Student Spotlight with Willa Granger

SHORT FOR WILLIAMINA: Born in Pennsylvania but raised in Illinois and New York, senior Willa Granger, 21, is a member of the Underground Shakespeare Company, Penn’s only all-Shakespeare performance group. She portrayed Cleopatra in the company’s Fall Fortnight production of “Antony & Cleopatra: Infinite Lives,” which ran from Sept. 13-15 at the Penn Museum.

Granger - story

Mark Stehle

LORD CHAMBERLAIN’S WOMAN: Granger, who is an urban studies major and is minoring in architecture, says she comes from a “theater family” and was a member of a Shakespeare company throughout high school. She has only acted in Shakespeare plays.

THE LANGUAGE’S THE THING: “I like working with that language, and sort of get a kick out of working with a script that is an artifact in and of itself,” she says. “It’s something from the 1600s or so, and I think it’s really cool that a 21st century company can still make meaning out of something that is so old.”

QUEEN OF THE FAIRIES: As well as portraying Cleopatra, Granger has played Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Lady Macbeth (for one scene) in “Macbeth,” and Gremio in “The Taming of the Shrew.” She says “Twelfth Night,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “King Lear” are among her favorite plays. “I love them all,” she adds. “It’s hard to choose.”

CHARACTER STUDY: To prepare for her performances, Granger says she reads the play and researches the material, examining writings and even academic articles on her character. She also spends a lot of time with the dictionary. “Dictionaries are very helpful,” she says.

A PAIR SO FAMOUS: “Antony & Cleopatra: Infinite Lives,” written by J. Michael DeAngelis (an accomplished playwright and information specialist in Penn Career Services) and Pete Barry, combined the events of the recent revolution in Egypt with Shakespeare’s play, “Antony and Cleopatra.” Granger describes it as a “play within a play” in which a contemporary Shakespeare company is staging “Antony and Cleopatra.”

LADY OF THE TWO LANDS: Granger says that while Cleopatra is a “really fascinating character,” playing her has been difficult because “she’s been made into such a grand figure in history, but she was also incredibly flawed.”

DEATH BECOMES HER: Shakespeare’s tragedy ends with the death of Marc Antony and the suicide of Cleopatra. Granger says “Antony & Cleopatra: Infinite Lives” is “terribly tragic” but ends on “a positive and optimistic and encouraging note.”

PROBLEM PLAY: The Underground Shakespeare Company is holding auditions for its fall show, Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” on Thursday, Sept. 27, from 7 to 11 p.m., and Friday, Sept. 28, from 2 to 6 p.m., in the Rodin College House basement. For more information, email Kelby “Bee” Reed at  

Originally published on September 13, 2012