Mark Evan Chimsky
Swagger is a story of passion, political intrigue, and prejudice that reveals the secret relationship that caused Shakespeare to break the rules—in his life and art.
It is about tearing down the walls we build up around ourselves—either to hide our true selves or to keep others out.
As an out gay man I know what it’s like to be perceived as an outsider and how others sometimes live in a prison they create for themselves by staying “in the closet.” I wanted to write about the nature of being “the other” and also how we hide from others—and ourselves.
Swagger is a work in which I can explore both themes: how the Moroccan dignitaries are considered “infidels” and “barbarians” when they come to England for their historic visit in 1600; and how Will and the Ambassador from Morocco Abdul Guahid are both men “in hiding.”
Will has built up a “fortress of words” to shut out his own grief after the death of his eleven-year-old son Hamnet, and Abdul Guahid has denied the truth of his own sexuality all his life, knowing that he would lose everything – his family, his honor, his faith—if he stops living a lie.
About a year ago, I was intrigued to learn that Hamlet contains 600 words that Shakespeare had never used before in any previous play.
What caused such exponential growth – in his vocabulary and his creativity?
What life-altering event happened to the playwright in the year 1600 that led him to write a work more psychologically complex than any other he had written, a play that virtually explodes with language?
I felt compelled to solve the mystery of that unprecedented creativity.
Deep-diving into the history of Elizabethan England, I discovered that the Muslim Ambassador from Morocco, Abdul Guahid, came to London in August of 1600 for a meeting with Queen Elizabeth I.
This historic visit generated intense curiosity and scorn. Immediately, I knew I had my “life-altering moment” for Will.
Doing further research, I was shocked to learn that soon after the visit of the Moroccan Ambassador and his fellow dignitaries, the Queen’s Court created a draft proclamation (most likely written by her Secretary of State Robert Cecil) to deport “Blackamoors” (as Muslims were referred to at the time) from England.
What began as a musical rooted in history suddenly took on an important timeliness.
After completing several drafts, I invited a group of local actors to do a table read of the script and share their feedback.
Soon after, Carol de Giere, editor and publisher of Musical Writerzine and author of Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz from Godspell to Wicked, introduced me to composer Zev Burrows at a gathering she organized in New York City.
After listening to Zev’s exciting composition of two songs for Swagger, I welcomed him as my collaborator on the musical.
Zev lives in Brooklyn, New York and I live in Portland, Maine so our collaborative process involves communicating via email, text, and in-person meetings. Working from a draft of the libretto,
Zev composes the songs and sends me musical sketches.
Our goals are aligned: to write an inventive musical that both celebrates the magic of theater as well as seriously explores the nature of love, prejudice, and creativity.
We want to use the essence of Shakespeare’s Globe as our guiding principle, bringing a world to life on a bare stage through the use of an imaginative theatricality.
In January 2018, based on our Swagger submission Zev and I were chosen to audit the ASCAP Foundation Musical Theatre Workshop, hosted by Stephen Schwartz.