Committing to Gender-reversed Casting

We’re now almost two weeks into the rehearsal process of The Tempest. Slowly but surely we’re making our way through the whole play, focusing on the different groups that arrive and interact on the island. We’ve established a strong bond between Prospero and the supernatural being of Ariel. The nobles, as we’ve started to call them, including the king Alonso with his brother Sebastian, his advisor Gonzalo and follower Adrian, as well as Duke Antonio. This group appears always together in the play and have a curious dynamic, as Antonio and Sebastian constantly try to undermine the pursuit of hope by Gonzalo. Then we rehearsed some heartwarming scenes between Miranda and Ferdinand. It’s astounding to hear Miranda discover the beauty of mankind in her very sincere and truthful way. Finally, the most laughs we’ve had in rehearsals so far has been with the hilarious trio of the drunken butler Stephano, the jester Trinculo and the creature of the island, half-human half-something else, called Caliban. The opposing character personalities in these scenes alone are funny. Caliban’s rage and need for revenge are countered by the drunken Stephano and Trinculo, that every observer understands that any plans forged by these are doomed to fail. But as always it’s wonderfully entertaining to observe their attempts.
The only new approach we’ve taken with this production is the gender-reversed casting. As it turns out, it’s the first production ever to fully commit to gender-reversed casting, meaning that all roles will be played by the opposite sex. So, if you come to see this production, you’re in for a treat of a world premiere. In a way, you would have expected to trigger a lot of discussions during rehearsals about the casting. But after our first set of ground rules to portray the characters as truthfully and best as we can, our focus in rehearsals has been to tell the story of The Tempest as clearly as possible. We forget how often women are cast to play men’s roles nowadays, so the casting sounds way more outlandish than it is, at least for the women it is just another male role. Even our male actor has acted in women’s roles before.
The most important lesson to learn from the gender-swap is that the acting becomes about the character and what part they play in the story, rather than about gender. Just as in real life, we all can play the same part but we all bring our very own and distinguishable personality to it. And what a joy it is to see that in rehearsals.

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