Maya Capasso

A dedicated team of creatives at downtown Worcester’s Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts encourages Shakespeare buffs and newbies alike to experience spectacular sword fighting and unmatched wit in two productions running this spring. “We’ve had a lot of people come to see the shows who’ve never seen Shakespeare before,” says Brendon Fox, director of both Judith and Twelfth Night. “One of the things that makes me happy is to hear the feedback from folks saying that the shows meet you where you are. The audience doesn’t have to have any prior experience with Shakespeare.”

Both productions take modern approaches to the world of Shakespeare. One way they do so is by playing with gender roles. “The theatre is a particularly poignant place to look at the performance of self, and I think now is a really powerful moment to look at what the spectrum of gender can be,” adds Katie Bender, playwright of Judith. “There’s something about having both the performer and then, through osmosis, the audience themself, watch the conversation about what gender means. It’s a powerful tool that opens people up to possibilities of living on a spectrum rather than in binaries.”

Shakespeare Reimagined in Judith

Judith by Katie Bender reimagines the life of William Shakespeare and, more importantly, his sister, Judith. In the world of Judith, “Judith writes the plays. Her brother William Shakespeare–in the play–is a Tudor who lives in the countryside of England. Judith uses his name, but she is the one who writes the plays,” shares Artistic Director Olivia “Livy” Scanlon, who stars in the solo production. 

In addition, Judith welcomes LGBTQ+ viewers with its open atmosphere for exploration of sexuality and gender. While the play takes place in the 17th century, Katie took some creative liberties to create a world filled with hope and acceptance. “Judith is a woman who has a relationship with another woman. But ultimately, because Judith predates any American politics, it’s a queer story that’s told from a very hopeful, earnest, vulnerable, and affirming place. It doesn’t involve trauma,” Livy says.

It’s a coming-of-age story about a queer woman writer exploring her identity, sexuality, and place in the world. “Katie has created a character and a journey that allows the audience to embark on an adventure of identity, art, self-discovery, and what you might want out of the world and yourself,” says Brendon. “Judith leaves us in a place of beginnings rather than endings. And there are always opportunities to explore what’s next in our lives. It encourages us to see each other’s humanity and give each other love and acceptance.”

A “Gatsby-esque” Production of Twelfth Night

The Hanover Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is an exciting, large-scale event with stellar songs and high-stakes fights you don’t want to miss. This classic Shakespearean comedy tells the tale of Viola (Livy Scanlon), a woman who dresses as a man for self-protection after a treacherous shipwreck. Soon, Viola falls for a man while concealing her gender. “This production has taken the queerness that is inherent in the play to more of an extreme,” shares Livy. “There’s women dressed as men kissing women, and men falling in love with women dressed as men. It’s all very queer, and the lines of gender are very blurred.”

Not only does the Hanover’s version of Twelfth Night play with gender, but it also takes place in a different setting than Shakespeare fans are used to: the 1920s. “one of the reasons why we chose the 1920s is that we felt like it helps highlight this world of revelry, excess, wit, larger than life characters, and women coming into public spaces in different ways than they had before,” shares Brendon. 

Anyone who loves witnessing large-scale excitement on stage will love this accessible take on a classic. “It’s a big production–there’s music, sword fights, and sex jokes. It’s a multi-course meal,” Brendon adds. “I think it’s very much all due to the fact that this company is ambitious and wants the audience in Worcester to have exciting experiences.”

Both productions run from mid-April through early May. To purchase tickets, please visit