfect balance between the two, and how different societies and governments emerge.
TVP: Good luck, Wendy!