Guest post: "As a disabled actor wanting to play Juliet, I had to rewrite the script"
Casting decisions are usually based, in part, on appearance - but Storme Troolis says it's time for the stage and the screen to better reflect real life
Creative director. Redefining Juliet.
Posted on: Thu 28-Apr-16 16:43:55
(9 comments )
I've always loved the idea of playing Juliet. But as a disabled actor, it was unlikely to be easy. I figured that if no one would let me get past the casting call, I'd have to do the work myself. So I devised Redefining Juliet, which casts six different women as Juliet - women who just don't get to play that role in the normal run of things.
The play takes Shakespeare's classical text and intertwines it with verbatim theatre - stories of the performers' own lives. The actors challenge the conventional casting of people like them: they're small, or fat, or black, or tall, or deaf. Or like me, in a wheelchair.
The play, and the documentary about the making of it, use the character of Juliet to address a range of issues that women face in casting and in life. We talk about body image, sexuality and other people's perceptions of us in the industry and wider world. Casting decisions are always made on your appearance – you need to have the right 'look' for a role, and that's hard to argue with. But there's a debate to be had about who can and who should be counted as sexy, and about who gets to play these strong female roles. What you see on television and in the media must reflect, sometimes at least, real life – do all real women look like Keira Knightley? No, they don't.
There's a debate to be had about who can and who should be counted as sexy, and about who gets to play these strong female roles. What you see on television and in the media must reflect, sometimes at least, real life.
As an actor your job is to convince the audience to believe in the journey. If the chemistry between Romeo and Juliet is real and fiery, then what she looks like is irrelevant. It might matter for the first ten minutes - but after that, she's just Juliet. Shakespeare doesn't care whether she's tall or short, fat or thin, white or black (and remember she would have been played by a teenage boy anyway.) The important thing about the character of Juliet is that she's beautiful, driven, and feisty. The women I cast in Redefining Juliet are all of these things.
I wanted to broaden our ideas about who can play one of Shakespeare's most well-known heroines - but the idea is much bigger than Juliet. It's about changing the industry as a whole - for women. I want to challenge why tall women don't get to play vulnerable characters, why very small women aren't seen as objects of desire. Why aren't we up there on billboards, selling underwear or dancing burlesque, if that happens to make us feel good about ourselves?
I knew Juliet was a part for me, but the only way I could make it happen was by doing this myself. It worked - we had our showcase at the Barbican, and the making of the play is the subject of a BBC4 documentary this Sunday. But the sad reality is, as things currently stand in our industry, all six of us will probably never get to play Juliet again. By claiming her character for ourselves, though, we've made a start. And hopefully, people will be receptive to the message.
Redefining Juliet - So You Think You Know Who Can Play Juliet? Think Again! will be broadcast on BBC4 on 1 May as part of the Shakespeare Festival.
By Storme Toolis
How very inspiring. I love this...I can imagine Shakespeare would too!
My Dd is romeo and juliet obsessed we are looking forward to this she is a drama student and thinks you are inspiring
Brilliant, such a great idea and so inspiring.
What a fantastic approach - so inspiring. It's a sad indictment that our looks/age/etc define the opportunities we have access to. I'd love to watch this - will see if it's available on iPlayer.
Have been abroad and missed this but can't wait to get it on iplayer. Brilliant!
I have just finished watching this and it was fantastic. I wish I had been able to see the full production on stage.
I love this, and I'm off to see if I can find the BBC4 show on catch up!
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