A recent article by Holly L. Derr on Howlround.com , entitled, “Playing Shakespeare’s Men,” felt particularly relevant to me. As a female actor in Boston University’s Theater Arts program, a program exceedingly girl-heavy, I have seen my same- sex class-mates perform male roles in several Femme Shakes shows. Additionally, I had the experience last year of playing a male role- Danny from John Patrick Shanley‘s “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.”
In fact, I had always thought of myself as an actor who could easily bridge the gap between male and female roles. I attribute this to my athleticism. Growing up I was a competitive gymnast and always had more muscle tone, strength and stamina than most of the girls my height and weight. I was also a bit of a tom boy and enjoyed the attention I got from being the only girl in rugby club.
However, my experience playing Danny enlightened me to the fact that being strong and athletic did not make me masculine. It didn’t even do much in the way of helping me understand a masculine physicality.
Using the images of Danny’s hands as hunks of tender, raw meet, consciously limiting my flexibility and spreading out my limbs I began to understand a more masculine physicality that was also representative of Danny’s personal history. This experience was invaluable. However, I long to play a character with a similar impulse towards physical violence without having to focus so much of my energy towards compromising my natural femininity.
Unlike within the theater community at BU, the girls make up the minority within the stage combat community. Stage combat training has proven to be an incredible outlet for my athleticism. It has also introduced me to some of the roles available for armed women like Thomas Dekker’s Jacobean play, “Roaring Girl.”
Stage combat photographer, Craig Lawrence, of Fight Guy Photography embarked on a photography project entitled,”Sucker Punched.” For this series of studio photographs, several female stage combatants posed with weapons, looking fierce, strong, and powerful, as well as sexy and feminine.
It seams that every year there is a new blockbuster movie featuring a sexy female spy, super hero, or villain who performs incredible physical feats and beats up all the guys who try to tame them. My question is, why is no one writing such parts for the stage? Quentin Terantino‘s “Kill Bill Volume 2″ features several katana battles that could be easily transplanted into a live theater environment. With a couple of skilled female actor combatants such a theatrical even could prove to be an epic celebration of female strength and technical ability.
People love sword fights. They’re one of the greatest draws of renaissance fairs. Swordplay is an effective way to organically incorporate spectacle into the theatrical unfolding of a narrative. Stage violence is also an effective way to clearly define a character’s objective and raise the stakes of a play. Playwrights need to write more modern plays with opportunities for both women and men to swing blades at one another. If such violence is so popular on the silver screen, why wouldn’t it succeed in live theater?