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Forming Female Bonds, Performing the Bard

By Kelly A.E. Mason

The fact that the cast of the Loeb Experimental Theater's production of Shakespeare's As You Like It is single sex is not unique. For centuries, all the Bard's works were performed by men and boys.

But this show this version of the cross-dressing comedy is uniquely all-female.

The play, which opened last week, also has a female director, Jenny Lyn Bader, and two female producers, Anne Langston and Roberta Kellman. In a reversal of traditional casting, it features 14 women players in the 27 male and female roles.

"There really is a special energy in an all female cast," Bader says. "Rehearsal has been a very exciting process."

Bader says the idea first occurred to Langston and her when they were discussing the limited opportunities for women in Harvard theater.

"One desire we always shared was a desire to do an all female Shakespeare. The casts were all male in the Renaissance," Bader says.

But the show's unusual casting caused some challenges. Naturally, says Bader, the women had to work a little harder on their male characterizations. But cast members say they never expected it to be easy.

"I expected it to be difficult because a lot of our movement, a lot of our gestures, are innately feminine," says cast member Inger Tudor, who plays Jacques.

Bader says she realized even before rehearsals began that the male characterizations would be challenging. She says she told the actresses to watch men, note their movements and speech patterns. The actresses became so adept at it, says Bader, that they could almost impeccably imitate men on the streets, or undergraduate males who interrupted rehearsals.

The women cast as men in As You Like It also had a few problems with the Renaissance songs featured in the play, says musical director Vanessa Lann.

"We had to work to keep our voices lower than we would normally," Lann says.

Though some of the women had to struggle with a few aspects of cross-sexual characterizations, many of them agree there are certain advantages in a cast of women.

"A lot of the gender issues were very clear to us because we were an all-female cast," Bader says.

Tudor says that she felt the stage interaction and relationships came more easily for the women.

"I'm kind of biased, but I think there's a natural sisterhood in having an all female cast," she says. "I think it makes the relationship on stage flow better, because that sisterhood and commonality is already there."

Bader also says she thinks the cast formed bonds that helped the production. She says she thinks Shakespeare's works involve some community issues, and Renaissance troupes had a sense of closeness that improved their presentation of his works.

Lann also speaks very favorably of working with a cast of women, though she says she is not sure how that is reflected in the work.

"The comments I have deal more with the philosophical aspects of production," she says.

But Bader says she shies away from a philosophical definition of her work.

"I get really hostile when people say, 'Oh, you're not doing anything about Shakespeare, you're doing something about feminism,'" she says. "I'm a director who works with the text."

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