Alejandra Escalante is playing Hotspur at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival right now. #FairWageOnstage caught up with her to ask her about her experience as the first woman to do so at the festival.
FWOS: What were your expectations working on Hotspur vs. the reality of playing the role?
ALEJANDRA: My expectation was that it was going to be difficult. The reality was that it was difficult, but not for the reasons I expected.
I thought, “I’ve never played a part like this. I don’t have any kind of combat training. I don’t know what it is like to be a soldier,” but as it turns out that all came quite naturally. What I found difficult was finding the motivation for some of the things Hotspur says or does. I think it can be easy to look at the character and go “Okay, hot headed, rage fueled, macho soldier.” I think that’s all there, but I also found it challenging and interesting to find her humor and her humanity. What makes her rethink delivering a harsh message to the King? How does she feel about being called a traitor? Why does she attribute traditional femininity with weakness? Why do people still choose to follow her?
So I guess finding all of her quirks, besides the anger and lack of patience was an awesome challenge.
FWOS: Is there anything that you learned that you think you WOULDN’T have learned playing a female role?
ALEJANDRA: I’ve learned how to load guns, carry M16s, and handle complex knife fights. Really. As women we SO rarely get the opportunity to do extensive armed fight work, especially in Shakespeare’s plays. I feel like I have a whole new skill set!!
F: What have the reactions and dialogue been like?
A: There has been a lot of wonderful reaction. I love hearing from young women whose minds have been expanded. Or older men who found the character came to life for them. On the other side of the coin there are people who hate my performance. To be clear, they are not fans of me playing Hotspur as a woman. And more over some are not pleased that a lesbian relationship is being portrayed between myself and Nemuna Ceesay, who plays my wife.
I have heard “Hotspur can’t be a woman. Women aren’t warriors.” Or “OSF just wanted to add a lesbian relationship.” Look, I have lots of opinions. Women can be and are warriors and soldiers. Our production is set in present day, so that is entirely possible. As for the “lesbian relationship”, I don’t know why it’s any different from a “straight relationship.” It’s still two people who love each other and need certain things from each other. Why is it any less worthy than a heterosexual relationship?
So look, there are people that I cannot convince that my casting was a good choice. I’ll just say this: Hotspur is referred to as a “spirit” several times. Everyone talks about how fiery and trigger-happy she is. Imagine this as not only a character flaw, but something Hotspur herself has had to create. Maybe being a woman, she has had to be better, stronger, faster, LOUDER just so that people will listen. That has gotten her where she is today. That’s a Hotspur I enjoy discovering.
F: How has it illuminated the play?
A: I think having Hotspur played as a woman, helps to make her more than just a foil to Hal. I think you get to see her as a real person with her own struggles versus just someone to compare Hal to.
I’m a HUGE advocate for diversity on stage. ANY kind of diversity. Here’s a practical reason for it: These history plays have SO MANY CHARACTERS. The names are often quite similar or the same (four Henrys, 2 Bardolphs, Johns, Yorks, and close to a million Dukes). I find it so much easier to follow the story when people look different, sound different, attack the space differently. You can’t convince me that diverse casting mucks up the story. For me, it only brings the story to life.