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Shakespeare & Beyond

Q&A with "Our Verse in Time to Come" director Vernice Miller

The Folger-commissioned play Our Verse in Time to Come is playing at DC Public Library locations throughout April as part of Searching for Shakespeare, our festival celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare and the First Folio.

In March we published a Q&A with playwrights Malik Work and Karen Ann Daniels (also the Folger’s Director of Programming and Artistic Director of Folger Theatre).

Now we’re sharing a Q&A with the play’s director, Vernice Miller, a Jamaican born, Afro-Caribbean theater artist who is passionate about the arts as the most universally accessible agent for positive social change. Read more from her biography.

She answered a few questions for us about her first encounters with Shakespeare, her work as a director, and the stories she feels strongly about. Read the Q&A below.


SHAKESPEARE & BEYOND: Our Verse in Time to Come is inspired by the works and words of Shakespeare. Can you share how you first connected with Shakespeare, and what that experience was like? 

VERNICE MILLER: As so many of us were, I was introduced to Shakespeare in school. In my teens I was drawn to a life in the church and fancied a future life as a nun. I would later realize that I had been heavily influenced by a combination of the exoticism of the costumes and rituals of the nuns in my Catholic prep school and the joy that I experienced watching Sally Field as THE FLYING NUN, a then-popular television show. As a high school student at Convent of Mercy Alpha Academy in Kingston, Jamaica, I couldn’t understand my classmates’ lack of enthusiasm (in the form of groans and rolling of eyes) whenever we were assigned work on Shakespeare. Given that Bible Studies, a core part of our curriculum, was written in the same period and style as Shakespeare, it seemed to me a much easier read, as unlike the Bible his stories were not directly connected to the state of our souls. It served me well being in an all-girls school because it afforded me the opportunity of playing Julius Caesar before his death and Mark Antony after. It was as if I had won an Oscar, because I got to play the title character and even better to deliver the best monologues in the play.

Curiously, at the then precocious age of thirteen, I was not only drawn to the works of Shakespeare but was equally fascinated by his life. I spent time pondering the missing years from his biography; I was quite curious about the older woman Anne Hathaway, who had spent so much time separated from her much younger husband; and I was deeply moved on learning of the loss of his only son Hamnet, and recognizing the obvious connection to the character he would later create of Hamlet. There is a well-known slang for poor people in Jamaica which is “sufferers”; I somehow likened Shakespeare’s audiences to sufferers, which rendered his world even more accessible to me. Indeed, I was so rapt by the world of Shakespeare that even these many years later I can still vividly recall the teenage dream I had, where I found myself catapulted back in time to a very busy backstage at the Globe Theatre. Before I could say a word, I was mistaken for an extra, wearing the wrong costume. I was being ushered to quickly change when I was tragically and painfully awakened just before meeting master Will himself.

Memory is an important theme for Our Verse in Time to Come. Can you share about your work as a director as it relates to choosing which stories to tell? What are some particular stories or kinds of stories that you feel most passionate about preserving? 

I like to think that while I chose acting, directing chose me. In the early season of my career as a director, opportunities came my way without me pursuing them; as a result I got to tell a variety of stories. As time passes, my directorial voice becomes more apparent, and consequentially I am far more intentional as to the offers that I now accept. The process of birthing a new play has grown on me and I find that I am easily drawn in by plays steeped in cultural and historical significance.

For example, having collaborated with Steven Fechter (THE WOODSMAN) on several of his new plays, I find REHEARSING THE WANNSEE PROJECT to have been one of the most impactful of our ventures. It is a play about a group of BIPOC NYC college students putting on a play about the Wannsee Conference. The conference held in 1942 was where a group of high-ranking Nazi officers gathered to discuss the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” Working on this play was a very meta experience because within the play the characters are grappling with why their professor/director has chosen a play that doesn’t reflect them, only to realize many of the issues that arise in the play are relevant to their lives. Additionally, when we first did this production in 2019 at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC, our student actors were able to make direct connections between the tensions within the play that shed light on the most brutal fascist regime in modern history and the toxic political climate and growing divisiveness in our country today.

This summer, I am excitedly looking forward to directing TOLIVER AND WAKEMAN by Kyle Bass, which has been commissioned by Franklin Stage Company and dramatizes the Civil War experience of two actual historical characters, from two very different backgrounds: Toliver, a young enslaved black man who escapes bondage to join the Union Army, and Wakeman, a young white woman who disguised herself as a man and also mustered into the Union Army. The title character Toliver is the actual great-great-grandfather of Mr. Bass, a seriously accomplished playwright whose reputation preceded our meeting.

See the play:

Our Verse in Time to Come @ DC Public Library

Our Verse in Time to Come @ DC Public Library

Inspired by the works and words of Shakespeare, this new Folger-commissioned play bridges the past with the present through verse, song and memory, and interrogates whose stories remain and whose role it is to ensure they survive.
Sat, Apr 1 — Sun, Apr 23, 2023
Our Verse in Time to Come @ Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Our Verse in Time to Come @ Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Inspired by the works and words of Shakespeare, this new Folger-commissioned play bridges the past with the present through verse, song and memory, and interrogates whose stories remain and whose role it is to ensure they survive.
Tue, Apr 25 — Sun, Apr 30, 2023