VANCOUVER – Back in the Bard’s day, men snagged all of the roles at the famed Globe Theatre, including those written for women. In fact, females weren’t allowed on the stage at all, often making for a hilarious farce of bearded men playing less attractive female characters – like the witches in Macbeth – or feminizing actors to play attractive parts like that of Cleopatra.
Christina Wells-Campbell, a Surrey resident and longtime actor and director, is turning that on its head with her new theatre group, Classic Chic Productions.
The venture brings together all-female casts for productions of classic Shakespeare works, a twist on the patriarchal traditions of yore.
“It came about because there were roles that I wanted to play and that I was never going to be able to play as a woman,” Wells-Campbell told the Now. “There are roles that I think that are written for men, but that explore questions of being a human being that aren’t often written for women, at least from the classics. I wanted the opportunity to explore that.”
Classic Chic recently presented The Winter’s Tale, which ran nightly at Vancouver’s PAL theatre from July 26 to Aug. 9. The cast included 21 female actors, playing both male and female roles.
“There are so many more women actors around than there are men, and there’s so many more roles for men than there are for women and that means that we don’t get to practice our craft,” Wells-Campbell admitted earnestly. “Often, we don’t have access to those roles that really explore the full range of our humanity – that’s what it stemmed from.”
The Winter’s Tale was Classic Chic’s first production, and many of the shows were sold-out over the course of its run. So far, the company’s artistic director has been happy with the outcome. And while it might seem a tad ironic to be presenting the play in the midst of summer, Wells-Campbell and crew felt that The Winter’s Tale was a good fit for the group’s inaugural production.
“We’ve been getting some good reviews and the audience seems to be enjoying themselves,” she said during the run. “(The Winter’s Tale) really takes you on a big journey. At the end, you feel like you’ve been to a Hamlet or a Lear where there’s a lot of dead bodies but it leaves you with a lot of hope. It really takes you places.”
While the road ahead for Classic Chic and women playing Shakespeare looks good, Wells-Campbell doesn’t want all of the group’s productions to be marked by the perceived irony. “My hope is we’re able to move beyond the gimmick of it, I think that people can just come and enjoy the story and forget that it’s a woman playing a man. I don’t want that to matter in the end,” she said.