Reclaiming Shakespeare: To She or Not To She
When Emma Bentley realised that, as a young woman in theatre, she would forever be deemed unsuitable for a vast range of roles – including many of the Shakespearean classics – simply because she was a girl, she went ahead and created her own role. To She or Not To She is a one-woman show following the life of the character Emma from the age of 14, as she works out how she exists in the world as both young woman and actor, through the words of her favourite playwright, Will Shakespeare.
Emma and director Holly Robinson ‘wanted to stick the finger up to casting directors/writers/directors putting women in shit roles. And in doing so write something ourselves where we could reclaim this exciting idea of getting to do whatever you want and not being judged for it.’ Well, amen to that sister.
To She or Not To She debuted at the Fringe to great reviews and we’re so excited to be able to share with you an extract from the play. Read on for brilliant Shakespearean laughs with an important feminist message. I know, we’re too good to you.
Extract from To She or Not To She
I want to fight
to give my all and it my worst
I want to be the centre of attention and see my words run onto the next page and the next and after that I’m back again
to speak my mind
to speak to you
I want to do anything and everything I want but with a beard or a tache
to poison you and all my other foes
to be merry and shag the hussy on the end of my road
and when I’m done I’ll return to my tavern to fill my cup again
but this time I’ll rabble-rouse; messy and frothing at the mouth as I shout:
No, I am that I am and those that level
At my abuses reckon up their own.
I may be straight, though they themselves be bevel.
By their rank thoughts my deeds must not be shown,
Unless this general evil they maintain:
All men are bad and in their badness I reign!
My name is Emma, I am 24 years old and I am living in London. Yes, like Will Shakespeare himself I have come from leafy Stratford-upon-Avon to the hustle and bustle of the big city to find my fame and fortune!
And it will be exciting and I’ll have rehearsals every day and auditions every week and I’ll take the National by storm. But until then, a girl’s got to earn a living somehow.
I live in a house with FOUR OTHER ACTORS, could you get anymore theatre than that?! I don’t think so, my darlings.
LOTTI: I mean the pay is good, but I don’t know whether it’s really right for me now.
SEB: Who’s seen my Complete Works? Emma? Have you got my Complete Works?
EMMA: Matt, we can’t understand you.
MATT: I have to stay in zee German accent, my audition ist on Montag.
FLISS: I just found out I didn’t get that theatre in education job. And it was unpaid!
Seb – that was the one moaning about his Complete Works which I obviously don’t have, I’ve had my own since I was eight – Seb and I are so similar: he loves Shakespeare, he’s an actor, he’s from the Midlands, it’s almost as if we were twins. Who were separated at birth by a freak storm on a ship. An apple, cleft in two, is not more twin than these two creatures.
And we have the same agent. A great big fat man called John.
These lies are like the man that begets them: as gross as a mountain.
JOHN: Emma! Great to see you! Can I get you a whisky? Sarah, get Emma a whisky.
EMMA: Oh, erm, I’m okay thanks, I’ve just had my muesli so, coffee would be great.
JOHN: Of course, fantastic. So, what can I do for you?
EMMA: Did you hear back about Romeo and Juliet?
JOHN: Hmm? Oh yeah. Yep they said it was a really great audition you did for them, really loved you. So yes well done and we’ll wait to hear from them.
EMMA: No, I haven’t had an audition yet, I wanted to see if I could get one.
JOHN: Oh I see, of course, yes. Right. Well. Sarah!
But to be fair, he does get us a good amount of auditions.
EMMA: Seb! John got me this amazing audition.
SEB: Emma! John got me this amazing audition.
EMMA: Cool. What’s yours?
SEB: I’m playing this surgical intern with a speech impediment who cures cancer by testing his drugs on his own dying mother. What’s yours?
EMMA: A nurse in casualty. There’s no lines. But I get to bodumbodumbodum…
SEB: I’ve got a really exciting audition.
EMMA: I’ve got a really exciting audition. What’s yours?
SEB: It’s a BBC World War One drama for the Centenary. I’d be a soldier lost behind enemy lines who falls in love his with commanding officer, who then gets blown up right in front of his face. What’s yours?
EMMA: It’s a commercial for a beauty and spa app. 70% off bikini waxes.
EMMA: I’ve got an audition. I’m so nervous.
SEB: I’ve got an audition. I’m so nervous. What’s yours?
EMMA: Dead Sex Worker #7 for the reboot of The Bill on Channel 5. What’s yours?
CALUM: Hamlet for Trevor Nunn.
EMMA: Hamlet? Good luck Seb!
Hamlet. Dead Sex Worker #7.
I can’t sleep. I refresh my Spotlight page over and over. I think about changing my headshot. Maybe it should be sexier. Prettier. Boobier. Maybe my headshots are just shit. Or maybe I’m shit. A shit sardine in London, mopping floors at night and pretending to be actress by day.
I google: Am I shit at acting?
I google: Why are my auditions so shit?
I google: Asian Flava Dance Classes in Finchley Central
Ohhh. I don’t get it! Seb gets great auditions and he’s from the Midlands and he’s got brown hair and he’s . . . he’s . . . Hold on!
I google: Sexism in the theatre industry. 789,000 hits!
VOICEOVER: On the first day of rehearsals the first thing that happened was they said go out and buy the biggest push up bra you can find, which I did
Female characters that you’re able to explore, and that sometimes feels a bit limited
Agencies say they rarely take on girls, especially drama graduates because once they have one girl it fills their bracket
And I just had no instructions whatsoever, it was just silence and then I just heard this voice booming out from over the auditorium and then he just said, unbutton your blouse
Kinda, like outnumbered
A considerable amount more work for men, and it’s not even a passive thing, it’s something I can see before my very eyes
I went off and in the end they actually cut my scene
We were doing combat and he was explaining this move where the sword had to be on your wrist like that pointing downwards, and he asked all the girls to do it, and we couldn’t keep our swords stiff enough when he was trying to disarm us. And then he started explaining that women’s elbows are built differently than men’s and then he said that’s scientific proof women were made to carry the shopping.
So maybe it’s not that I’m shit. Maybe this industry is just shit. That’s it. I’ve got to do something about it. I know what I’ll do, I’ll write a solo show questioning the role of women in the industry told through my experiences and–
. . .
Following a sell-out show at the Lyric Hammersmith as part of their new writing festival Evolution, joue le genre is looking to tour To She or Not to She in Autumn 2016. If you know or are a regional venue that might be interested please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Writer and Performer: Emma Bentley | @Emma_J_Bentley
Writer and Fringe/Associate Director: Holly Robinson | @holbolrob
Director: Katharina Reinthaller
Dramaturg: Anna Beecher
Lighting and Sound: Phil Hewitt
Producer: Leonie Webb