Entries tagged with “Cross-gendered casting”.


Rachel Pineiro as Benvolio

When I accepted the role of Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, I naturally assumed the part would be changed to Benvolia. Obviously, I was not well acquainted with Pigeon Creek’s practices: e.g. embracing the traditional tragi-comical gender-bending of the Renaissance era with the unabashed use of drag. In the 21st century, of course, the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company has the wit to employ this ploy by casting women as men in addition to men as women. Had I perceived the magnanimous task I was agreeing to espouse at its inception, I might have hesitated for a moment and raised an eyebrow.

It wasn’t until the read-through that I realized what was about to happen. I had contracted myself to delve into the mysterious and daunting realm of the male world, to unsex myself (as they say), and sacrifice my femininity on the alter of the theatre gods. I could not (and would not) look pretty on stage. Nay. I would steep myself in a culture of shoulder punching, loogie spitting, rough-housing male adolescence, peppered indiscriminately with early modern locker-room talk.

Egads!

Something deep down inside told me to run away. I ignored that voice and chose instead to sink my imagination into the vast and daunting mystery of masculinity.

I discovered many things. The first was an epiphany that I had no idea what I was doing. I’d never been around a group of guys when there were no women present, and there was no way for me to determine how men behave under the influence of unadulterated, pure testosterone. Trying to imagine the situation nearly caused me to seize up, and I promptly sought out fresh air. While strolling the streets of Grand Rapids, I considered what lengths I would go to in order to achieve the resemblance of cross-gendered truth. Could I infiltrate male-dominated spaces, in disguise, and note the untainted distinctiveness of males in their natural habitats? Certainly not. The idea was deviant, and amusing at most. Could I adopt masculine social attributes, attempt to create Benvolio as a contemporary in West Michigan, and try out my alter-ego in public places? Again, no. I realized that hitting on women at the bar or engaging in street fights would not assist my character development so much as it would get me into trouble.

At some point, I came to the conclusion that boys are not alien creatures. They are human beings much like women are, and furthermore, I’d been studying males all of my life, being surrounded with them and communicating regularly. Letting the culture-shock wear off, I decided that I did not have to worry so much about “putting on a boy character” as much as stripping away my own mannerisms that were specifically feminine. I practiced holding a stance with weight equally distributed on both feet, and walking without turning my hips. I tapped into my athletic side and pumped out 50 push-ups every rehearsal in order to focus on the existence of arm muscles; and to experience tautness in my gestures, since I realized that it was feminine to have superfluous arm or hand movements. I wanted to achieve an energetic sturdiness, capable of climbing a tree or drawing a sword at a second’s notice.

With all of my focus on physicality, I certainly had a masculine image of myself painted in my head. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the reality of my appearance did not match up with my imagination. Benvolio’s embodiment within myself had no facial hair, stood only 5′2” high, and weighed about 1/3rd of the nurse. Thus, at age 23, I realized the most I could pull off was a prepubescent, 13-year-old version of Romeo’s friend. Barely a pin-prick of a man. But I began to fall in love with the idea that Benvolio has a big heart, and that he is more than he seems. I decided to play Benvolio in an in-between phase, moving toward manhood with his perception of social responsibility, but still possessing all the wiliness of boyhood and the awkwardness of adolescence.

It has been quite the adventure exploring the idiosyncrasies of Benvolio’s character, moment by moment, and working with and learning from the dynamic cast of the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company. I am infinitely grateful for the opportunity the company has given me to experience Shakespeare beyond the bodice and on the side of sword-wielding wilderness. Thank you to the company for giving me this experience!

This week we start some actor blogs from the cast of Henry V, which will open at the end of this month!

Hey folks! It’s Arielle Leverett here to share my experiences in Henry V so far. In this production I play an English boy, the French Princess’ maiden Alice, along with various English lords and soldiers. Now I have played young men before (Octavius Caesar was my quintessential little know-it-all emperor to be) so that part is not a big deal to me. The big road block be me is the fact that both the boy and Alice have scenes in French. Folks, I don’t know French. I studied Japanese for four years and quite frankly that doesn’t help.

