All-female Vancouver cast no ‘gimmick’

By Laura Murray

Alexis Kellum–Creer as Hermione (right) and Miranda Clarke as Prince Mamillius (l), in an all-female production of The Winter’s Tale. 
(Gaelan Beatty)

Alexis Kellum–Creer as Hermione (right) and Miranda Clarke as Prince Mamillius (l), in an all-female production of The Winter’s Tale. (Gaelan Beatty)

As artistic director of Classic Chic Productions — Vancouver’s newest presenter of classical theatre — Christina Wells Campbell feels strongly that all-female Shakespearean productions have a distinct place in our culture and invites audiences to think differently about cross-gender casting.

I catch Wells Campbell by phone on her night off from rehearsal. Her all-woman gender-bending ensemble, possibly the only one of its kind in Canada, is in preparation for the company’s inaugural production of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, opening Saturday through Aug. 9 at PAL Studio Theatre.

The candid discussion quickly turned into a talk about the lack of significant roles for women in the western canon.

“There are probably four times the number of women in theatre than there are men, and half the number of roles for them – and the classics are even worse,” she said. “As an actor you want to explore the full range of humanity.”

Having coveted her male classmates’ meatier roles during theatre school at Simon Fraser University, Wells Campbell wanted to produce classical work that would allow women the chance to perform something more substantial than the frilly love interest.

“I wanted to expand my craft,” she said. “I love the classics and yet there are so many roles I don’t have access to because the really great roles are the guys roles. It felt like there needed to be more opportunities for women.”

Not one to shy away from challenging traditional gender and performance expectations, director of The Winter’s Tale Lisa Wolpe, of the celebrated all-female Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company, was sought out to direct Classic Chic’s debut production. A seasoned actor and director with more than 20 years of experience, Wolpe has tackled some of the Bard’s most famous characters, including Richard III, Romeo, Shylock, and Iago to critical acclaim.

“[Wolpe] has given us a lot of the actual physicality of how you embody a man – how you hold your hands, how you claim your space, how you hold a cup. It has been really fascinating,” she said. “Wolpe is a real master craftsman.”

Plush with gritty, powerful roles for the all-woman ensemble to personify, Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is an epic story of love, loss and reconciliation.

“You arrive at the end of the play and you really feel you have been through a catharsis – even though it ends on hope,” Wells Campbell said. “There is high comedy, high tragedy and romance weaves in and through it.”

She stops momentarily before finishing her thought: “I hope people forget the ‘gimmick’ of it being women inhabiting these characters and they just get involved in the story. I hope they leave saying that was a fantastic play. I went somewhere.”

For tickets and information, visit: classicchic.ca.

Laura Murray trained in classical ballet for more than 18 years and is the principal of Laura Murray PR, an arts and culture marketing agency in Vancouver.


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