In Shakespeare’s day, women were not allowed to act in plays, and boys and men played all the female roles, including Juliet, Ophelia, Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth. Having women act on stage was deemed immoral, although, as Anne wryly points out in The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare, women were more than welcome to pay their penny and join the audience to applaud these very same plays.
Nowadays, with directors and actors always looking for new twists on the Bard, you might see women playing Richard III or Prospero, an all-female Julius Caesar, or a cross-dressing version of Hamlet. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but what is art about if not expanding opportunities and taking chances?
To see what an all-female cast can do with Shakespeare, check out the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company (LAWSC) at www.lawsc.net. Founded in 1993 by Lisa Wolpe, this award-winning ensemble offers professional productions of Shakespeare plus classes and workshops. Think a woman can’t play the sinister Iago? Think again. Finding it hard to picture an all-female staging of Much Ado About Nothing? LAWSC has done it and more. Get past the initial hurdle and you’ll find all sorts of exciting possibilities for female actors, directors, choreographers and designers to do Shakespeare–and other playwrights as well.
What would Will say about all this? I’m not sure. But I do know what Anne would say– “Bravo!”