A young director's examination how gender is performed on stage especially within the works of William Shakespeare

31 December 2012


To bring in the new year I have brought in a Directions of Gender Twitter feed!

Check it out: @DirectionsofGen

Imaginative name eh?!

11 December 2012

And away we go!

Yesterday marked the official beginning of my thesis research, interviewing none other than the truly delightful Emma Pallant AKA Jaques in The Globe's As You Like It (2011-12). We spent a lovely lunchtime discussing Madame Jaques, Two Gentlemen of Verona set in a nail bar, and how Original Practice doesn't really mean original. I have gained some very useful and intriguing insights into how easy it was to transform a male character into a female one and why it is a liberating exercise for an actress take male roles. 

Characters like Madame Jaques and actresses like Emma who take them on, are opening the doors (or hopefully, floodgates) for more people to play (they are, after all, plays!) with gender. It is a way of opening up new insights into a character, asking new questions about who they are and giving us a deeper sense of who we are, and how rich and expressive human nature can be.

Emma will be playing Lady Capulet and the Prince at The Globe's Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank production of Romeo and Juliet next year. I can't wait.

Now, to typing the transcript...

20 November 2012

Changing Sex and Bending Gender

The following quotation by Alison Shaw just grabbed my attention. It is from a book called Changing Sex and Bending Gender (2005) which I am ploughing through as I attempt to fill out my thesis proposal (due on Friday; still not done...)

'Short-term gender reversals in ritual, carnivale and theatre may provide symbolic challenges to conventional categories, but cross-gender impersonation is often highly stereotypical, usually serving to reinforce, for the audience, local ideas of femininity or masculinity as much as they challenge them.'

When it comes to men playing women I would agree (see post below about Love's Labour's Lost) but I'm not sure the same can be said when women play men. Then, there seems to be an effort to neutralise one's physical sex, rather than stereotype someone else's. I'll be interested to see how the upcoming Julius Caesar fits in with this.

17 November 2012

A busy bee

So, it has been a while since my last post as life has become very busy!

The Gender MA is brilliant. I have found myself with a group of enthusiastic, intelligent and lovely people, who are as happy to talk about Foucault and Judith Butler as they are to go to dinner and find great theatre. The atmosphere at Goldmiths is fantastic and the commitment to academic excellence, coupled with a desire to see the theory put into practice, has meant that I feel very at home. I'm sorry I only have a year there!

Now essay season has begun I am furiously researching and writing. One essay will be on Walter Benjamin and his concept of the decay of 'aura'; the other will be about the pregnant body in art. Both very challenging but I'm excited to get back into writing.

I've also begun writing for a few online blogs, 'Being Feminist' and 'Geeked Magazine', the latter of which is soon to be in print which is very exciting!

But where is Shakespeare in all of this?! Well, it has been tricky to do much reading, or even thinking, about the old Bard recently, but that doesn't worry me too much as I know these things come and go.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I'm sure ideas about the plays are swirling and marinading. 

The thesis will feature Shakespeare in some way, I have no doubt of it. Currently, my thinking is towards looking at bodies on stage, with particular regard to women playing men. I would like to do a historical analysis, looking at cross-dressing on stage, or focus specifically on the plays and examine Shakespeare's approach to gender. However, time and word limit (20,000) will not permit such broad scope, and so I am going to have to pick a topic, and stick to it. Women on stage seems to allow for the covering of quite a lot of ground, and I also hope it will give me a chance to celebrate the triumphs and achievements of women on stage in the UK.

The all-female Julius Caesar, opening at the Donmar in a few days interests me greatly. I think I may start there and see what reflections arise...

13 October 2012

'We will draw you the curtain and show you the picture'

Some friends and I were lucky enough to see Tim Carroll’s all-male Twelfth Night at the Globe last weekend. I’ve been trying to get some thoughts down for a few days now and wanted to share some impressions.

