YORK Shakespeare Project will use an all-female cast in one of next year’s two shows and is now seeking to recruit a director. Male or female.
“We’ve not prescribed either a play or a venue,” says chairman Maurice Crichton. “Applicants can choose from all but three of the remaining plays in our project to present all Shakespeare’s works: Timon Of Athens, Henry V, King Lear, Pericles, Coriolanus, Henry VIII, Macbeth, The Two Noble Kinsmen and Antony and Cleopatra.”
No jokes, please, about Henrietta V, Queen Lear; Henrietta VIII, Macbethany, The Two Noble Kinswomen or Antonia And Cleopatra. The titles would remain the same.
Bear in mind, too, that from September 11, Maxine Peake is to play Hamlet in a “radical re-imagining” of the Danish prince at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre this autumn. Or maybe you saw the Smooth Faced Gentlemen’s stab at Titus Andronicus at York Theatre Royal’s TakeOver Festival last October, their faces so smooth that they were in fact all women.
“This is going to be an interesting evolving story,” says Maurice.
“For the moment, we simply want to try to recruit the best person possible to lead the show by spreading the word to ensure we attract as many strong applications as possible.”
The committee’s decision was prompted by a motion by former YSP chairman Councillor Janet Looker at last October’s annual general meeting, proposing that “the executive committee will take steps to ensure one of the remaining plays is performed by an all-female cast”.
“Even a brief examination of the casting for the 25 plays YSP has done so far shows that the acting opportunities offered to women have been far fewer than to men,” says Maurice.
“To be fair to YSP, this is an imbalance we have inherited from Shakespeare who wrote far fewer parts for women than for men – the ratio is something like one to five – and of course his plays were written to be performed exclusively by men. While some cross-casting has happened, the imbalance is very marked.”
The motion was carried by a big majority: 18 for, two against, four abstentions. “The committee duly decided to carry through the proposal at the earliest opportunity, in 2015, as Twelfth Night and All’s Well That Ends Well were already under way,” says Maurice.
“Up to now, YSP has roughly followed the chronology of Shakespeare’s plays but we’ve opened up the choice of play for the all-female cast to all the plays still to be done, except the three late Romances. This is partly to demonstrate an unstinting approach to the all-female cast idea – the slightly daunting Timon Of Athens was next in line – but more to give that idea the chance to find its best match in choice of play.”
The committee hopes the upcoming production will demonstrate that greater risks can be taken in casting for the rest of the YSP project.
“There’ll also be time to repeat the all-female cast idea, if we want to, before we’ve done all the plays,” says Maurice.
“YSP is constituted ‘to advance the education of the people of York in the dramatic arts and to promote public knowledge of the plays of William Shakespeare, and while this all-female experiment may not perhaps be to everyone’s taste, it will give us all plenty to think about and will harness and celebrate some much underused acting talent. ”
Next year’s summer production will be on dates to be agreed between May and July.
If Henry V is chosen for the female cast, it will be staged in October 2015 to coincide with the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.
The all-female rule will apply only to the cast; members of the production team, including the director, can be men or women.
Applications for the director’s post must be submitted by August 18 this summer by email to firstname.lastname@example.org and any queries may be directed to this address too.
“You should include a CV and, on one side of A4, your reasons for your choice of play and your ideas for it,” says Maurice.
“An information pack is available to assist you in preparing your application. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to an interview in York on September 11 or 12.”