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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: December ::
Casting
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0959.  Tuesday, 29 November 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Skip Shand <
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        Date:   Sunday, 27 Nov 1994 17:07:05 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0957  Re: Casting
 
(2)     From:   David Evett <R0870%
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        Date:   Monday, 28 Nov 1994 16:26 ET
        Subj:   Cross-gendered casting
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Skip Shand <
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Date:           Sunday, 27 Nov 1994 17:07:05 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0957  Re: Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0957  Re: Casting
 
Re a Cross-cast Lear
 
I worked as text coach and consultant on a completely cross-cast professional
*Lear* in Toronto last winter. We experienced several kinds of playable
learning, as we set off from our versions of David Hwang's observation that
only a man knows how to play a woman. Richard Rose, who directed the production
for Necessary Angel Theatre Company, used an essentialised take on the
gendering of vulnerability as a starting place in his comments to the company:
men, he suggested, are culturally conditioned to hide their vulnerability and,
as they do so unconsciously, they are less likely to play that act in sharp
focus than are women; women, on the other hand, are conditioned to use their
vulnerability, and, once again . . .
 
This note foregrounded gender as a cultural construction, with the effect that
there was a stronger sense of men and women behaving with internal consistency,
and in sharp contradistinction from one another, than is always the case in
*Lear* productions. Lear's reactions were like Gloucester's were like
Cornwall's were like etc.
 
A quality emerging from the casting, one that rather took us by surprise, was
an unusual presence of nurturing--it was strongly present, for example, in
Lear's "Come let's away to prison" (5.2), which now played much more profoundly
as Lear's reconciliatory gift to his daughter than I had ever heard it before
(I think I had always been more interested in its 'evidence' for his mental
backsliding); this was regularly the most deeply moving moment in the entire
production.
 
For many of the women actors, the other major event of the production was the
opportunity to play open power and agency in a classical text. The fact that
this was a fresh new experience for them seemed to give many of the play's
power moments a raw enthusiasm beyond what is sometimes felt in more
conventional productions. I felt, at times, that I might be seeing the best
Edmund I will ever see!
 
Richard Rose, who runs the Young Company at the Ontario Stratford Festival, is
returning to this production this winter, again with Necessary Angel in
Toronto. Interestingly, he feels he has pushed the cross-casting exercise as
far as he needs to, and will cast this time simply actor-to-role, regardless of
gender. Patricia Hamilton will return to play Lear, Maggie Huculak will again
do Edmund, Diana Belshaw will play Kent again, but many of the other roles will
be recast gender-blind. I will again do some of the text work, and will try,
sometime in the next year, to write up the experience with particular attention
to the placement/displacement of the gendered body as a tool of theatrical
narrative. I'll let you know.
                                                Skip Shand
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <R0870%
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Date:           Monday, 28 Nov 1994 16:26 ET
Subject:        Cross-gendered casting
 
The Mabou Mines <Lear> was heavily cut and collaged for performance by no more
than 5 or 6 actors in distinctly non-traditional spaces--I saw it in the Wexner
Center art gallery in Columbus.  It was striking, in its way--an attempt to
dramatize a Rockwell Kent etching, with that kind of grim austerity. But
thinned, too, as an etching after Tintoretto  would be reduced in tonal
complexity.  We saw a woman as Edmund here this past summer; she did the kinds
of things the women who play Viola and Rosalind and Portia usually do--took
long strides, stood with her feet well apart and her hand on her hip--with
similar results (a little thing would make me tell them how much she lacked of
a man).I'd have been happier, I think, if they had bitten the bullet and played
her forthrightly as Gloucester's bastard daughter.  Though as always when you
make theatrical choices you lose as you gain.  My son Ben cast a woman as
Hector in a Harvard Drama Club (small stage) <Troilus>; I've only seen
videotape but found it unsatisfactory if only because the macho thing in Hector
is so powerful.  I myself tried a female Thersites, which I thought went pretty
well. I had the actor read the last stanza of Yeats' "Circus Animals'
Desertion," and she found that a place to start; we built her a little
observation tower on one side of the stage from which she could spy and curse.
I considered an Aunt Pandarus, but decided it would be difficult to achieve the
desired decadence--hard to keep her from becoming Aunty Mame.
 
Androgynously,
Dave Evett
 

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