When the movie interpretation of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michelet Schönberg’s Les Miserables musical came out in 2012, I immediately fell in love. For me, I really identified with “les garҫons de la revolution,” and I took great care to learn their parts.
More recently, Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton has peaked my interest, probably because it takes a time period in history and puts it to song. For me, that’s the recipe for a perfect musical. And many would agree, yet the musical has raised its own controversy due to casting coloured males in every leading role except for King George. The argument against the action is that the actual people were not black, but the stage is the perfect place to start a cultural revolution.
In an interview with Emma Watson for the HeforShe campaign, Watson and Miranda discussed the idea of not just racially blind casting but also gender blind casting. I loved the idea that a female could be cast as Hamilton. And as I did more research, I realized that the concept of cross-gender acting is actually more common than I originally thought.
Historically, cross-gender acting was the result of misogynistic social policy. In Ancient Greece and Renaissance Europe, there was an unwritten agreement that the stage wasn’t the place for a women. It wasn’t until the mid 1600s that the first women players were permitted to act. From there, it became nearly impossible for women to escape gender casting.
When cross gender acting for women came into play, it was usually in child roles, where the actors would have to have higher pitched voices and shorter statures. The most iconic and almost traditionally cross-gender cast role is for the boy who never grows up — Peter Pan.
By a variety of conditions in past productions, it has become almost an expectation for Peter Pan to be cast as a woman. Even NBC’s recent live production of Peter Pan cast a woman for the leading role, and at this point, no one questions it. So why can’t that be the case for other productions?
There is a multitude of leading roles on Broadway that have missed out on a whole world of interpretation because of strict gender casting. I would love to see a female Jean Valjean or an incredibly strong, gender defying Phantom.
Like I said, the stage is the perfect place to start a cultural revolution. If we can cast women in strong, usually male affiliated roles, it may become more socially accepted that women are just as strong and independent as men.