Pop-Up Globe criticism: No one would perform a minstrel show because it's 'historically accurate'

A senior theatre lecturer says claiming some Pop-Up Globe shows have all-male casts because it's "historically accurate" isn't correct.

Back for its second season, the replica of Shakespeare's famous theatre is returning to Auckland. Shows begin next month.

The roof at the Ellerslie Racecourse theatre is due to be lifted in place in two weeks.

Organisers have said one of the companies in the acting ensemble is all-male. The second company has male and female actors.

Several women involved in Auckland's theatre scene have accused the organisers of sexism, saying all-male casts aren't a necessity and take jobs from female actors.

Lori Leigh, who lectures at Victoria University of Wellington and has written a book on female characters in Shakespearean plays, has questioned the company's need to exclusively cast men.

"Before casting merely four women in a company of 29 actors I would be asking myself seriously what I was doing and if the benefits of it outweighed the consequences."

She questioned how anyone could think it was "worth taking women off the payroll, being sexist, offending, continuing to tell stories and history through a male lens, taking away ownership from women".

"It's unacceptable in other forms of theatre. No one would perform a minstrel show in blackface because it's 'historically accurate'."

The misogyny she saw in this decision, though unintentional, was not justified by history because the claims the company made about all-male casting were not entirely accurate, Leigh said.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare performed at the pop-Up Globe Theatre in Auckland. Photo / Supplied
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare performed at the pop-Up Globe Theatre in Auckland. Photo / Supplied

"There is a lot of evidence to prove that no men at all played women in Shakespeare's plays.

"It was probably boys - around 16 or 17 with categorical differences socially and psychosexually to men.

"Clearly here 'historical accuracy' is picking and choosing."

Pop-up Globe director Tobias Grant has said in the age of Shakespeare and the 44 years after his death until 1660 it was illegal for women to perform on the public stage in England.

"This is not factual," Leigh said.

"No, women did not perform on the professional public stage in England, but it was not illegal. Women performed throughout England in other capacities and actresses were commonplace on the European stages."

Leigh said despite her criticism she thought New Zealand was fortunate to have a venture like the Pop-Up Globe and the opportunities it brought to local artists.

"It's amazing that this company brings professional Shakespeare productions to the masses and employs lots of artists - including directors, designers, musicians [and] production staff."

The idea of all male or all female casts had the potential to be subversive and artistically interesting if used well, Leigh said.

"Shakespeare, of course, begs us to play with gender - just as he did in his plays. Cross-dressing and usurpation of stereotypical gender roles abound in his works."

- NZ Herald

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