Artistic Statement

Mark Evan Chimsky

Together with my collaborator Alexander Zwick, I wrote “Swagger” to create a relatable William Shakespeare, highlighting his bisexual nature and revealing that he may have had a secret relationship with a noble Black Ambassador from Ethiopia, the invented character of Alazar Ya’aqob.

This allows us to look at Elizabethan England’s struggle with race (the citizens are hostile and abusive to Alazar Ya’aqob, and the Secretary of State attempts to deport Muslims) and to reveal Shakespeare’s own blind spots (not realizing the full extent of the toxic racism his lover encounters from the citizens of London).

We braid this story from the past with a present-time story about queer, fourteen-year-old Quinn, a Shakespeare fanboy who lives in a red state in the US and experiences harassment from his peers.

Quinn’s parents are divorced and his father has become estranged. Shakespeare’s son Hamnet died at eleven and Quinn becomes Will’s surrogate son just as Will Shakespeare becomes Quinn’s surrogate father. Each learns what it means to reach out to another.

In “Swagger” we strive to address themes that make this musical universal. We hope to educate and entertain, shedding light on leading characters that aren’t often developed in musicals: a bisexual Will Shakespeare, a queer youth, a Black dignitary who inspires Shakespeare as he creates his masterpiece, “Hamlet,” a play about fathers and sons. Ultimately, the musical is about our shared humanity that spans centuries, continents, and cultures.

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