Shakespeare's Women, a documentary about Claire Bloom and her one-woman show (she calls it a "recital"), the actress muses about the more difficult female roles and wonders just how well equipped the boys of the time were equipped to play them. She points out that the boy-actors playing the women would have all been prepubescent, very young to have the knowledge she believes is needed to pull off some of the roles. (Bloom has a lot to say about sexual power in some of Shakespeare's most famous characters, particularly Juliet, and it's worth tracking down the documentary, which is available used on Amazon and also streaming on Netflix.)
I was thinking about this documentary when I stumbled across the website of the Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company. The company's artistic director is actress/director Lisa Wolpe, who is currently working with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. This is their mission statement:
The Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company (LAWSC) is a nonprofit
organization which produces professional productions of Shakespeare's
plays with an all-female ensemble. We provide opportunities for
collaboration between multiracial, highly accomplished artists who are
actors, producers, directors, choreographers, designers and educators.
LAWSC contributes to a transformation of the perceptions of women's
roles in our society by working to create a deeper, more powerful,
unbounded view of women's potential. Our productions illuminate
contemporary issues through a classical context, offering a unique
political and social perspective. Our ongoing mission is to provide a
creative forum for the exploration of violence, victimization, power,
love, race, and gender issues, and to provide positive role models for
women and girls.
I'm intrigued by the goals of the group because I've always felt that productions where women play male roles were a little ... gimmicky just like white actors playing Othello in black face (like Olivier did back in the day and more recently, Anthony Hopkins). In the context of what the LAWSC is trying to do, though, such productions make sense. I look forward to Wolpe returning to Los Angeles so I can attend one of her productions. Her version of Iago (pictured) won rave reviews.
Here's an interview with Wolpe in Footlights. Interesting stuff.