We were fortunate enough to have gone on a blazing sunny day. I have attended a couple of performances at the Globe where I got absolutely drenched, as there is no roof over where the groundlings stand. It ain’t a pleasant experience I can tell you! Thankfully we were spared nature’s wash and had a decent view from the back of the pit. The acting in the play was superb. Stephen Fry seemed to have been made for playing Malvolio and Mark Rylance was brilliant as Olivia, somehow gliding across the stage as if he had wheels under his skirts. My favourite player though was Paul Chahidi, who played Maria with a kind of gleeful malevolence.

The all-male aspect was intriguing and it certainly shed a different light on things. For a start, I never realised there quite were so many cock jokes in the play. Whenever there was potential for an innuendo, the guiding principle appears to have been ‘stick it in’…I also felt that Viola/Cesario’s lines ‘I am all the brothers of my father’s house and all the daughters’; ‘I am the man’ and her whole smouldering exchange with Orsino where she basically tells him she fancies the pants off him and he’s too obtuse to realise, were all delivered with a bit of a wry smile, a kind of ‘nudge nudge wink wink, look what we’re doing, audience. They’re talking about being women when they’re actually men!’ If I had one criticism of the whole thing it would be that, for me at least, it was lacking a little in subtlety.

It also struck me that the fact of an all-male cast actually serves quite well to remind us how conventional the comedies are, and how they usually end with everyone subscribing to a heteronormative framework, all marrying the person they ‘should’ marry (though see my previous post on Love’s Labour’s Lost). That all the characters were being played by men made – at least for me – the relationships seem more risqué, and the actors certainly played up to that feeling, but in the end we remember that Viola marries Orsino (a great match for her, but he’s just spent the whole play pining after Olivia); and Olivia marries Sebastian (having known him for about 5 minutes and having actually been madly in love with his sister). Sharon Holland, in her essay Is There An Audience For My Play? argues that this is the brilliance of Twelfth Night (and indeed most of the Shakespearean comedies), that we think the world has been turned upside down and subverted, but in actual fact it subscribes strongly to a traditional, patriarchal societal structure, and ‘order is restored’ within quite a narrow and predictable framework.

Chin-strokey, academically minded chat aside, the play was a great afternoon out, at times moving, at other times hilarious. Good fun, and a really interesting production.

5 October 2012

We'll see what we can do about that...

This sentence, from an article about Caryl Churchill, just made my heart sink a little:

I think it is true that to have had major theatrical success, male directors still seem pivotal.

I am saddened by this opinion, which comes from successful writer and musician Michelene Wandor, and I am sure that it is a reaction to the rigidly hierarchical situation in theatre which she herself has experienced. However, in my (perhaps naively) optimistic way, I seriously hope that this will not always be the case. It is my hope that in the coming years things will change – even more than they undoubtedly have over the past few decades – and that within my working life time I will be able to be part of an industry that is meritocratic, and accepting of great works of art, regardless of whether the creator is female, male, transsexual, bisexual, homosexual, heterosexual, black, white, pink, green, with 8 arms or no legs – and everything in between.

3 October 2012

Tied up in knots

Tomorrow I begin lectures for my Masters in Gender. Nervous anticipation just about sums up my feelings right now!

In preparation I've been trying to do some thinking on my thesis. I don't write it until next spring/summer but, as an extremely wise person once told me, 'time in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.'

Somehow I'm trying to find a way of blending my interests in Shakespeare, and the academic realm of gender, into one brilliant, original, 20,000 word masterpiece. And I just wrote the following paragraph:

Do I want to write about how Shakespeare wrote about gender? Men playing women playing men playing woman a la Twelfth Night? Or about how gender bending/reversal/crossing is dealt with on contemporary stages, and how characterisation or words are affected and effected when there is a difference between the character's sex (or gender?!) and the player's, and/or from what the playwright originally anticipated the player's (or even character's?!) sex (or gender...) to be??

Clearly I have some knots to untie...