AYL: diversity

On Friday, I discussed some of my pre-production text work on As You Like It, and how it is leading me toward casting–or at least role-creation–decisions. Characters being paired or grouped together so that they may be played by the same actor. This helps limit the size of the cast without cutting characters.

I had mentioned that I already had a tentative list of character roles but I demurred on releasing that list until I talked about something else.

And that something else is diversity.

Now luckily, As You Like It has no preconceived notions on the race of the characters in this play (unlike, say, the Moors in Othello and Titus Andronicus). So all ethnicities are open. That’s the easy one.

Gender gets a little tougher.

In my vision of the play (and remember, this is my vision, not that of a traditionalist or “Shakespeare”), I see a handful of characters being locked into a gender:

  • ROSALIND (female)
  • CELIA (female)
  • PHOEBE (female)
  • AUDREY (female)
  • ORLANDO (male)
  • OLIVER (male)
  • CHARLES (male)
  • SILVIUS (male)That’s it. Basically, the lovers. And the wrestler. Could the lovers cross genders? Absolutely (hell, you’ll notice that Touchstone and William are not on the list), but for me, this particular production of the show works better with those major characters conforming to general audience gender expectations. Another production? All bets are off. Could the wrestler be female, à la GLOW? Sure, but I’ve got a WWE thing in my head now that tilts the character male.

Now, the rest of the characters I see as being any gender. And that includes a couple of mini-major characters:

  • ADAM

Written as male, I could easily see any of these (and the others) as being played female. Notice how I phrased that: “played female.” In other words, I’m not thinking Touchstone would be played by a woman but AS a man. No, I’m thinking the fool could be a woman. Period.

So why do I open these cross-gender possibilities (and why do they all go in one direction, male to female)?

Pretty simple (and predictable, really): there are only four roles for women in this play (and no, Hymen is the god–not goddess–of marriage). Man, that’s man-heavy. More importantly, what I’ve discovered in my community theater work over the last few years is that the talent pool for women is much deeper than that for men in this community (could be different elsewhere but not where I am). So making traditionally male roles female works, especially as it doesn’t change what I’m trying to do with the play thematically.

[NOTE: By the way, as I was working on this blog entry, I was listening to a very smart, very good discussion of diversity in the theater by some local talent I respect, the guys over at the “Thank You 30” podcast, Adam and Dave, and their guest, Eric Umali. Good stuff… if you get a chance, give the episode a listen!]

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