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Directing Saint Joan

By Guest Artist Jessica Schiermeister

My name is Jessica Schiermeister. I am a dramaturg, director, actor, and scholar currently living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I hold two master’s degrees in Shakespeare and Performance from Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia. I have studied mainly Shakespeare for the last ten years. He is sort of my life, aside from my actual husband and living people with whom I interact.

This is my first experience with Sweet Tea Shakespeare. I am familiar with their work but, not being a resident of North Carolina, I have not yet seen any of their performances. I have known Artistic Director Jeremy Fiebig for just shy of ten years, and we both attended the same graduate program, so I have always had a strong idea of how STS operates. But I am so excited to be here and get to know the company and its members personally. Everyone is lovely! STS is an excellent local company.

When I found out that STS was producing George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan for their Honey Series, I knew I had to apply to direct. As a high school Speech participant, my coach compiled most of Joan’s lines into a massive single acting piece for my senior year. I did not advance far within the state Speech world, but that acting piece has stuck with me ever since.

I have also admired the Honey Series from afar ever since I heard of its inception in 2014. As a woman within the Shakespeare world, there is not always a place for me. The majority of roles in Shakespeare’s plays, and in his contemporaries’ plays as well, are for men. This is not to say that woman cannot play men’s roles, but it is to say that sometimes you do not want to. Sometimes you want to focus on the stories and lives of women, whether or not they’re associated with Shakespeare.

Saint Joan is strange in that it is largely about the way men around Joan interact with and react to her. It is technically her story, but told mostly from the point of view of men. She is one of two women in the script (the other has only a couple of lines and has been cut for the purposes of our production). By casting only women in this production, I hope to highlight the gender disparity while also reminding audiences that women kick ass. Joan was burned at the stake at the hands of men, but her legacy lives on long past any of her supporters or persecutors.

I am honored to be part of not only Sweet Tea Shakespeare but the Honey Series. Saint Joan is a small-scale production with a cast of only four actors total, all women, playing 24 characters. I am honored to have the opportunity of directing these four fine women in this production. I appreciate all of the hard work that Kaley Morrison, Jennifer Pommerenke, Hannah Duncan, and Jessica Perry are putting into this show.

While I am in Fayetteville, I hope you will not only see our production (in conjunction with John Milton’s Paradise Lost, adapted and directed by Jessica Osnoe), running the first weekend in March, but attend my lecture on gender on the early modern English stage and my workshop on rhetoric. More information on the shows, lecture, and workshop can be found on STS’s website or Facebook page.

Jen Czechowski

Master of Market at Sweet Tea Shakespeare