Theater director: It’s about acting ability, not gender


Scripts and pencils in hand, cast members flip through the pages and cross out the male pronouns that belong to the title character and change them to she and her.

The stage production of The Giver is based on Lois Lowry’s dystopian novel and is centered around a young boy named Jonas.

An old man Jonas calls The Giver mentors the boy. Leah Page, the director of The Giver, wanted the old man to be a woman, not a man. So she gave the role to junior Jillianne Tamillo. See photo gallery.

Trends of females taking on traditionally male roles have become increasingly common in theater. For years now, women having been playing Shakespearean male roles, either gender-bent to be female or playing the role as a male.

Fiona Shaw, known for her work in the Harry Potter series, took on the title roles in a 1995 production of Richard II. Flipping men’s roles to female has been less common in theater.

Photo: Tejas “T.J.” Badgujar

In the 2013 Broadway revival of the musical Pippin, the traditionally male role of the Leading Player was given to Patina Miller. A female Leading Player added a twist to the musical and brought new meaning and discoveries to the character.

Page said she resisted casting a female in the iconic role of The Giver. She said:

People see the role of The Giver as a man. The Old Man is a symbol of the show. How would people react to a female Giver?

Page wondered whether The Giver was the right show to genderbend a role. She said:

I took a step back and realized the females in the department are strong enough to do this role. This show doesn’t rely on The Giver being male.

In a show about uniformity, this production has plenty of diversity. Page hopes that having a female take on a male role can open people’s minds when reading texts and expand their ideas.
“Our show is so diverse,” she said. “This show is about sameness, but everyone is so different in this show, not even considering the fact that The Giver is a woman.”
Playing The Giver has challenged Jillianne Tamillo, but an issue that she has run into is being a woman delivering lines written for a man. She said:

Finding the tones of the traditional male role and adapting them to be female without being demanding or harsh is one of the biggest struggles I’ve faced in this role. The Giver is traditionally a man, so the mentorship he had with Jonas was man-to-man. Now it’s woman-to-man and The Giver can come across as domineering and harsh, when in fact it’s just a woman trying to fulfill her job and get to work.

This not Tamillo’s first experience with gender-bent casting. Last year she played a female version of King Kreon in Flagler’s production of Medea, but has also played a male when she took on the role of Sebastian in a production of Twelfth Night.

Photo: Tejas “T.J.” Badgujar

Tamillo said genderbent casting opens opportunity all across the board.

“Now when you’re looking for someone to play a character, it’s more about their acting ability and the aspects they can bring to the table,” she said. “Men and women have been canceled out because of their gender and now this opens doors for both genders to have more opportunities.”

Having been in both forms of genderbent casting, Tamillo notes the difference that come along with taking on these roles and the challenges that it presents as an actor.

“When playing a male in a male role, like when I was Sebastian, your job as the actor is to do research is on men: it’s about the mannerisms. When I was Kreon and now The Giver, it’s more about adapting.”

The Giver was performed from April 10 to April 13 in Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College in St. Augustine.
Article by Elizabeth Thornton.

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