Amy McFadden as Douglas, Lady Percy, Lancaster et al.
What is the difference between men and women? I mean other than the usual bath towel inventory, matching sets of lingerie vs. boxers or briefs and how excited we get when a baby who does not share our DNA is born. I am generalizing, maybe even sex-role stereotyping, but when you have a group of females telling a male-dominated history riddled with political alliances and vicious battles, differences must be considered. And overcome.
Physicalization is one of the primary jobs of actors playing any role. Many of us have been taught to “strip” ourselves of all habit, stance, stride and facial expressions that are “ours”-our “real life” physicalization. That is NOT an easy job, as these things are subconscious and deeply embedded. One leg up women have over men in this process is that we have to learn to walk in different heights of shoes and lengths of skirts, so we tend to have some experience in consciously changing our posture, gait and strategy for sitting with decorum.
When the casting for Henry IV, Part I was announced, I was relieved to be playing Lady Percy and four male roles including the Scot, Archibald Douglas. I figured I’d be wearing a skirt for at least two of my five characters! As for the rest of the work, I got some fundamental advice from one of our well-trained actresses : “Just figure out right now how big each of your male character’s penis is and everything else will fall into place.” Sound advice. Especially when I discovered in my research that The Douglas lost a testicle in battle against the English. His stance now shifts lighter on the left.
Fast forward six weeks. Opening night I was standing backstage, ready to enter as Lady Percy (the only female character I play) and realized that after a month and a half of preparing to play mostly male characters, I actually felt uncomfortable in my skirt. Ha! I shot a quick “thank you” to the theatre gods that The Douglas ended up in pants instead of a kilt, opened the curtain and entered, hoping I didn’t have visible panty-lines.