After nearly a year, it is so wonderful to be back at Dog Story with some of my favorite Shakespeareans.
Though my Shakespeare training really began with Pigeon Creek, I've been blessed to train with, work with, and perform with a number of Shakeapeare companies over the past couple of years. Over this past year, have been working and training with the Atlanta Shakespeare Company and have had so much fun bringing my training home for another run at Dog Story.
In traditional casting, it is not uncommon for me (a young white woman) to walk into a first read through and see a room dominated by men, and few if any people of color. It always takes time for me to adjust to the intrinsic gender and racial politics of the room, which there always are. It takes time for me to have the confidence I need to claim artistic space and have a voice in the room. To clarify, no one sets out to make things this way, it is not malicious, it simply is a product of lack diversity (of every sort) in an ensemble.
When talking about this phenomenon to a talented actress friend in Atlanta, she said something earth shattering to me: "being a female body onstage is an act of protest." I had never thought about it in those terms, but she was right. It made things fall into place for me. This sentiment holds true for folks of color, folks on the gender spectrum, and folks of varying ability levels: being seen is an act of protest.
One of the things about being a repertory company member with Pigeon Creek that I cherish most is that I will never be limited as an artist by my gender or type, an exceptionally unique quality that I have yet to find anywhere else. In this production, I play the playful and motherly barmaid Mistress Quickly, as well as the stalwart, honorable wartime French herald Montjoy. In a traditionally cast production, I would be far too young to play Quickly, and have too many boobs to play Montjoy. However, these roles have each stretched me as an artists and have been challenging and fulfilling. I am better because I've had a shot at them in this city, at this stage of my life, with this ensemble of artists. What a gift.
Gender and type blind casting, however, is not just a gift to actors. It is also a treat for audiences. Representation matters. In my time as an actor, the times I have had the most meaningful interactions with audience members have been my moments of "non-traditional" casting. The times when I have been cast in a non traditional way, I will often have thoughts of:
"will an audience really buy me as ______?"
"I hope they can get past (this thing about me) and hear the story."
And I've always been pleasantly surprised. Folks respond with excitement and are eager to be part of a conversation about what it means when Hero is brown, or when Juliet is fat or Hamlet is a woman. They do not ignore the artist playing the character, they do not "get past" her color, gender, ability level, what have you. They think about what it gives to the story. They don't just buy it, they take it and run.
What I am learning and celebrating is that gender "blind" and type "blind" and color "blind" casting is not only impossible, but should not be the goal. Our genders, our color, our type has a story, and the things that make us as artists different, and "non-traditional" make our voices incredibly powerful.