• The Actors Temple

Gender Blind Casting: Are we there yet?


Since the invention of theatre, cross-dressing and gender fluid casting has been part of the art. Indeed it was ‘illegal’ for women to even perform before an eighteen-year Puritan prohibition of drama was lifted after the English Restoration of 1660, meaning female roles were portrayed by (often pre-pubescent) boys. However Cross-Gender Casting has recently become a buzzword used for the popularity of Classical texts being cast with Female leads in ‘Male’ roles. In it’s basic definition Cross-gender acting refers to actors or actresses portraying a character of the opposite gender.


Wayne T Carr as Bassanio and Lisa Wolpe as Shylock in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Merchant of Venice, Summer 2018. Photo by Karl Hugh.

Lisa Wolpe who has performed more of Shakespeare’s male roles than any woman in history talks about why she loves cross-gender casting ‘‘Exploration of the gender spectrum through performative gesture and textual interpretation opens up many, many possibilities in playing some of the greatest texts in the English Language in a relevant and cutting edge way. By challenging gender expectations and the "traditional limitations" that have been placed on actors and directors for centuries by religious and socio-political pressures, I hope that we can now present work that reflects the prismatic and complex populations in our actual communities. In order to truly "hold the mirror up to nature" we want to explore our work without reverting to traditionally white male heteronormative choices - which have become a kind of fictional "norm" that does not fit the new, more inclusive "normal" that we hope to support with workshops like this one."


What’s important to note is that all theatre depends on suspension of disbelief and yet cross-gender casting still tends to create a stir. If used well, it can be deeply revealing. A woman interpreting a male character can draw attention to characteristics we associate with male behaviour. But this doesn’t address why it’s important to the landscape of theatre today.

In 2016 Gina Davis released the ‘Gender Bias Without Borders’ report on gender in the media revealed the staggering ratio of 2:1 actors to every actress and an average of 17% female representation in crowd scenes in films. That’s right only 17% of female representation in crowd scenes with women representing 50.8% of the world population - surely this number is too low? With Female customers accounting for 65% of ticket revenue, but only 39% of actors, 36% of directors and 28% of writers of plays. So in the words of Lynne Gardener ‘Why keep going to the theatre if you seldom see yourself reflected there?’

With campaigns such as ERA 50:50 and #Timesupuk gathering momentum it’s an exciting time for Women in Theatre but with Less women on stage today that in 1916 we have to ask, will women ever achieve equality in media? The Actors’ Temple is passionate about achieving this collective aim which is why we are thrilled to be working trailblazer Lisa Wolpe on a Cross-Gender Workshop.

By Natalie Durkin


Cross-Gender Shakespeare: 2 day Workshop with Lisa Wolpe

29th & 30th September 10-6pm

Fee: £195 Guests, £175 Community, £145 In-Training


#Womeninfilm #womenintheatre #equality #representation #crossgender #roles #genderequality

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