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Macbeth Is Now a Woman: Why Gender-Swapped Casting Needs to Happen More

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Macbeth is now performed by a woman, and it’s a glorious thing.

Recently, Embrace Theatre, a company out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada has mounted a new production of Macbeth. This one is an abridged script, runs 70 minutes, and has a small cast of five playing dual roles. Kate Herriot plays the title role of Macbeth with Elizabeth Nepjuk as Lady Macbeth while Donovan Scheirer, Charlie Peters, and Jeanine Wildman Thrasher play the supporting roles. For Skye Brandon, who directed the production, gender was never really relevant. When Embrace decided that Macbeth was going to be their next project, Brandon noticed that there would have to be changes.

“I knew that would be a strong possibility, that some women would have to play men and probably a man was going to play one of the witches. I had a feeling going into it that I’m going to have two women actors playing my lead,” Brandon told me in an interview. Gender role reverse casting is happing more in theatre; St. Anne’s Warehouse in New York is putting on an all female production of Henry IV this November.

The production’s director, Phyllida Lloyd, talked to Cary Purcell in a recent article from Playbill about why this is important: “‘Our cast has become so alert to [manspreading],’ she said. ‘We’ve been practicing it on our subways—just sitting there and having their legs apart and seeing horror on everyone’s face and testing how invasive it feels.'” The same article also mentioned Lloyd’s inspiration behind the casting:

Lloyd was inspired to direct an all-female production in reaction to the fact that for every job available to a woman in the theatre, there were two available for men. While the statistics were applicable across the industry, she focused on the actors, saying, “I was fed up with the young people—teenagers—being subjected again and again to nights in the theatre where they just saw two or three women in a cast of 18 men … And I felt I wanted to give some of my actress friends of my generation [who] really have exhausted the canon in terms of the female roles. Now what do they do?”

It’s not just theatre where gender reverse casting should be implemented; in 2007, Cate Blanchett played one of the versions of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, which won her rave reviews, and there’s the recent rumor of Tilda Swinton who plays the role of The Ancient One in Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange, recently commented she was unclear on what the character’s gender may be.

While Skye Brandon was really excited at the turnout of Macbeth’s casting but hopes gender isn’t a defining issue and that people just enjoy the play. She said,

If someone asked me, “Would you rather that someone look the part but might not be the strongest actor for the role, or would you rather have someone that can make the text clear, tell the story, make you understand what’s going on but not be the traditional fit?” I’ll take the second option every single time. Kate has a facility with the language and the text and a willingness to try things that trumped any concerns that people might have with a woman playing that part.

Going forward, some gender reverse casting would not only be an easy transition, but in some cases, it would make a lot of sense. A character such as Doctor Who‘s doctor, a Time Lord who has the ability to regenerate as any species or gender, is still regenerating as a while male—or a certain British spy, who likes martinis shaken not stirred. It’s 2015, and I would certainly welcome a female Doctor or a Jane Bond.

(image via Embrace Theater)

Ezekiel McAdams is a freelance writer, and just finished his first novel, a YA fantasy fiction. When Ezekiel isn’t writing, he can usually be seen eating pie, gushing about Mars or cows, and being an obscure geek in all things Zak McKracken, Earthworm Jim, Bucky O’Hare, Sliders, and Over the Garden Wall. Ezekiel can be reached on Twitter @PocketFullOFish.

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