The Willing Suspension of Disbelief
Royal Shirée brings activism and change to the stage
Photo by Ashlee Glen
Royal Shirée began her playwright and solo performing career while she was in college, but her flair for dramatic storytelling goes back to when she was a toddler. Shirée used to volunteer for story hour in school and spin fairytales, but as she grew older, she began to tell stories rooted in today’s societal issues. In her plays, all the “-isms” became the dragons that needed to be slain.
“Theater is the willing suspension of disbelief,” Shirée said. “You have to place yourself in that moment, in that time, and forget that you are looking at a stage or looking at a person saying lines. Theater is an active part of activism. It is also a very real part of connecting to people and their spirits.”
For Shirée, theater is more than entertainment; it’s education. Shirée grew up in a family of educators and so was raised with an educator mentality. Her award-winning play Sisters, a collaboration with Connecticut-based playwright Joanne Hudson, was incorporated into the Ridgefield, CT, middle school curriculum.
Markedly, Shirée wrote her solo piece Clippings while she studied at Hollins University to earn her MFA in playwriting. Shirée values this play for its important themes. Clippings explores global female abuse through domestic violence, rape, the system sworn to protect, and notably, the horror of female genital mutilation, which is practiced in areas of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
“Everyone has a backstory and there are a lot of social ills that people fall victim to,” Shirée said. “I want to address those issues to help change and positively affect the lives of the ignored.”
Shirée harbors a deep love for writing. She describes it as her escapism, with the need of “the intellectual stimulation of writing.”
“Writing is an expedition,” Shirée said. “You have to really discover [the story], then you have to exhume a lot of facts, then you analyze [them] … I always want to know why—why this and why that …. Instead of writing ‘this is the person,’ I want to write about how this person came to be.”
Storytellers like Jamaica Kincaid, August Wilson, Spike Lee, and Maya Angelou inspired Shirée to be bold in her art. Their work also helped Shirée learn how to develop characters and give them authenticity.
That being said, writing and performing activate two different parts of her brain. Shirée describes performing as being all about the timing, rhythm, accents, and crescendo. Her role as a performer is to bring to life all of the voices she wrote into the script.
“I think it’s really important that the voices are heard. … These voices may be male, may be female, may be drunk, may be dying, whatever the case may be,” she explained.
Shirée currently works as the resident playwright at the Hamner Theater. Though she is battling health issues, Shirée refuses to abandon her passion. She makes an effort to think creatively, if not write, every day.
To support her work, visit her website at www.royalshiree.com.