Compared to many playwrights in the 1600s (and in the 2000s!), Shakespeare did a pretty great job at writing emotionally complex, powerful, and dynamic female characters. Lady Macbeth, Queen Margaret, Rosalind, and Viola are all coveted roles which any actor would be ecstatic to play.
However, not all of Shakespeare’s plays are graced with one of these phenomenal female characters, and those plays which are, rarely include more than one leading woman in their plot. By and large, most Shakespearean roles are male characters, played by men. Sadly, this not only excludes female actors from some of the best theatre, but it also means that traditional Shakespearean productions mainly tell the stories of men, and therefore prevent female and non-binary audience members from being able to see their own stories reflected on stage.
But, it doesn’t have to stay this way! The beautiful thing about art, Shakespeare, and theatre is that we as artists have the power to shape it in the ways that serve us best.
Shakespeare brilliantly wrote about the human experience; an experience which is shared by everyone, regardless of gender. So, in order to strengthen these beautiful stories, and to work towards gendered equity on stage, thousands of Shakespearean productions all over the world are choosing to cross gender cast: that is, they are casting women and non-binary people in male roles and opening up the stories that Shakespeare tells so that they include all genders.
Here at the GVSF, we love to contribute to this beautiful movement! This year, The Tempest in particular, features some powerhouse female actors and characters. Chelsea Haberlin has cast the wonderful Wendy Magahay as Prospera, the sorceress matriarch and leading role in The Tempest, originally named Prospero and traditionally played by a man. Chelsea has also taken the classically fragile and flowery character of Miranda (Prospera’s daughter, played by Nicole Bartosinski) and transformed her into a feisty, intelligent, powerfully independent woman who has learned to be a strong leader from her mother. These choices open up new possibilities in The Tempest, one of which is to explore the nature of a mother/daughter relationship, and the ways in which we see ourselves in our children and our children in ourselves.
Last week, I sat down with Wendy and Nicole to chat about what it means to them to play these adapted characters. Check out the video below to see what they had to say!