Sunday, March 3, 2019

March is SWAN'S Month!


Because Shakespeare wrote about
the human condition. #whyIswan
Every Sunday this March, we will be highlighting the female actors throughout history that were the first to speak, love, mourn, battle, and die in Shakespeare traditionally male roles, paving the way for the women of today. 

Why this month? 

Excellent question. The 30th of March is Swan Day (Support Women Artists Now), an annual international celebration of women's creativity and gender parity activism lead by StateraArts. We at Nebraska Shakespeare are very fond of Swans** and supporting women, so we are going to celebrate all month long.

For our first #SWANSUNDAY, we will be featuring FEMALE HAMLETS! 

“Frailty thy name is woman.”-Hamlet Act 1 Scene 2

Ummm, sorry Shakespeare, Fierce women have been playing this infamous role for the past 275 years. A lot of female actors have take on Shakespeare's largest (and arguably best role), and today we are going to present:
Five Fabulous Female Hamlets in History!


Although no renderings exist of the performer, the first female Hamlet was record in Dublin in 1741. Elizabeth “Fanny” Furival played the Dane in Smock Alley Theatre. We have no image of Fanny (sadly) in the role, but we do have a photo of the Smock Alley Theatre. I know, right? Isn't this exactly what you thought the first theatre with a female hamlet would look like?  Yeah, me too.

Sarah Siddons played Hamlet for the first time in Birmingham in 1776, then went on to play the role 9 times in the next 30 years (starring in the role until she was 50 years old.) Most notably, Siddons played the role without breeches (i.e. pants), which further complicated the gender of the character for the audience. Neither conventionally male nor female, Siddons instead seemed to explore the gender fluidity of the character. #aheadofhertime (Note: This painting is not of Siddons playing the role of Hamlet. It is a painting called "Mrs Siddons with the Emblems of Tragedy." It hangs in London's National Portrait Gallery and is most likely a representation of her performance as Lady Macbeth, but I think it smacks of Hamlet as well.)

Sarah Bernhardt
In 1899, the first female Hamlet graced the big screen. Sarah Bernhardt played the role on stage in France, London, and Stratford before becoming the first female Hamlet on film. (A new play by Theresa Rebeck, Bernhardt/Hamlet premiered at New York's Roundabout Theatre Company in 2018. Bernhardt, played by Janet McTeer, portrays the famous actor facing a transitional moment in gender politics.)
Bernhardt/Hamlet by Theresa Rebeck

Check out this production.
The photos and video are STUNNING.
In 2015, at the The Wilma's Theatre in Philidelphia, British-African actress Zainab Jah, was the first black woman on record to have ever played the Prince of Denmark. Ironically, the first production of Hamlet (outside Europe) took place in 1607 on board a ship called The Red Dragon, anchored off the coast of Sierra Leone. Jah discovered during the rehearsal process that four of her ancestors, tribal chiefs in West Africa, witnessed this very performance. 

Ok, so it was (very) hard to narrow this list down to just 5 women, so here we include two standout female performances of the past 5 years. 
5a.) Maxine Peake (a popular, critically acclaimed British actor) took on the role for Manchester's Royal Exchange in 2014.  The production was filmed and released in 2015. Peake's blood covered "To be, or not to be" was an especially big hit with audiences.

5b.) In 2018, Ruth Negga, played Hamlet in Dublin, where the female Hamlet tradition began. (Remember Fanny? #scrollup) The play/adaptation was produced by The Gate Theatre and Negga's Hamlet was reported to be “a fascinating mix of male and female.”

Check back next #SWANSUNDAY, 
when we continue this celebration of female actors. 

**In 2016, Nebraska Shakespeare launched Juno's Swans, an all-female ensemble that explores Shakespeare’s characters and text through the feminine experience and perspective. This program has presented staged readings of The Taming of the Shrew, Richard III, and Julius Caesar. This summer the Swans are presenting All's Well That Ends Well at Shakespeare On The Green.  Nebraska Shakespeare is thrilled to bring this program to a larger audience this summer.

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