It is commonly known that boys played women's roles in the Elizabethan theatre and it has long been presumed that these "boys" were pre-pubescent males. Recent research suggests that the age of the actors that played female roles ranged from as young as twelve to as old as twenty or twenty-one. We hoped to employ actors of a comparable age for our company but this proved impractical. The "boys" in our company were all grown men ranging in age from 24-27.
The cultural connotations of boys playing women in our society were clearly different than they were for the original company. The cross-dressing on the Elizabethan stage was a matter of great contention for some Elizabethans, but it was also a standard practice familiar to the audience whereas for most members of our audience it was a new experience. It was also new to our actors who had to learn to effectively represent women on the stage.
Responses to their performances varied from those that felt they highlighted the stereotypical nature of the female characters in the plays, to those who felt our male actors were able to capture the essence of femininity. Working with an all-male company created a very specific dynamic in the rehearsal room, and the experience of preparing and performing these plays using an all-male cast gave us insight into the shifting cultural ground between Elizabethan England and 21st century Canada.