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Shakespeare & Beyond

Q&A: Tamilla Woodard on "The Winter's Tale"

Belief, faith, reconciliation, forgiveness: These are some of the themes and ideas that director Tamilla Woodard is exploring in The Winter’s Tale, which begins performances at Folger Theatre Nov 4. The production marks Folger Theatre’s return to its historic home on Capitol Hill, welcoming audiences back with Shakespeare’s romance of transformation and redemption after multiple years on the road during a major building renovation.

“This play invites us to such extreme acts of theatricality and leaps of imagination, both physical and psychological,” says Woodard. “It is a demonstration of Shakespeare’s faith in his audience, in the power of art to transform nature and thus humanity, and arts’ ability to awaken us to our greater selves.”

This is the first play that the accomplished Woodard is directing at the Folger. Her work directing Weightless at Women’s Project Theater off-Broadway in 2022 received a Lucille Lortel Award nomination for Outstanding Musical, and fans of the Tony Award-winning musical Hadestown will be excited to learn that she was the Associate Director for the Broadway show in its premiere season.

Read the Q&A below to learn more about her vision for music in The Winter’s Tale, as well as particular aspects of the play and cultural resonances she’ll be highlighting in this production.


What’s your favorite scene from The Winter’s Tale and why?

Oh gosh, I love THEM ALLLLLLLL! For sheer thrilling virtuosity of acting- the scene where Leontes accuses Hermione the first time in Act 2 is spectacular as is the Trial in Act 3. For fun- AUTOLYCUS stealing the Shepherd’s Son wallet is just great clown silliness.

What’s your favorite line from The Winter’s Tale and why?

Well, it’s probably everyone’s favorite as well: “It is required you do awake your faith.” Faith suggests to me something more durable than BELIEF; it requires TRUST in another and hope in our future selves. BELIEF can steer us wayward as it does LEONTES. He BELIEVES his wife has been unfaithful with his best friend, and this persistent and faulty BELIEF almost costs him everything. BELIEF is something that swirls around in our heads. FAITH moves from one heart to another.

Is there a production of The Winter’s Tale that you saw in the past that was very meaningful for you?

I have never seen it live except once in a student production that was beautiful, earnest, moving. The play has such power; these young artists could find their own way in with true authenticity.

What is the biggest puzzle for you about The Winter’s Tale? Is there a particular challenge that you’re excited to work through?

The bear, lol! Oh my!

Are there any misconceptions that you think people might have about The Winter’s Tale that you want to address?

That it is a problem play in that it is a problem. It’s not a problem to be solved. It is a play that is a tragedy in the first half, a comedy in the second, and a beautiful ending that bridges the two. I say it’s an opportunity play!

What are some particular themes or aspects of the play that you’re digging into with your production?

Belief versus faith. Reconciliation and forgiveness. All of our capacity to allow our belief systems to become our identity to a point of destruction.

What aspects of The Winter’s Tale do you think have particular resonance with our cultural moment today?

Allowing what we believe about another to wreak havoc on our relationships, our lives, our loved ones, our country.

What should audiences be paying close attention to when they watch The Winter’s Tale

How much this play is a reflection of our current circumstances here. We are all Leontes.

One Shakespeare scholar writes this about the play: “The Winter’s Tale is very much a royalist, patriarchal vision, and the extent to which it succeeds for modern audiences and readers is a measure of the extent to which we are still willing to buy into that ideology.” How would you respond to that?

Yep, the patriarchy is on full display still. Speaking truth to power is still a massive struggle- or rather to the structures and purveyors of power, the leaders of countries or institutions. Most still operate with general impunity.

Productions of The Winter’s Tale often feature a strong visual contrast between Sicilia and Bohemia. Can you talk about how you want the production design to influence the way audience members think about these two settings?

Sicilia is austere and formal, with a champagne-drinking culture, and Bohemia is full of color, grass, flowers, beer-drinking, silly songs, and dirty dancing!

There are a number of songs and references to music in The Winter’s Tale. Can you share your vision for the music in the play?

We are inspired by the theatricality of a few bands – Gogol Bordello, Todos Tus Muertos, Molotov. Reza, our Autolycus, is a tremendous clown and plays percussion and guitar. He will bring some ridiculous fun to the performance of this music! And a little singing along with the audience!