The lovely people at the RSC have asked me to write a blog, of which you lovely people are now reading the first entry. And erm, yeah, here we go! So, gender seems like an unavoidable topic to write about.
I’ve always wanted to play Mercutio. I’ve never really felt like I’m a ‘Juliet’ (whatever that means?) and always wondered why the lads get the best parts, so when this audition came through I nearly fell over. And when I got the call to say I’d got the part? Well…I mean, I auditioned four times for this job. I worked hard, got it fair and square and yet, every day since, I’ve had to actively remind myself that I deserve to be here.
And look, perhaps that’s just a public admission of my low self-esteem, but I can’t help but feel like it’s gendered.
I’ve been cast as my favourite ever Shakespeare part. Just as I’m coming into my own skin as a woman. Just as misogyny truly bubbles and boils over into a seething #MeToo animal cry. Just as my sister is about to give birth to a baby girl (please god, let it all stop before she enters the world). I get the call saying I’ve got the part and I don’t really believe it until suddenly it’s Day One of rehearsals and we’re sat round reading The Script and Oh Shit, this is Actually Happening, it’s Happening?! And it takes me at least two full weeks to realise it’s not a joke, they’re not going to very politely apologise, offer to pay my bus fare, and sadly inform me they’ve changed their mind. I wake up pinching myself every morning. This is The Best Job In The World (yes! get in!) and yet there’s that fear creeping in like mould. My mate says our fear's a f***in’ liar, but I still think it’s terribly convincing.
What is the fear? The same one as always. The female fear - that I’m Too Much or Not Enough (sigh). Constantly checking ourselves is exhausting, ain't it ladies?! I mean, sigh, I’m tired of it. Yo-yo-ing between Too Much and Not Enough? Too Much, Not Enough, Too Much, Not Enough, to by the time we actually get the scene on its feet it’s a relief. The hot sticky streets of Verona are a welcome escape from cold rainy grey London. I mean, it ain't perfect, there’s patriarchy there too, but at least the lines are better. The language. Oh, the language! How can you not fall in love? My taste buds are having a rave up tripping over poetry written hundreds of years ago that still speaks of today, of right here, right now.
The language is the key into it for me (just say the words charlie darlin’, just stand there and say ‘em, and summink will happen), it’s all there on the page, like a map you’ve just got to follow. And suddenly you forget that you’re not really allowed to do this. That you’re meant to be pretty, and passive, and polite. Suddenly the words seem more important than those unwritten rules of gender-related responsibility, seem more important that all of that, than all of us, than my yo-yo-ing fears. I mean, Mercutio? She dances all over my fears. She rips them out of my belly and cuts ‘em down to size. She is never Not Enough, she’s always Too Much, and she gives Zero F***s about what you think of her taking up All The Space and painting the world with her words. Thank god for the words, they seem to take us somewhere else.
They took us to Stratford yeah, for the day last week (school trip wheeeeey!) and let us on the stage (why do I keep saying “let us”?). They let us have a go speaking some of our text (still surprised I’ve been given permission?) and so suddenly we’re there, on the RST stage. And it’s BIG. And it’s BEAUTIFUL. And I get that I-Want-To-Be-An-Actor-When-I-Grow-Up feeling and then suddenly remember that I am, that I’m here. I’m here, feeling my body work, feeling from somewhere belly-deep, right in the cave of me, something pushes these words that I’m not supposed to be allowed to say out into the air. And I’m there. Vibrating with the size of it. The passion.
This month’s had two full moons. Big blood blue shining bright. Got us gasping in awe and wonder at it. At the size of it. These expansive ideas, this massive language, these huge acts of fear and love. Lady Luna pushing us ladies to take up a bit more space. Daring myself to be brave. So very grateful for the opportunity, frustrated actually with how grateful I am in a way, but grateful anyway.
The company is gorgeous, a real team spirit. The lads are patient and loving, allowing us all the space (why’s it so hard to take up space?). But, obviously, it’s the women who are inspiring me daily. Watching Beth (a powerful prince) and Donna (though she be but little, she is fierce) who are also cast in “men’s parts” and they totally own it, own the words, own their bodies, own the space. Courage is infectious. The hope is strong. Love is a radical act.
Five inspiring things this month:
- Brene Brown’s ‘The Power Of Vulnerability’ TED Talk
- Russell Brand’s ‘Under The Skin’ podcast – the ‘Shakespeare And Power’ episode with Tony Howard
- Little Simz - ’Good For What’
- Lindy West’s article ‘Brave Enough To Be Angry’ in the New York Times
- Claressa Shields' highlights on YouTube