UC professor receives international award for inclusive translation of Shakespeare

Professor Olivia Barrera is UC’s first graduate student to be recognized by the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura

By Tawney Beans

Professor Olivia Barerra of the University of Cincinnati McMicken College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) has received international recognition for her non-traditional take on Shakespeare’s “Antonio and Cleopatra.” She has also become the first graduate student at UC to receive financial support from the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura (INBAL).

Barrera has been constructing her rendering of Shakespeare’s play within A&S’s Department of Romance and Arabic Languages and Literatures (RALL). For her interpretation, Barrera took a more inclusive approach, translating the famous tragedy into Spanish and casting all of its parts with women.

These modifications got the attention of the INBAL, an institution based in Mexico that focuses on coordinating artistic and cultural events and preserving the country’s cultural monuments. The INBAL chose Barrera’s project from a pool of more than 700, placing her work as one of four projects that will be produced in 2020.

A&S provides its students with a 12-18 credit hour tuition range, encouraging them to take classes outside of their designated departments and expand their interdisciplinary knowledge. This enabled Barrera to take additional classes at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, which further developed her artistic talents and encouraged her to pursue her dissertation. 

Along with a broad tuition range, A&S offers funding for graduate students to conduct their research and “creates the climate for creativity and the time to develop meaningful and important projects,” according to Nicasio Urbina, professor of Spanish-American literature. 

Olivia Barrera holds a candle that depicts Shakespeare, the original author of “Antonio and Cleopatra.”

Olivia Barrera holds a candle that depicts Shakespeare, the original author of “Antonio and Cleopatra.”

RALL’s impact on Barrera’s dissertation choice began when she as selected to be a teacher assistant for the department's summer programs in Antigua (2017) and Madrid (2018). These events,she says, changed her life and gave her the knowledge she needed to begin her dissertation.

“The experience I gained in these two different and fascinating cultures, contrasting in so many levels, impacted my understanding of the relationships between genders (among many other things) outside my scope,” Barrera said. 

She also recognizes her thesis advisor, Andrés Pérez Simón, and playwright Ignacio García May for their methodological insights and, most importantly, giving her the confidence boost she needed to pursue her impactful project.

Barrera has directed many other Shakespearean plays, such as “Romeo and Juliet,” “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” “Macbeth,” “The Tempest” and “Twelfth Night,” but has been imagining her version of “Anthony and Cleopatra” for the last five years. 

“The works of William Shakespeare have been the highest interest I have as a theater director,” Barrera said. “When I arrived in the Romance and Arabic Languages and Literatures Department, I had the intention to work on a theoretical drama dissertation. However, because our faculty specializes in other genres of literature but allows students to have a creative dissertation, I decided that it was a good opportunity to work on this piece.”

Nicasio Urbina, professor of Spanish American literature

Nicasio Urbina, professor of Spanish American literature

SaidUrbina: “This is possible thanks to the support of the College of Arts and Sciences and the entire UC community, but it speaks highly about the quality of the students our department recruits internationally, and the quality of mentorship our department has to offer. Her project will have a meaningful impact in Shakespearean criticism in Spanish and perhaps in English too, especially being a new adaptation and a new reading of the play from a female point of view.”

Featured image at top: Empty theater awaits its next performance.

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