3 – 6 March 2015 At Omnibus, Clapham Common, London
Our first production was King Lear, one of the main things we wanted to explore with this is in terms of how to do it differently is “how to be an actor”.
Many of the actors in the group have trained professionally, all of them take acting seriously. They want to develop creatively and be challenged to go further in performance than just learning lines and not bumping into the furniture. Conventional ‘am-dram’ has many benefits but often lacks support for actors looking to develop creatively. A professional career often also lacks this but comes with both psychological and financial penalties for many who give it a go. The Alternatives looks to find a middle way where actors can work creatively ‘to the max’ without damaging themselves and their ability to earn a living.
The second thing we want to do differently is our approach to existing plays – exciting, politically motivated theatre that seeks to create social and cultural change doesn’t have to be new writing or devised work. There is a place for re-looking at the existing works that form part of the core cultural heritage of the country. These works are fed upon by other writers,they are used as star vehicles by national companies (creating media coverage of the central role and an assumption that they are understood by the general population).
Our production of King Lear was directed by Julie Weston as part of RSC Open Stages and also as part of her MA thesis submission for Shakespeare studies at the Shakespeare Institute. The casting was not exactly gender-blind but gender-changed. These were not random choices made in the dark. There is a purpose to having King Lear, the fool, Kent and Edgar as women, along with the three daughters retaining their female sex. The context was the late thirties. A time of social change, where the cracks are beginning to show and the chaos and madness of war is waiting in the wings. Women’s roles have subtly changed in society since emancipation in 1928. The division of land is relevant. One of the central themes of Lear is the journey from power, to chaos, to redemption. Relevant to the context, relevant to today.
This production looked to adjust the embedded cultural meme and subvert its ongoing endorsement of patriarchy and privilege. Major cultural works such as King Lear are taught in schools and universities, their central themes are referenced in commentaries on family, politics and society. The central characters tend to be male and privileged. The female characters few, often feisty but often either reconciled and/or subdued to the ‘norm’ by the end of the play. We think by changing the way the play is cast by substituting women for men in key roles – that is women playing the roles as women (not a lot of hokey cross-dressing) we can subvert that embedded meme – get people to start seeing the archetypes as equally female as male – that power can rest with women as much as with men. That the trials and tribulations that make the hero are equally doable by women as by men. Without this subversion the process of change – from the outside fringes towards the solid rock core of ‘status-quo’ – will be a work of slow attrition. We aim to work on the cracks and split this thing wide open!