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TOPIC: Cross sex casting strategies

Cross sex casting strategies 2 years 11 months ago #5556

  • John Zuill
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If any one has any suggestions or advice or perspectives on cross casting the cast of Hamlet, I would welcome them. I am a small community with a large number of able female actors. Polonius seems an obvious cross over for a conventional man to woman change. But any qualities or strategies for getting women into Hamlet will be welcomed. A man will be playing the lead.
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Re: Cross sex casting strategies 2 years 11 months ago #5569

Dear John,

A few thoughts come to mind. I've seen two productions in which Horatio was played by a female. I thought the actresses did quite a good job -- such a casting would also lend some triangular emotional tension with Hamlet - Ophelia - Horatio, if you choose to play it that way. Otherwise, Horatio and Hamlet could just be good friends.

I have also seen Rosencrantz and/or Guildenstern played by women.

If you were looking for a particularly unusual casting, you could try casting all the parts, minus Hamlet, as female and see what happens... Also, our Austin correspondent recently wrote about a female lead: www.playshakespeare.com/hamlet/199-theat...ous-hamlet-in-austin.

Another character to consider for a cross-over: King Hamlet (aka The Ghost -- would this be Oedipal complex run amok?) and the player King.

In truth, you could cast -any- character in Hamlet against gender, and it would 'work', helped, no doubt, by the fact that someone, somewhere, at some time has already done so.
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Re: Cross sex casting strategies 2 years 10 months ago #5614

  • John Zuill
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Thanks Chris. Will think of something
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Re: Cross sex casting strategies 8 months 3 weeks ago #6885

Joining an old conversation rather than starting a new, I have similar situation as John and wonder if anyone has had experience of a female Hamlet? I am tempted to throw auditions open to either gender for lead. Would love to hear for anyone here
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Cross sex casting strategies 8 months 3 weeks ago #6886

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I wouldn't think about doing Hamlet if I didn't have a Hamlet first. Id cast the part before I decided to do the play. I didn't end up doing Hamlet: my Hamlet's wife got pregnant and he departed for a different life entirely. I did not have any other Hamlets so I didn't do it. We did Macbeth. So I have not practical advice.

The history of female Hamlets is long and various. Did Siddons do it? I think she did. There were a couple of famous 19th cent ones. A little looking around will turn them up all over the place.
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Cross sex casting strategies 8 months 3 weeks ago #6887

Thanks John,
I understand your point about finding Hamlet first. I'm in a unique(ish) position of working with a regular youth ensemble performing 2 Shakespeare's each year and among my cast have 3 potential Hamlets (1 male & 2 female) who I'll audition for the role and happy to play with genders around the lead. We regularly cross-cast the roles as have way more talented girls than boys (ages 15-25). Sorry to hear you didn't get to pursue your Hamlet, but Macbeth is not a bad fall-back!
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Cross sex casting strategies 8 months 3 weeks ago #6888

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So your directing High School? Great. I saw a great Tof the Shrew with a girl playing petruchio ( as a man ) done by a High School. The whole thing turned into a mass piss take on machismo. She was marvelous. Everything she said had a secondary comment. Is was all done in a kind 50's Grease style but with a heavy dose of Commedia Del Arte over play. It was sort of a beautiful car wreck.
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Cross sex casting strategies 8 months 3 weeks ago #6889

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Cross casting can be done two ways - allowing the role to stay its proper gender, and casting the best person for the role, or changing the actual sex of the character. I'm wary of the second as it denies the authors intent (and we have so little of his intent still clear to us). I also think if you change the gender of a character, you are making a statement. Remember Shakespeare's roles were all played by men, so cross gender casting is just part of the game. (Note: much of this is the opinion of the American Shakespeare Center, not my own original thought).

All that said, Sarah Bernhardt had an excellent story for Hamlet to be a woman. I believe the story is told at more depth in the Arden 3 edition of the play, in the introduction. The short version is this: Hamlet (the one that is now a ghost) had a daughter, but raised her as a son to preserve succession. Thus the Prince Hamlet is perceived by all to be a man, although is actually a woman. I think this also might have been how Claudius seized power- since he knew the truth. I might be mis remembering that last bit.

I used a similar story when I cast a woman as Iago.
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Cross sex casting strategies 8 months 2 weeks ago #6891

Thanks John & Marshall,
More youth-oriented community theatre than high school and this gives us the freedom to mix-in older actors - I've always been more sensitive to age matching than gender matching. If a female actor is successful at audition I'll play Hamlet as a woman - confident we can stay true to character's mind despite gender change. You've both given me some good research starting points. Thanks again!
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