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About this book

Cross-gender performance was an integral part of Shakespearean theatre: from boys portraying his female characters, to those characters disguising themselves as men within the story.

This book examines contemporary trends in staging cross-gender performances of Shakespeare in the UK and USA. Terri Power surveys the field of gender in performance through an intersectional feminist and queer theoretical lens. In depth discussions of key productions reveal processes adapted by companies for their performances. The book also looks at how contemporary performance responds to new cultural politics of gender and creates a critical language for understanding that within Shakespeare.

This book features:

- First-hand interviews with professional artists
- Case studies of individual performances
- A practical workshop section with innovative exercises

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
’shakespeare and his fellow actors … were not limited by the gender of the parts they played. They enjoyed a theatre of the imagination, where commoner played king, man played woman, and, within the plays, woman man. In Shakespeare, the disguise and revelation of everything, including gender, is central’ (Rylance 2003). Actor Mark Rylance explains here that cross-gender performance was an integral part of Shakespeare’s original theatrical practice. Despite London accounts from ‘individuals who found the practice opprobrious’ (Lublin 2012: 67) in society, Elizabethans enjoyed acts of cross-dressing on their stages and in their plays. Shakespeare, a shrewd businessman as well as playwright, capitalised on this interest by creating characters in his plays that are deeply entrenched in cultural gender prescriptions but find liberation from this dramaturgical gender bondage through acts of disguise and cross-gender playing. Doubly alluring for Elizabethan audiences was the cross-gender acting performed by the boy players in Shakespeare’s company as they assumed the female roles in his plays.
Terri Power

In Theory

Frontmatter

1. Gender Theory

Abstract
In terms of my discussion of cross-gender performance as applied to Shakespeare, it needs to be rooted in an analytical framework that can help to unpack cultural notions of gender and gender-biased assumptions, identify the policing agents of gender and prescriptive ideologies, deconstruct articulations of gender in terms of social and theatrical acts and investigate reconstructions on differently configured bodies and in non-normative play in front of audiences. In order to facilitate such a discussion I have turned to key gender theorists, beginning with feminist theories, such as introduced by early feminist scholars (de Beauvoir, Dworkin and West) and newer, arguably also queer and liberal, stances made by Butler, Halberstam and Bornstein.
Terri Power

2. Actor-Audience Dynamics at Play in Gender Performance

Abstract
One major consideration, often overlooked in performance explorations of gender is the importance of the audience in the interactive event of ‘gendering’ a performer. Butler describes this in Gender Trouble (1999) explaining that gender is defined and performed through repetitive acts of social interaction and intelligibility. These acts do not exist in a vacuum but rather in constant consort with an external audience, for one does not perform gender acts for oneself but for an audience that dictates and recognises those acts and therefore interprets the performance in order to gender the performer.
Terri Power

3. ShakesQueer

Abstract
As discussed earlier, from feminist theory also came subsets of critical studies that included a focus on further subjects, rather than a focus primarily on women. Queer theory, for example, emerged from this discourse and drew upon key feminist principles whilst also marking fertile soil to bear its own fruits. Queer theoretical perspectives are essential to a discussion of gender performance and social politics because theatre and cross-gender performance are inherently queer and Queer studies offer a critical lens that looks beyond prescriptive categories, and influences active, rather than passive, analysis. Like gender performance, Queer is a ‘doing’, a process by which subjects question and challenge prescriptive definitions and social labelling. Queer subjects, men, women ‘and the rest of us’ (Bornstein 1994) draw upon their personal experience — much like the feminist ‘personal is political’ mantra — and share their viewpoint of social processes that have failed them, that they have stepped away from or with which they are in a constant state of war. Their ‘crisis’ with binary gender laws and demands of heteronormativity places them in command position to challenge hetero-patriarchal uniformity and to do so through their own queer processes, rejecting gender stereotypes, traditional methods and prescriptive social roles and rules.
Terri Power

4. Case Study — All-Female Julius Caesar

Abstract
Phyllida Lloyd CBE is a British stage and film director who has directed several Shakespeare productions for both the RSC and SGT. Known predominately for her work directing films such as Mama Mia! and the Iron Lady, Lloyd has had a penchant for putting women centre stage throughout her career. In 2003 she directed an all-female The Taming of the Shrew at SGT starring Janet McTeer and Kathryn Hunter. The production received positive reviews despite the amount of criticism other all-female and selectively cast female-in-male-roles productions had endured.
Terri Power

5. Opportunity in Performing Shakespeare is a Drag for Women

Abstract
In terms of feminist theory and thinking, one of the key areas of consideration is the employability of women and equal access to jobs and pay. Of particular interest to many feminists is the notion that women should be treated equally in the industry, and assuming that she has the same qualifications and experience, a woman should receive the same opportunities and pay as her male colleague in the workplace. Of course, employment laws in countless industries require such equal treatment and have strict hiring practices and protocols as a result of previous equality battles long fought by feminists and ‘fair pay and equal treatment’ laws. However, the arts seem to be an area in which such laws are routinely disregarded.
Terri Power

