This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with working Shakespeareans, how they got started in the field, and their ongoing interests. This month, I spoke with Lisa Wolpe, actress, director, teacher and producer, and the Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company. In September, Lisa just finished an astonishing run as Hamlet.
1. Why an all-female troupe?
I look at myself, psychologically, politically and spiritually, through Shakespeare’s texts. Shakespeare’s all-male company of actors played both the male and the female characters. I cross gender and play the male roles.
In my work, I am allowed to follow these hugely human, sublimely spiritual stories, and accelerate my soul’s evolution through the inspiration and intellectual excitement that comes from Shakespeare’s plays. I have played Romeo, Hamlet, Angelo, Richard III, Leontes, Henry V, and many other male characters that are attempting to locate themselves in the world order in terms of what their purpose is, their Personal Legend, their legacy. Mine, I thought, was empowering women and girls through exploring all-female Shakespeare – and to experience the thrill of playing the great roles myself, and try to embody the power of their genius.
2. Shakespeare used boys for female roles. Are you, in some sense, closer to the text by using just one gender?
We are perhaps closer to the parts that reference gender-play, which are myriad.
3. Have you seen all-male casts– Check By Jowl, for example? Reaction?
I have seen Mark Rylance and the Globe casts, enjoyed R&J, always fascinating to watch the interplay of men and the shades of gender they explore. There are, however, so many men dominating the stage already, especially in the world of Shakespeare, that I it feels a bit less political than our work.
4. How long does it take for audiences to settle into the cross-dressing?
Most people agree that it takes about five minutes to adjust to the cross-dressing.
5. Swordplay and women… sexy?
Swordplay by women is sexy, yes, and powerful because if the women are adept it creates an equally adept and watchable Shakespeare performance as in male swordplay – but then you have to consider how little rehearsal an actress gets with weapons as opposed to a male colleague… there are simply less opportunities for women, so if we rock it, we are actually creating the new normal for audience expectations.
6. Sarah Bernhardt played Hamlet. Do you feel like you are part of a tradition?
O, yes, absolutely! Many wonderful actresses, the most famous actresses in the world, have played Hamlet.
7. Did Shakespeare like women?
I think Shakespeare was written by a woman – Mary Sidney – or at least great swaths of it. I think there are fabulous roles for women in Shakespeare, better text given to women than any other playwright before or since!
8. What the best review you ever received?
Many of my reviews are absolutely superlative.
9. And the worst?
This week’s axe to the heart was the critical view that I looked like Martin Short onstage.
10. Advice for young actresses?
I commend you all for your courageous journeys and wish you all good fortune!
As always, if you have something odd or unfamiliar to share or promote, drop me, Jeffrey Kahan, a line at Vortiger@hotmail.com, subject line: The Blotted Line.