Monday, October 26, 2015

Unsex Me Here: Finding Lady Macbeth

by Jordan Kramer

One of my favorite original practices the Grassroots Shakespeare Company incorporates into their shows is cross-gender casting. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that Shakespeare’s heroines were originally played by young men and I love the idea that if I had lived in Elizabethan England, I could have had a shot playing Ophelia or Juliet. 

I was fortunate enough to have been involved in Grassroots’ first production of Macbeth back in 2011 where I was cast as one of the three witches (all of whom were played by men). I absolutely relished that role and although I spent a considerable amount time and money trying to create the illusion of femininity for my character, the fact that I was playing other (male) roles meant that I was limited in how far I could take my appearance. 

Since that experience, I’ve always hoped for another chance to play a female role in a Grassroots show, so I was thrilled and slightly terrified when the opportunity to take on the role of Lady Macbeth presented itself. I was determined that I would use what little time and what limited abilities I had to make this an experience that would be satisfying for both myself and the audience. 

One of the biggest challenges the Grassroots experience presents to me is the lack of a director. I can be pretty insecure as an actor and I tend to depend heavily on a director to answer questions that I have about my character and whether or not my choices are being read properly on stage. However, having so many women in the cast has been a tremendous help to my process because I can ask any or all of them at any time for feedback about my character, especially in regards to the female illusion I have tried to create. I wanted to make sure my vocal patterns, posture, gestures, and every bit of my behavior was lending itself to that illusion and my castmates were an invaluable resource in that process; correcting and giving advice about things that never would have occurred to me.

Something I have noticed is that getting into costume really helps to push me into a pseudo-female headspace. The clothing that I wear in the show is not very comfortable or familiar to me and I constantly have to worry about tripping over my skirt or whether my wig is going to fall off or if touching my face will smear my makeup. While this limits the ways I move and carry my body, it also helps to redirect my physical choices into things that are more typically feminine. Additionally, simply looking at my altered appearance in the mirror as I put on each article of women’s clothing forces me to see myself as a different person. It becomes easier to shed my identity and assume the role of Lady Macbeth as it becomes more difficult to see Jordan in my reflection. 

Tapping into the psyche of Lady Macbeth was especially complicated in comparison with other Shakespearian women because the character chooses to specifically shun everything that is traditionally associated with the feminine. She literally calls upon supernatural forces to remove her womanhood in order to better accomplish her desire of obtaining the kingdom. In scenes where Lady Macbeth is especially harsh and domineering, it was difficult for me to maintain a feminine physicality and vocal pattern while making choices that would appear physically and verbally abusive. While women can definitely possess those traits, my mind would automatically conjure up masculine images to support those choices and I had to worker harder to figure out feminine examples of that behavior. One actress I drew inspiration from for these moments was Cate Blanchett in her portrayal of Lady Tremaine in Disney’s latest adaptation of Cinderella (a film which, some would say, I harbor a mild obsession for). Blanchett’s performance exquisitely embodied the cruel, domineering, power-hungry woman who could be simultaneously charming and extremely feminine that I wanted to see in Lady Macbeth. 

More than anything else I have wondered whether or not I possess something worth bringing to the character of Lady Macbeth. The role has been played by so many fantastic actresses over the years that it’s been easy for me, especially as a man, to feel inadequate, but this loving and talented cast has been an amazing source of support and reassurance to me. They’re the best reason to be a part of this show and I can’t wait to share all our hard work with you.

***Only three more chances to catch Jordan's Lady Macbeth. Please don't miss it:

Need more encouragement? Here's what audiences have to say:

"Jordan Kramer's performance of Lady-M is worth the price of admission alone!" 

 "Don't miss Jordan Kramer's fantastically spooky, extremely well drawn Lady Macbeth." 

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