Susan Bennett is University Professor in the Department of English, University of Calgary, Canada. She is widely published across a variety of topics in theatre and performance studies, including Theatre Audiences (1997), Theatre & Museums (2013) and Sound (2019).
Sonia Massai is Professor of Shakespeare Studies at King’s College London, UK. She has published widely on the history of the transmission of Shakespeare in print and in performance. She is currently working on a new book on Shakespeare’s Accents: Voicing Identity in Performance and preparing a new edition of Richard III for the Arden Shakespeare.
Productions of Shakespeare’s plays have been regularly used to comment on the political and public affairs of their performance moment – occasionally provoking heated responses. In 2017, for example, the Public Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar at Shakespeare in the Park prompted a media furore (led by Fox News), because the presentation of Caesar bore a striking resemblance to Donald Trump.
The Public Theatre, other news media, and Shakespeare scholars (such as Stephen Greenblatt) were quick to point out that Shakespeare’s play hardly condones the assassination of Caesar and that it explores, instead, the conspirators’ flawed and extreme reactions to a democracy under threat. But audience responses cannot be contained by a careful reading of the text, and, while a production may clearly announce its relevance to contemporary politics, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific application or to control public responses to it.
by Hailey Bachrach, PhD candidate researching gender in early modern history plays in collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, @hbachrach.
The Globe Theatre’s opening two shows of the 2018 season (and opening shows of the tenure of new artistic director Michelle Terry) are ‘gender blind’. It’s a phrase that’s deployed freely now in discussions about casting, usually referring to women being cast in male roles, usually in plays by Shakespeare and other canonical writers. But it’s not used with much consistency: Terry and her company use it to describe their approach to casting, in which both men and women are cast in roles that do not match their own gender, but play them as written. It has also been used to describe casting women in male roles that are then played as women.
The attention paid to gender in all of these productions seems to undermine what the phrase ‘gender blind’ clearly suggests: that the actor’s gender will go unseen.
What’s less clear is whether this lack of sight is meant to apply to the artists or the audience. It’s worth noting this term has been critiqued as ableist, but as it remains a phrase used by the production and criticism industries, we should explore the implications of its suggestion that we do not simply ignore, but literally do not see gender in these productions. Continue reading ‘Gender blind’ casting, who and what goes unseen?→
From the Department of English at King's College London