All-Female Hamlet? Why?

I have been asked a curious question more than a few times, “Why an all-female version of Hamlet?”

All-female Shakespeare is not as novel as I once thought several years ago when staging Hamlet came to my mind. I definitely thought someone should do it, but I never thought that it would be I. Recent all-female Shakespeare productions elsewhere in the world have had mixed reception. In 2017 The Silicon Valley Shakespeare Company produced an all-female Hamlet. And there has been a lot of talk recently about Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female production of Julius Caesar from 2018 which was released in the US this past March.

Now, before auditions have been held for the OISS production, I’ve already witnessed mixed emotions being voiced. I will not engage in a debate, as anyone who wishes to deride an artist in process is not worth time or energy. So, I’m only going to address this question once publicly in this brief article. For those who are curious, I’ll give a simple answer and then, if that isn’t clear enough, a more expansive one to attempt to describe my own curiosity.

Simple answer: 
Artistic choice. Why did Michael-Angelo carve David using marble instead of granite? Was he prejudiced against granite? Enough said.

Expansive answer:
In Shakespeare’s London, only men were players, playing both male and female roles. It was not exclusive to Shakespeare; this was the way of Elizabethan and Jacobean theater. Women were not allowed to perform on a public stage so boys and younger men typically played female roles. (The first woman to take the stage did so in 1660.) Shakespeare, mostly in his comedies, also introduced a lot of role-playing, cross-dressing pretenders, perhaps to test their suitor’s intentions, a lover’s fidelity or someone’s loyalty, plays within plays, etc. So, boys were dressed as girls, who then pretended to be boys to woo girls. It’s gets confusing and, frankly, it can be hilarious. Knowing the actor is male can add to the humor. In his tragedies, although Shakespeare interjects comic relief, the drama follows relationship arcs of more serious emotions and topics – typically revenge fueled by fear, jealousy, envy, and lust. The actors would clearly enact their scenes less comically.

Now, I have a curiosity that will be sated with this production and it comes down to this hypothesis: Suppose, in the multiverse, there is an alternate history of 16th-century London, identical in almost every way to the one our historians have narrated for us, except for one thing: only women were allowed to be actors on a public stage. How will women enact The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark? How will a woman (the actor) infuse a usurping and murderous king’s speech with her feminine energy and persona? How will a woman play a protective and vengeful “brother” to “his” emotionally abused, unhinged, and finally lifeless sister? How will a female Hamlet portray the “son” of a king murdered by Hamlet’s own uncle, or convey the disgust of “his” mother’s lust when the ghost of “his” father discloses her infidelity when he was still alive, not to mention “his” mother’s remarriage to “his” uncle after the King’s death . . . these are just a few of the complex relationships and it fascinates me to the core.

In my production, there is no gender or pronoun changes, and the actors will not have to wear false beards, cut their hair, or disguise themselves to appear as men. It is enough that we will have Shakespeare’s brilliant text, conveyed by a cast of dedicated female actors, and of course, costumes and a set that will make the audience forget about the gender of the actors. Shakespeare gives us words and invitations to action. With my vision as direction, the cast will journey through the synergistic co-creation of a narrative using female energy and their dramatic choices to bring a unique and fresh perspective on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I challenge you to be a part of the cast, crew or audience. We’re all in this together: after all, the Globe Theater’s motto is “totus mundus agit histrionem,” “the whole world plays the actor.

The director, and your humble Orcas Island servant,
Michael Armenia