In Practice

Frontmatter

6. All-Male Companies

Abstract
‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts’ (Jacques, As You Like It Act 11, Scene iv). Early modern theatre in England was predominantly performed by all-male companies, and in these companies the actors played all the roles, male and female. Shakespeare was an actor, playwright and shareholder in several professional single-sex male companies including the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the Queen’s Men, the King’s Men and perhaps, several others (Thomson 1999). These companies were composed of only men and boy players, because women were ‘banned’ or rather ‘dissuaded’ from performing professionally on stage, because conservative Elizabethans ‘found the practice opprobrious’ and felt that actors and the art of acting ‘breaks with religious orthodoxy and inappropriately inspires lust in the observer’ (Lublin 2012: 67).
Terri Power

7. The Female Players and All-Female Companies

Abstract
‘Male classical actors might be better at playing men. But women are better at playing human beings … And Shakespeare is about human beings’ (Rebecca Patterson, as quoted in The Wall Street Journal 22 April 2012). Influenced by the Commedia dell’arte troupes wherein women played both male and female roles in the 1660s, women began playing male roles on stage in England beginning in the Restoration period.1 According to surviving records, one of the first male Shakespeare roles to be performed was that of Hamlet acted by Fanny Furnival at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin, 1741 (Howard 2009: 38). However, besides Howard’s in-depth study of female Hamlets, very little documentation and scholarship has focused on this area of theatrical performance. Some historic performances are noted in a few resources, such as Charlotte Cushman’s portrayal of Romeo in 1845, Sarah Siddons’ Hamlet in 1775 and Sarah Bernhardt’s ‘manly’ approach to Hamlet in 1899.2 Despite a lack of records today, women performing as male Shakespeare characters was so prevalent in theatre that in 1911 The New York Times ran an article entitled ‘Women in Male Roles: Long List of Prominent Actresses Who Have Yielded To That Ambition’ (Anon, 1911) and in it the reporter writes:
Since Siddons there have been more than fifty female Hamlets, many women Romeos and Shylocks, and Iagos and Richards. In fact, with the exception of Macbeth, Brutus, and Coriolanus, nearly every Shakespearean male character has been essayed by some actress.
Terri Power

8. Creative Casting

Abstract
In the last two chapters we focused our discussion on contemporary single-sex companies and productions. In this chapter we will shift our focus to a discussion of selective, or what is at times referred to, creative casting choices. When we discuss selective or creative casting, we generally mean alternative non-traditional uses of casting that can take on a variety of forms and generate interesting effects on Shakespeare’s plays for audiences.
Terri Power

9. Queer Shakespeare

Abstract
‘No doubt Shakespeare was gay. His predilection was evident from his works. An unmistakenly feminine portrait of his patron Henry Wriothesley adds evidence that early sonnets to “fair youth” were probably meant for males’ (Ian McKellen Advocate 5 January 2012). Many Queer scholars, artists and enthusiasts argue that Shakespeare is inherently Queer. His sexuality has been a recurrent area of speculation and part of a debate that we may never resolve. Many Shakespeare pro-gay advocates, such as Ian McKellen, are convinced that he was a gay man living in a heteronormative and homophobic society which caused him to be closeted in his personal life, but ‘out’ or rather ‘hinted’ at being a practising homosexual in his public plays and sonnets. These advocates point to particular works as demonstrating homosexual proclivities and alliances:
The Merchant of Venice, centering on how the world treats gays as well as Jews, has a love triangle between an older man, younger man and a woman. And complexity in his comedies with cross-dressing and disguises is immense. Shakespeare obviously enjoyed sex with men as well as women. (McKellen 2012)
Terri Power

10. The Cross-Gender Workshop

Abstract
This chapter introduces key practical considerations for deconstructing, analysing and regendering participants for cross-gender Shakespeare performance explorations. Although this volume focuses primarily on Shakespeare in practice, the exercises are derived from and can be applied to other types of gender performance. We will begin our practice-based study with a discussion of the workshop, its origins, practices and applications so we can better understand the theories and exercises that underpin the practical explorations. Later we will explore the exercises in depth, and you will be able to test them for yourself as you play with gender and Shakespeare. This process will aid you as you rethink gender and, possibly, construct your own performances, social or theatrical, publicly or for private aims.
Terri Power

Debate and Provocation

Frontmatter

11. Interview with Lisa Wolpe

Abstract
Lisa Wolpe is an international activist working for the empowerment of women and diversity on the stage. Since 1993 she has been the Founding Producing Artistic Director of the award-winning all-female Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company (LAWSC). Where she produces, directs, and has performed roles including Hamlet, Richard III, Angelo, Leontes, Romeo, Shylock, and Iago. Lisa is currently touring her solo show “Shakespeare & the Alchemy of Gender” to venues around the world. She has directed and acted regionally at theaters including Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Berkeley Repertory Company, Shakespeare & Company, Arizona Theater Company, and San Diego Repertory Theater. She has received multiple awards for excellence in Directing, Acting, and promoting diversity and excellence onstage. She has taught and directed at universities including UCLA, USC, Cal Poly Pomona, Whittier College, NYU, ACT, Boston University, MIT, the American Shakespeare Center, University of Colorado, and more.
Terri Power
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