Su Flatt and Co. toast joy, revolution with ‘Weirding Shakespeare’

A cross-section of Columbus poets, comedians, musicians and burlesque performers will reinterpret Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ at the Vanderelli Room on Sunday.
Su Flatt
Su FlattDon Bruce

Su Flatt paused early in our late-August conversation to offer a quick mea culpa. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I talk like a spiderweb – 75 different directions at once.”

It’s this precise trait that helped inform the poet and professor’s latest venture, for which she has gathered a wild cross-section of poets, comedians, musicians and burlesque performers, all of whom are set to team up and offer artistic reflections inspired by the Shakespeare comedy “As You Like It.” Dubbed “Weirding Shakespeare,” the free-for-all is scheduled to take place at the Vanderelli Room beginning at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 27.

Flatt said the anything-goes approach she’s embraced for the event is rooted both in a fondness for Comedy Central’s “Drunk History” and a life spent in theater. “I’ve been on stages since I can remember, and my mom comes from a vaudeville family,” Flatt said. “And she never talks about it, ever. It was just one of those things that would come up every once in a while, and it’d be like, ‘Holy shit. My mom was on fucking vaudeville!”

There’s also, at the show’s core, a deeper political and social motivation, though Flatt was hesitant to overstate its impact on something meant overwhelmingly as a joyful celebration. “Given the political climate we’re in, I mean, Shakespeare just got freaking banned in Florida,” said Flatt, making reference to the Florida school district that announced it would only read sections of the playwright’s work following passage of the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” laws. “They’re successfully pushing through these Senate bills where you’re not allowed to talk about anything outside of this very limited view of humanity. And, as an educator, I need to remember I’m not just an educator inside this institution where I’m bound by the state. I also have the opportunity to get out and do fun things. … And if I do it someplace outside my classroom, the legislature can’t touch me.”

These revelations are nothing new to Flatt, who recalled coming up amid the AIDS crisis, when she said it could be considered a revolutionary act to hold her girlfriend’s hand at the movie theater, or to be a woman portraying a male character in a theater production. “And I don’t ever want it to again be the case where those are considered revolutionary acts,” she said. “And I feel like ubiquity is the answer, and being as everywhere as we can be, and in as many different ways we can be. And then being joyful and having fun instead of saying, ‘Look how you’re hurting us, legislators.’ It’s more like, ‘Look at how you can’t fucking do anything to us. We’re going to have fun, and we’re going to occupy space, and it’s going to be great.”

Flatt also wants to approach Shakespeare’s material with the sense of whimsy with which she said much of it was created, cringing at the staid, overly academic lens through which his work is so often viewed. This was true of Flatt’s earliest introduction to Shakespeare, which only began to loosen once she started to reexamine his work in college.

“Once you start reading not just Shakespeare, but his contemporaries, you see they’re just a wild freaking bunch of people. And then once you start to get the jokes, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God. I know why my teachers didn’t explain these jokes, because they would get in trouble,’” Flatt said. “So, while I was introduced to the work in this very sanitized way, once I took an honors course on Shakespeare and his rivals, it kind of uncorked it all, and I was like, ‘These are all mad people. They’re crazy. And I love it.’”

This mix of perspectives and experiences related to Shakespeare made for an interesting experience when Flatt gathered at Kafe Kerouac in early August with Sunday’s performers to read through “As You Like It.” Some people were familiar with the play, while others were approaching the work for the first time, having come up with the idea that his works were more high-minded and inaccessible.

“And it was so fun, because we just made big name tags and switched out who was reading for each part,” Flatt said. “So, we had this really tiny person playing Charles, the wrestler. And then a massive, burly-type person was playing Rosalind, who is this dainty, princess-type person.”

“Weirding Shakespeare” will look significantly different from the Kerouac reading, though, featuring a variety of artistic interpretations of the work rather than a straightforward reading or performance of the play. Indeed, Flatt said she doesn’t even know what form the evening will take, since most of the performers have opted to keep their plans entirely to themselves.

“It’s like I had this idea, and I reached out and was like, ‘Do you want to play with it?’ And they were like, ‘Yes!’ And I was like, ‘Okay! So, what are you doing?’ And they were like, ‘It’s a secret!’” Flatt said, and laughed. “So I’m going into it completely blind. I have no idea what to expect, which absolutely terrifies me but also absolutely exhilarates me.”

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