After a monthslong collaboration between dozens of UC Merced students, professional artists, National Park Service staff and Merced community members, Shakespeare in Yosemite‘s first feature-length film, “Imogen in the Wild,” celebrated its premiere in November on YouTube.
The 90-minute film is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play “Cymbeline,” rewritten to address concerns of land use and environmental justice facing California. In this version, Cymbeline is the mayor of “The Town” near “The Wild,” represented by Yosemite National Park. Cymbeline is about to sign a deal that would exploit the land for its resources, with no regard for the ecosystems it harbors, the indigenous people who have cared for it for millennia or the damaging effects such a deal would have on the Town’s health.
The film highlights several forms of environmental activism that are mobilized to “save The Wild,” including eco-anthems written by UC Merced students. It attempts to show the links between the mistreatment of people and the land, and the need for collective, collaborative action against destructive corporate practices.
The adaptation was initially workshopped by students in English Professor Katie Brokaw‘s Shakespeare and Ecology course in fall 2020. It was co-written by Brokaw, English Professor Paul Prescott, former English lecturer Billy Wolfgang and members of the cast; Merced resident Shawn Overton was the director of photography, and fourth-year English major William Darpinian directed sound editing.
“The work done by the ‘Imogen in the Wild’ team has been extraordinary,” Brokaw explained. “It was truly one of the most ambitious theatrical projects of the pandemic, and the result is a radical imagining of Shakespeare’s play that centers on notions of environmental justice, which has, to our knowledge, never been done before, and certainly not in a national park.”
The team spent countless hours working on the film at UC Merced and in Yosemite during the spring and summer. Among the 40 students who took part in the filmmaking was fourth-year English major Sofia Andom, who stars in the role of Imogen. In an interview with Monica Perales (’19), Andom explained the advantages of filming in Merced and around Yosemite, and of not being constrained to a stage.
“If this production was on a stage rather than in a film, it wouldn’t have the same impact because we wouldn’t be physically going anywhere, and we would be in one space,” Andom said. “Whereas with the film, moving from place to place, the audience is really able to see our perspective as characters and how we feel about the wild, how we feel about the environment.”