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The show ‘Women Playing Hamlet’ creates roles for female actors in Charlotte

Being an actor in Charlotte is hard enough, but if you’re a female actor, it’s even harder. That’s why Donna Scott Productions, a resident theatre company of Charlotte Art League, and Chicksperare have partnered to create the latest women-centered show in the city.

“Women Playing Hamlet” opens today and runs through March 25 at the Charlotte Art League in South End. The main character Jessica auditions for the role of Ophelia in “Hamlet” but is instead cast in the title role. Hilarious mayhem ensues, including the pinballing, unsolicited opinions of her friends, castmates and even her Starbucks barista.

CharlotteFive caught up with the show’s producer, Donna Scott, about the show and what it means for female actors working in the city — and women in general.

The character of Jessica is handed the role of Hamlet, and people start giving her all of this unsolicited advice. Do you feel this represents what women go through in real life?

Donna Scott: “Absolutely. The whole play is a sweet little allegory to the way things happen for a lot of people and certainly a lot of women in life. You do the things that are on your list: You’re a mom, you’re a girlfriend, you’re a lover, you’re a this and a that.

“At some point, a lot of women wake up and go, wait, what am I really doing? And that’s a lot of what this play is about. Jessica has a line about how she wasn’t handed the role. She went through four sets of auditions and callbacks to get the role, so she feels she deserves it.”

Did any of the things that came out of the 2016 election make its way into the show?

DS: “Sheila Proctor, the executive director and find of Chickspeare, worked with (the show’s playwright) William Missouri Downs on another show at Actor’s Theatre, and so they had a long conversation. He was writing a show about a woman playing Hamlet, and he was spouting off statistics about (the) number of roles Shakespeare wrote for women and things like that.

“The show itself is a lot of funny characters that she meets along this journey, and there are very distinct opinions that are written into the play that are about how women are perceived, what they’re expected to do, what their typical roles are in life, stereotypes around those roles — and there’s a lot of thought made out of all of that. And it’s part of why we liked this play.”

Traditionally, Shakespeare plays had an all male cast, some of who played women. Now you have a woman playing a man in this play. Is that almost an inception of gender?

DS: “In the very beginning of the play, they actually talk about how that’s how Shakespeare is done and this play will be the opposite of that. The character of Jessica speaks directly to the audience as if they’re another character in the play, so she’s explaining the situation of getting cast as Hamlet and how it went for her. Very early in the play, there’s a whole section about how Shakespeare is typically done and there are several different characters who talk about Shakespeare through the years and how this is non-traditional.”

Does having a male playwright for a women-centered show change the perspective?

DS: “It’s definitely a feminist play. When we look to produce plays, we are looking to provide opportunities for women, on the stage and behind the scenes. You have to look purposefully for these plays. If what I want to do is look around and give the talented women I know opportunities, we have to search for them. We also like a very specific type of play. We like comedy, but we like comedy with a message. This play had all of those things.

“We typically gravitate towards female playwrights. But this play had all of the elements of a good message to present into the world.”

What’s it like to be a female actor in Charlotte compared to other places?

DS: “Across the board, there are less roles for women than there are for men, in film as well as in theater. You look across the landscape and see that as an actor, and certainly the other part of it is as women age, there are even less roles. If I was to figure out how to fill the gaps, this is the thing I can do personally to help this situation.

“Choosing to be an actor means you have to put yourself in this situation that you’re re-auditioning for every job you get, unless you’re lucky enough to be in a repertory company, and Charlotte doesn’t have anything like that. As an actor, it puts you in an inactive situation. You’re hoping maybe somebody will produce a play that might have a character that fits your type, whatever that is, and then you’re auditioning with a number of other women who are probably close to your type or exactly your type, and you have to hope you get that role.”

More details

“Women Playing Hamlet” is March 9 through March 25. Tickets are $22 through Eventbrite (buy them here) or $28 at the door. Presented at the Charlotte Art League, 1517 Camden Road in South End.

Photo: Weldon Weaver