One has to wonder, in this 450th year of the birth of the Bard of Avon, what Shakespeare would think of the myriad ways his plays are being presented in New Orleans these days.
Would he be outraged at such presentations as the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), a parody in which three male actors practically gallop through all of his comedies, tragedies and histories?
What would he think of the video projections and on-stage acrobatics in this year’s New Orleans Tulane Shakespeare Festival’s Midsummer Night’s Dream?
We will never know, of course, but chances are pretty good there’s one production he might completely understand: a one-performance-only collaborative project coming up on July 7 featuring male actors portraying women’s roles. It’s the concept of the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane and the 2-year-old New Orleans-based Compleat Stage performing group. Working with actors, just as producers and directors did in the Bard’s day, these two companies have chosen a cast of five men who will portray the roles of five women: among them Cleopatra, Queen Margaret and the nurse from Romeo and Juliet.
“As most people know, when Shakespeare’s company, The King’s Men, was performing, women were not allowed to act,” explains Chaney Tullos, Director of Operations of the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival. “When the Tulane Shakespeare Festival and Compleat Stage talked about this idea, they agreed it was something that needed to be done seriously.
“The audience will walk into the theater and we actually want them to see the men prepare for their roles. Our idea is to have their dressing room out there. So you’ll be watch them put their makeup on and transform into these women in a very Elizabethan style.
“Their dress will be very much a nod to Elizabethan staging practices. The acting style will be a little more realistic. There’s a lot of direct address to the audience as there would have been at The Globe.”
But don’t expect a drag show, says Chaney.
“There’s a lot of camp to a lot of drag. But this is not what this is. These men will be portraying these women as truthfully as they can. There will be no falsetto voices. Even thought the style of acting was not realistic back then, there was a truth in it. That’s what we are finding with each of these men. The more truthful I find that you play it, the more effective it is.
“Each man is different,” Chaney says with a smile. “We’re just trying to find their inner woman.”
To see how successful they will be, you’re invited to this pay-what-you-can, one-performance only of An Exploration of Shakespeare’s Women on Monday, July 7 at 7:30 p.m. at Tulane University’s Lupin Theatre. Tickets can be reserved online for $3, and it’s pay-what-you-will at the door. Any money raised will be shared with the actor’s all of whom are donating their services.