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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: Squeaking Cleopatras
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1765  Tuesday, 17 July 2001

[1]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Jul 2001 12:38:13 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 12.1760 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras

[2]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Jul 2001 17:44:29 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1760 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras

[3]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Jul 2001 14:25:50 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1760 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras

[4]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Saturday, 14 Jul 2001 21:19:16 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 12.1760 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Jul 2001 12:38:13 -0400
Subject: Re: Squeaking Cleopatras
Comment:        SHK 12.1760 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras

In so-called 'Pantomime' --still by far the most successful form of
popular theatre in Britain-- the 'Dame' is traditionally played by a
man, the 'Principal Boy' by a woman.

T. Hawkes

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Jul 2001 17:44:29 +0100
Subject: 12.1760 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1760 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras

> At the risk of stating 'the bleeding obvious' I ask if anyone has
> considered workshopping scenes from A & C with variously aged
>males
> playing Cleopatra, and OBSERVING the results.  Theatre is after all a
> visual medium and actors male and female, are supposed to be
>versatile.
> Olivier played Kate in 'The Shrew' at the age of 9, in what was a highly
> regarded performance

This is a good point.

In what I consider the strongest argument in her book, Joy Leslie Gibson
concludes by mentioning Olivier's performance.  "Ellen Terry ...
commented that she had never seen Kate played better by a woman except
Ada Rehan" and Dame Sybil Thorndike thought "he was really 'wonderful,
the best Shrew I ever saw - a bad tempered bitch'".  Olivier was,
however, fourteen rather than nine when he performed the role, which
brings him closer to the age at which we suspect that the boy players in
Shakespeare's day were performing female roles.  There is a beautiful
photograph of Olivier in full finery which appears in Gibson's book and
many biographies of Olivier.

I would be very interested to see a performance by a professional
adolescent actor (aged 14-17) in one of the major female Shakespearean
parts, but I'm not sure whether the failure of such an experiment would
necessarily prove anything.  Shakespearean boy actors presumably spent
more time rehearsing, performing and watching and learning from other
actors than any modern child could possibly do, since the law now
requires child workers (in richer countries, at least) to continue to
have a full education in other subjects and limits their working hours.

I would be very surprised, however, if such an experiment had never been
carried out.  Toby Cockerell seems to have made something of a success
in the role of Princess Katherine in the then brand new Shakespeare's
Globe Theatre in London during their performance of "Henry V",
convincing some in the audience that he was female, but he was
twenty-two at the time, so not exactly the presumed age of the real boy
actors.  Pauline Kiernan in "Staging Shakespeare at the New Globe"
points out that those casting at the Globe consciously rejected teenage
actors for the part since "it was felt that the voices of the teenage
actors who tested for the role did not carry in the new Globe space"
(117).  Is this evidence to support those who believe that teenage
actors could not play these roles, or simply more evidence of the
current Globe's rejection of authenticity when it gets in the way of
modern assumptions about theatre (epitomised in their deliberate
displacement of the stage pillars from the point at which architects and
theatre historians believed they should be because the theatre directors
wanted them elsewhere)?

Thomas Larque.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Jul 2001 14:25:50 -0400
Subject: 12.1760 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1760 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras

>From:           Judi Crane <
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>At the risk of stating 'the bleeding obvious' I ask if anyone has
>considered workshopping scenes from A & C with variously
>aged males playing Cleopatra, and OBSERVING the results.

This was supposed to be one of the functions of the New Globe.  I didn't
see Rylance play Cleo, alas, and if he didn't swap off the role with a
talented teen it wasn't an ideal test.  H5, however, was reasonably
illuminating.  A completely successful teen male Katherine, an excellent
middle aged male Quickly, and an inept, camp mature male Queen of
France.  Which agrees with your anecdotal evidence.

I just saw female Performance Institute students at Shakespeare &
Company in "Errors".  It is in the small Stables theatre, so breath
control really didn't matter much.  Some actresses were much more
successful than others in playing male roles: but in a comedy this seems
to matter only when the characters are in sex-charged scenes, and the
director(s) cast competent male impersonators in the crucial roles.
It's fun: one of the more successful "Errors" I've seen.

In the Founders Theatre "Coriolanus" Lisa Wolpe, experienced in playing
Shakespearean male roles, doubles the Tribune Sicinius Velutus, various
Roman and Volscian soldiers, and Valeria.  She has a magnificent vocal
instrument with plenty of power in the tenor-baritone register, and,
even without time for appearance-altering changes of make up or costume,
is not only a credible male, but credibly 4 or 5 different males, and a
thoroughly feminine Vergilia, too.

My review of "Coriolanus" is currently at <www.AisleSay.com>

Geralyn Horton, Newton, Mass. 02460
<http://www.stagepage.org>

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Saturday, 14 Jul 2001 21:19:16 +0100
Subject: Re: Squeaking Cleopatras
Comment:        SHK 12.1760 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras

I regularly produce boy actors from 14-18 in Shakespeare at an English
Public (private) School. They are not pros at all, but they can be
taught to breathe, to develop techniques to sustain vowels and point
lines. Boys of 14 or even younger can be trained to breathe even
Cleopatra lines, and Juliet is a breeze. I imagine that professionals in
Shakespeare's day would have been far better. Many of the ex- or even
practising choristers in his day as in ours would have been even more
capable of sustaining lines. I'm sorry, I just do not see what all this
academic brouhaha is about. As Ms Crane so wisely says, ask the actors
themselves, listen to them, ask the teachers of today's kids. They'll
tell you. Did Ms Gibson do that? Did she actually watch good boy actors
today, NOT in rehearsal, but in an actual show? I think you'll get many
other teachers of young male actors to tell you the same? Please forgive
if this seems like stating the very obvious.

One aspect that may be relevant is that if actors had to speak a great
deal louder then than now - and there at least is a pretty good chance
that that is the case - then hours of 'shouting' might offer a different
challenge to boys' voices. But in my experience boys' voices can cut
through a heck of a lot, and would of course be differentiated from the
more weighty adult males on stage, such that many of the major speeches
would possibly have made an impact.

Stuart Manger

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