Q&A: Northwestern alum Will Wilhelm brings solo performance to campus


Photo courtesy of Tyler Core

A poster of “Gender Play: Or What You Will.” Actor and alum Will Wilhelm will perform at Northwestern on Friday.

Rayna Song, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Wearing a simple black T-shirt that says “GENDER IS OVER! IF YOU WANT IT,” Chicago-based actor Will Wilhelm (Communication ’14) spoke with The Daily about their non-binary identity and upcoming performances at Northwestern. Wilhelm will perform a solo show Friday at Josephine Louis Theater entitled “Gender Play: Or What You Will.” The show explores William Shakespeare’s classics from a gender-imaginative perspective.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Daily: What is your upcoming performance at NU about?

Wilhelm: In “Gender Play: Or What You Will,” you will meet a genderqueer actor named Will who invites you into this space that, at first, has a party vibe, and then very quickly turns into something much more mystical and magical. We then call in the spirits of Shakespeare, and the two Wills become friends and help each other. While the playwright feels betrayed at how his legacy has been preserved, the actor tries to understand what it means to be a genderqueer person in a world where queer communities are not reflected in art and queer histories aren’t written down.

The Daily: In the past, you worked with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon for two years, where you portrayed several genderqueer characters. How did you become interested in Shakespeare’s works?

Wilhelm: I’ve always wanted to do Shakespeare professionally. Shakespeare is brilliant in that we are allowed to adapt and reimagine them infinitely. I think that’s where the power is, and the stories themselves are potent enough that they can be applied in so many places. By looking at the text and putting myself into many of these characters, it’s so easy to read queerness into them. My experience as a queer person also affects how I interpret the characters.

The Daily: How did you explore queerness at NU?

Wilhelm: Evanston was where I was able to really explore what queerness is to me, which is an enormous part of my identity. My queerness is so central to how I see the world, and this affects everything I do. At NU, it was really hard to construct who I was as a performer when there were a lot of things to learn about myself. In the few years after school, being around nightlife and the queer community, I started to step into and understand myself as a trans person and how that had its own ramifications in the work that I do.

The Daily: If you could say anything to NU theatre students, what would you tell them?

Wilhelm: I would say, don’t take everything so seriously. Continue to be just as passionate as you are, but know that this is the time where you get to make big swings and fail gloriously. This is the time to take that big, creative swing and see what happens, because you are learning. Remember to give your heart space to lead as well.

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Twitter: @RaynaYu_Song 

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