Shake 38

The Regulars

You Don’t Know You’re Tragical: Some Stuff About Cross Gender Casting
Article by Nancy Bell

1. Some statistics and equations:

• There are 798 male roles in Shakespeare. There are 149 female roles. This is a 16:3 ratio male to female.
• There are roughly the same number of women and men on the planet.
• She, Her, Hers = same syllabication as He, Him, His (occupy identical acreage in metrical real estate)
• Generally, women make up 70% of all theatregoers.
• Beards+Swords+Blahblahblah–Women=zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz (or Lord of the Rings)

2. My nine-year-old daughter keeps singing this song. You’ve heard it: you don’t know you’re beautiful. For the record, I love this song, it’s a blast to listen to and sing. It’s kind of a portrait of a certain kind of Shakespearean lovey-dovey girl, the kind I was always auditioning for when I was young. “The way you smile at the ground gets me overwhelmed.” Complete unawareness of one’s impact on others as the ultimate feminine virtue. Hero.

3. Some quotes:

• “When we do not see ourselves on stage we are reminded, yet again, that the people running our world DO NOT NOTICE WHEN WE’RE NOT THERE. That they think men (and yes, white, middle class, middle aged, able-bodied men at that) are ALL we need to see.” – Stella Duffy, British writer
• “Unfortunately, with regard to women, their stories, and their valuable lives valued onstage, the American theater right now is a mirror, not a lens. We look backward (like mirrors do), we look at ourselves (like mirrors do), and we show the world as it is, not as it should be. That doesn’t sound like an urgent art form to me. That sounds safe. That sounds easy. That sounds boring.” – Lauren Gunderson, playwright
• “Casting more women to play men [in Shakespearean roles] would make it incoherent to a mainstream audience.”- Professor Michael Dobson, Director of Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham
• “Some would argue that after menopause there is less of interest in a women’s life that could form the basis of a stage play. Men still have power, sex drive, impulses to do crazy things until their 70s or later. Women don’t, with a few exceptions.” Anonymous comment on Guardian article reporting on the dearth of female roles in classical theatre.
• “Do you not know, I am a woman. When I think I must speak.” – William Shakespeare, Rosalind, As You Like It

4. But I couldn’t help saying, “My sweet daughter Ivy. If you are a young beautiful woman and you don’t know you are, that doesn’t mean you’re cool. It means you are stupid. Possibly even mentally impaired. Because, Ivy, my girl, if you are a young beautiful woman the entire world will tell you that you are a young beautiful woman. And tell you and tell you and tell you. There will be so many voices telling you this and what it means (essentially, that you are good and worthy, despite your lamentable gender), that very soon you will find it almost impossible to hear anything else. You will, however, be obliged to pretend like you can’t hear or don’t believe those voices, or people won’t like you, which, to you, darling Ivy, will feel completely unacceptable. Very few people can pull this off. But if you can, you are probably a great actress, and as such, should play great Shakespearean roles. Like Richard the Third. Or Hamlet. Or Brutus. Or Romeo. People who are so busy grappling with important moral questions, they: 1. Are not particularly beautiful. 2. Have no idea they are not. And 3. Can spare very little mental space to consider the question much, if at all.”

5. Some links:

Shakespeare’s Invisible Women
All Female Shakespeare? It’s about time!
What’s Wrong With All Male Shakespeare?
Propeller Theatre Company
Boys Will Be Boys (And Sometimes Girls)
Friends, Romans, Countrywomen
You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful
Not Shrews.
Ivy as Ferdinand from The Tempest

6. Of course, I didn’t really say that.

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Ascending / Descending

1 / Cass Morris. on Jun.10.2014 / 6:49pm
It's definitely coming up through the next generation, too -- both during my own years in grad school and in the theses I've seen coming out of our program since then, there's definitely a lot of interest in pushing these boundaries.
2 / Rick Dildine. on May.13.2014 / 2:54pm
I think we're about to see a great change in casting Shakespeare plays. With San Francisco's recent decision and the uniting of theaters in Minneapolis, there is a change coming. The desire to put our audiences on stage, so they see themselves in the stories is something we must do.
3 / Rick Dildine. on May.13.2014 / 2:51pm
Rebecca Ennals, AD at San Francisco Shakespeare, wrote this great post: "Casting for Justic: Making some Mirrors"