Student Spotlight: Claire Feuille ’18 reimagines Shakespeare
Theater and philosophy double major Claire Feuille ’18 is “The She-Wolf of France.” Or more accurately, she played the title character, Margaret of Anjou, in her own senior thesis, which debuted this past weekend at the Bentley Theater.
“The She-Wolf of France” is the culmination of Feuille's long-term romance with Shakespeare’s work. Her thesis project combines Shakespeare’s historical plays depicting the Wars of the Roses, the "Henry VI" trilogy and “Richard III.”
Feuille chose to center the drama around the character Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s wife. According to Feuille, Margaret is the best-developed character in the four plays but rarely receives much dramatic recognition; her thesis sheds light on a powerful female character who would have had her own play had she been a man. “The She-Wolf of France” provides an exciting opportunity to chart Margaret’s growth throughout her life, since Margaret is also the only character to survive through all four plays.
Feuille drew on the expertise of her thesis advisor Robynn Rodriguez, a professional actor and director whose resume includes 22 seasons with the Tony Award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The pair started the script-cutting process in the summer of 2017 and did not finish until the end of the 2018 winter term. Feuille and Rodriguez worked closely on cutting down the four plays while keeping Margaret at the center of the action. Both said that keeping Margaret at the center of She-Wolf was the most difficult part of the writing process. Rodriguez said the process was grueling but rewarding.
“One Skype call was over four hours long,” Rodriguez said.
After finishing the script-cutting process, Feuille held auditions for “The She-Wolf of France” and began rehearsing at the beginning of spring term. The play features Feuille herself as Margaret, with an ensemble cast supporting her through different roles.
Feuille said that she had a difficult time pulling herself out of the intellectual role of writer and putting herself into the more emotional role of an actor. The character is particularly difficult because Margaret changes so much over the course of the show — Feuille’s play follows Margaret from the age of 17 until the age of 52 and covers the death of both Margaret’s son and husband. Feuille said that portraying a character that develops and changes so much over the course of the play was extremely difficult, but she appreciated the challenge and is glad to be surrounded by a talented and supportive cast.
Though Feuille knew she wanted to pursue philosophy in college as soon as she took a class on Nietzsche her junior year of high school, she did not arrive at Dartmouth expecting to participate in theater events at all — in high school, she had given up theatre in favor of sports. But she rediscovered her passion for acting after auditioning and obtaining a role in “Romeo and Juliet” her freshman fall at Dartmouth.
After acting in “Romeo and Juliet,” Feuille discovered her passion for Shakespeare and auditioned for the Rude Mechanicals, a student-led Shakespeare performance group on campus. With fellow Rude Mechanicals Tess McGuinness ’18 and Pete Skow ’18, Feuille helped transform the group, increasing the quality of their productions and improving their relationship with the theater department, according to McGuiness. McGuinness said she has seen the group completely transform over the last four years. The Rude Mechanicals won the Council on Student Organizations award for “outstanding group achievement” last winter for their efforts, said McGuinness.
According to Feuille, the Rude Mechanicals helped her realize how rich, intricate and humorous Shakespeare’s writing is, and launched her into a deep love for classical theater.
After these initial ventures into theater at Dartmouth, Feuille eventually decided to double major in philosophy and theater and began working intensively in the theater department, both producing shows and acting in them. Feuille cultivated a close relationship with theater department professor and director Carol Dunne, working with Dunne at Northern Stage in White River Junction, where Dunne serves as the producing artistic director. Feuille even traveled to New York with Dunne and the Northern Stage theater company to work as the wardrobe head on a show.
Feuille also worked alongside Dunne on "Cabaret" last fall, assistant directing alongside Dunne and acting as an ensemble member.
"The first word that comes to mind is ‘focus,’” Dunne said. “She's an unbelievably passionate theater person. I will quote Shakespeare and she will finish the sentences."
According to Feuille, the rehearsal process was grueling but rewarding. Feuille and Rodriguez had to cut down the play significantly, even after all the cuts made during the winter and spring term.
“The script is a work in progress as the show progresses,” Feuille said. “Having actors there to bring life into the text is essential."
After graduating in June, Feuille will work at Powerhouse Training Company, a theatre intensive training program at Vassar College, over the summer. She plans to move to New York to pursue acting after participating in the program.
Dunne said that while going to New York is one of the hardest leaps an Ivy League student can make, there is a strong network of Dartmouth alumnae in New York who can support Feuille through the process.
Feuille’s mentors are excited about her future in theater. Dunne hopes that Feuille will pursue a career not only in acting, but also in writing and directing. Rodriguez is also excited about Feuille’s future in the business.
“I’m curious and interested in what she ends up pursuing,” Rodriguez said.
Feuille hopes to break into the acting world in New York, but also wants to maintain her roots to writing and dramaturgy, the theory and practice of dramatic acting. She is also considering a master’s degree in philosophy later in life.
Correction Appended (May 22, 2018): This article was updated for accuracy to clarify the theater experience of Rodriguez and Feuille.