The most terrifying thing about this was I actually had to do a cold reading, speaking French, for the audition. I’m pretty sure this was torture for everyone in the room. So a large part of my initial rehearsal process was learning how to say my lines. Luckily Katherine Mayberry, executive director and fellow cast member, is a French guru and she made a CD of my lines so I could listen to how it sounds everyday. The French is going well now. I have to say I really enjoy tricking people into thinking I know languages than I really don’t and thanks to Henry V I’m adding French to that list (boo ya!).

Aside from the sexy French I’m learning, I’m really enjoying my characters. The boy and Alice both engage in comic scenes which are a needed relief for this heavy war play. The boy is really interesting. He was originally Falstaff’s servant boy but when he dies the Boy has no choice but to go off to the war with Pistol, Nym, and Bardolf, the spunky ragamuffin trio that the boy can’t stand. I love how smart and morally sound the boy is despite his poor upbringing. I think living on the streets of London has made him resourceful. Also, being around losers like the trio has shown him the exact kind of person he doesn’t want to grow up to be. Plus I think it’s funny when the kid is the smartest one of the bunch.

My other larger role, Alice, is pretty great as well. First of all I’m happy I get to play a woman in the show, especially one who is apparently going to resemble a hot librarian. I love the dynamic between Alice and Princess Katherine. Sarah Stark (Katherine) and I have decided to make the two characters close like sisters. Of course Alice is older and worldlier which is why she knows some English. Though Katherine is Alice’s superior they have a relationship where their roles can be reversed. I decided Alice is pretty sassy and sometimes she has to catch herself when she gets snippy to people like King Henry. Anyway, this play is really fun and going very well so far. So go see Henry V so you can be smacked in the face with Shakespeare awesomeness (oh yeah, it happens). See you in August!

Playing Rosencrantz

I’m Brooke Heintz, better known as (deep breath now) Rosencrantz, Francisco, Reynaldo, the Ambassador, Captain, and a pallbearer.  That’s right, it’s a regular revolving door of characters for me during any one of our runs.  Along with this, I’m our production’s Prop Mistress.   This means it was my duty to work with our director compiling a list of necessary props, determining what look we were going for, and then actually going out and finding them all.   Sharing production duties is one of the most unique things about working with Pigeon Creek, in my opinion, because we eliminate the line between actors and crew, and it allows the show to feel fully ours.  We take ownership of every aspect, or trust the people from our own ensemble to do so.

Speaking of unique opportunities for teamwork, I wanted to focus on the experience of playing half of the Rosencrantz & Guildenstern team.   I haven’t played a lot of male characters, and we also wanted to develop synchronization between R&G’s movements, so I was focused quite a bit on physicality when preparing my roles.  Sarah, who plays Guildenstern, worked very closely with me on developing where we wanted the characters’ center of gravity, how we wanted them to walk, to sit, to stand, to react physically in fear or indignation.   Near the beginning of rehearsals, we would use a mirroring exercise, where we simply stood face to face, and followed each other’s movements, trying to keep it as organic as possible, and get our bodies physically in tune.  We did a lot of work in front of mirrors as well, trying to get our stances to match while keeping it natural.

Once we were confident in the things that matched between the two, and felt that they translated visually as a set, we focused on what differentiated the characters.  Guildenstern is more of the alpha dog of the two, and we decided that they vary strongly in that Guildenstern tries to keep his reactions in the “head” most of the time, whereas Rosencrantz (not very “heady” whatsoever) reacts to most things directly from the heart.  It allowed for us to create tiny physical mannerisms that were opposing, but still complemented those that were synchronized: Rosencrantz was more likely to react to things openly, shoulders back, heart bared, whereas Guildenstern tends to shrink inwards.  When these reactions were combined, it still creates a visual illusion of them being two parts of a whole.

Playing someone’s “other half” so to speak has been a brand new experience for me, and required more specific physical work with another person than I’ve gotten to do before.   Hopefully it pays off in comedy for our audiences.   You still have a chance to come and see for yourselves, at Christ Community Church in Spring Lake, May 13-16th!