Yesterday, the Pop-Up Globe announced their new season of work, with #metoo and #timesup hashtags flying wild in their marketing. Penny Ashton responds.
“Scarce can I speak, my choler is so great: O, I could hew up rocks and fight with flint,
I am so angry.”
Just like York in Shakespeare’s Henry VI right now I am furious. Like really. Fucking. Furious.
So furious that I am swearing like a drunken porter at the beginning of a literary piece and my English teacher will no doubt have her head in her hands but I just don’t care. My choler is so great right now I can hew up some rocks and propel them into outer space.
And why? Well you see the Pop-Up Globe has released their branding for 2018-2019. So far so what, indeed, but it’s their inclusion of a few zeitgeisty hashtags (#metoo #timesup, specifically) in their press release that has my bile brimming.
But let’s start at the very beginning.
For those in the don’t know, Miles Gregory of the Pop-Up Globe is actually a pretty amazing visionary chap. Such is his love of the Bard that he risked a lot to start the Pop-Up Globe back in 2016 and to put it mildly, New Zealand then Australia went bonkers for it. They had huge numbers through, all soaking up the pantaloons, the Elizabethan tongue twisters and the cross-dressing. It was incredibly successful, and the Globe should feel rightly proud of what they has achieved. Genuinely.
However! In the cast of the official shows of the 2016 season there were 13 men and only three women. Then to compound further, in 2017 in a company of 30 actors, there were only four women. At this point one has to wonder if Dr Miles Gregory is scared of the ladies. Does he lie awake at night tossing and turning in fear that Jennifer Ward-Lealand will jump up from the shadows screaming ‘Out out damned spot’ then stab him in his sticking place?
This oestrogen deficiency was defended at the time, as ladies did protest quite much, by the Globe saying they were wishing to recreate the authenticity of Shakespearean times – you know, a time when women were banished from the stage. On that I call bullshit. If the producers rode to work on a donkey, treated strep throat with some ‘eye of newt’ and couriered their press releases by pigeon, then I’d commend their authenticity. But you know what has moved on in the last four hundred odd years along with technology? Women’s rights.
Harking back to the era where women couldn’t vote, were categorised as their husband’s chattels and tampons were but an outlandish dream is incredibly offensive to female actors everywhere. We are already fighting for way less roles, and so to use historical oppression as an excuse for some fun modern oppression, well that can fuck right off. And thanks so very much for reminding us.
And I am not saying that gender fluid casting and single gendered casts doesn’t throw up some interesting theatrical dynamics. But hey, here’s an idea: let’s try an all-lady one.
“Oh, but we did I hear!”, the PUG cries. And yes, to their credit, in the 2018 season there was an all-female (plus two fabulous sword bearing dudes) production. This was staged, even though in an interview with the Pantograph Punch, Gregory essentially suggested he did not think all-women casts would be as commercially viable. So how did they prove that women could do it just as well?
They chose that well known crowd pleaser Julius Caesar. Oh, and just to really help with the sales it was only ever played on a Monday and Tuesday night. I saw this production and really enjoyed it. Julia Caesar wore a white pant suit and declared, “There is a tide in the affairs of women” which appropriately evoked #metoo and #timesup. They then slung more blood around the stage than a girl’s boarding school at peak hormonal alignment. It was glorious, though I did worry about the groundlings lady in her white dress.
But that dream of gender equality was just a walking shadow, one single production that strutted its two-ish hours upon the stage only to be snuffed out by today’s press release. You see, for the 2018-2019 season we have returned to status-bro. Two all-male companies and two mixed companies will deliver us four new Shakespeares. Women are banished yet again, leaving all those schoolgirls looking for some feisty realistic lady role models high and dry.
And ultimately, however messed up, you could say that is the Globe’s right. I mean, they all but extinguished Auckland University’s 50-plus year history of Summer Shakespeare and have monopolised the bard in the 09 with their own blinkered vision, but Dr Gregory has created a hugely successful brand that many people have embraced, and also a top-notch beer garden with nice twinkly lights. They do not get council funding (anymore) so Phil Goff can’t make them do anything and generally they can get on with PUG life.
But then something happened that made my blood boileth over.
In their press release yesterday headlined Pop-up Globe Announces Most Controversial Season Yet, in a season, aptly called The Abuse of Power, Dr Miles Gregory says: “the forthcoming season will shine a light on the parallels between stories occupying society today, and the abuse of power present in a number of Shakespeare’s plays. In the age of Weinstein, #metoo and #timesup, it feels entirely right for us to reflect current conversations in the world through ambitious and thought-provoking programming.”
I tell you what Dr Gregory, utilising a global movement which at its core is about women being subjugated, marginalised and diminished to promote your male heavy fiesta feels pretty much entirely wrong to me. Simultaneously evoking a tidal wave in the affairs of women whilst erasing them from the stage shows a tone-deaf audacity of Trumpian proportions. To use the sexual predation and assault of women as a pithy by-line is beyond vile. In one breath they call The Taming of the Shrew Shakespeare’s proto-feminist piece, but then tell us that this feminism will be best delivered by an ALL-MALE cast. Guess we ladies might just get a bit angry, strident and shrill. Y’know, like I AM RIGHT FUCKING NOW!
What’s next, an all male Vagina Monologues?
The Globe is obviously courting controversy with this strategy as evidenced by their headline, and I guess it would be better if we just ignored it, but I and so many other actresses are so goddam tired of turning the other cheek. So goddam tired of repeating ourselves and so goddam tired of being ignored except when it’s to have our breasts ogled or arses grabbed, that it’s little wonder none of us get cast after 45 because we all look so goddam tired.
So here’s my hot take. Cast who you want, just do not ever trade in women’s pain to promote it, do not ever trade in historical women’s exclusion to justify it and do not look surprised nor act hurt when we call that shit out.
And finally, though this lady still doth protest very much, we actually do all wish the Globe success. You have hired hundreds of our friends who are fabulous actors and deserve all the successes they get, you bring joy to thousands and your vision is extraordinary. But for the love of the goddess just remember;
“From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain, and nourish all the world.”
—Berowne in Love’s Labor’s Lost
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The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.