As our young cast prepare to perform in Esher, we have decided to celebrate International Women’s Day by looking at examples of cross-dressing throughout the history of stage and screen. In our upcoming show, Oliver Jr, many of our female cast members are playing male roles.
A History of Cross-Gender Acting
A travesti is a theatrical term referring to the portrayal of a character in an opera, play, or ballet by someone of the opposite gender. Cross-dressing in 16th & 17th century Spain was frequent among actors and there was a fascination with female cross-dressers particularly in the Golden Age Comedia.
In Renaissance England, women were forbidden from performing on stage, so female roles in the plays of Shakespeare, etc, were played by cross-dressing men or boys. This resulted in double-cross-dressing: male actors playing female characters disguising themselves as males which really heightened the comedic value.
In the late 19th century, one of the most famous actresses, Vesta Tilley, worked in a music hall from age five well into her fifties and was the highest paid woman in Britain. What made her so famous was her tendency to dress as a man.
In the early 20th century, in Japan, the Takarazuka Revue Company used female performers for both male and female roles, and in the US, Shirley Mason famously played Jim Hawkins in the film version of Treasure Island.
Modern Examples of Females Playing Male Roles
Kathryn Hunter has been busy playing many male Shakespearean roles for the RSC and at the Globe Theatre. Ironically, she played a female role when Phylidda Lloyd directed an all-female cast for the Taming of the Shrew.
Glenn Close famously played Albert Nobbs in a film of the same name and Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her performance as Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry.
If you would like to watch 8-12yr olds perform in Esher, click here.