Where is it and why do we care?
By Julia Siedlanowska, Staff Writer
The struggle for equality in the world as a woman is something that affects my entire life. It affects the movies I sit through and enjoy, it affects my relationships, and it affects the way I create my art. Art and the question of equality were recently mashed together for me when I was cast in an all-female version of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. For me the experience has taken a microscope to the struggles of women not only in the theatre, but also in life. This being said, it has left me with a far more positive outlook of the community and myself. It has left me with hope.
Lisa Wolpe, founder of the LA Women’s Shakespeare Company (LAWSC), directed the show here in Vancouver for Classic Chic Productions’ inaugural play. With over 20 years experience playing male characters and directing shows with all-female casts, she is known as an expert on gender-bending. In LAWSC, just as in this version of The Winter’s Tale, all roles are played by women. Many will note that this is a reversal of how things were done in Shakespeare’s times when little boys were hired to play all the female roles, as it was illegal for women to act on stage. During the rehearsal process, Wolpe mentioned on several occasions that she believed Mary Sidney, one of the wealthiest and most well-educated women of Shakespeare’s time to be the true author of his texts. There is much evidence to support this, not in the least Shakespeare’s (or whoever that may have actually been) ability to create well rounded and sometimes “outspoken” women.
Kyle Moore, after an interview with Wolpe for Footlights, succinctly described her reasons for creating all-female theatre: “[It] disallows the victim mentality. Women can squarely face the world, their energy focussed to a point, not dissipated in an effort to avoid attention.”
This is something that I know many women struggle with. In the rehearsal process, many of the actors playing male roles had to rid themselves of some of their feminine tendencies. “Don’t expose all that emotion,” “Don’t hide your genitals,” and “Lead with your basket,” were some directions commonly heard. My character exploration led me to experience the struggles of growing up as a male, as well as a female.
Now in this production it was easy to feel supported, but the company itself was created out of a need that wasn’t being met in the current world of theatre. When I asked Christina Campbell, Artistic Director of Classic Chic Productions, why she created the company she said, “The short answer is because I want to play Iago and this is the only way I’ll ever be able to do it. The longer answer is because women need an avenue to practice our craft and explore roles outside of the gender box. We are, after all, human beings; why shouldn’t we, as actors, be able to explore the full range of our humanity?”
“That changes with the playwrights before anything else,” said Colleen Winton, who plays the Old Shepherd in The Winter’s Tale. “It’s bizarre to me that there aren’t more stories out there with women as the central character, because it’s mainly women who go to the theatre.”