TAITMAIL  Cliff edge or launching point?

TAITMAIL Cliff edge or launching point?

We’re on the brink. The political arrogance, diplomatic blundering, economic obfuscating and cultural ignorance have led the cultural industries to the top of Beachy Head and about to step off. Or are we?

THE WORD   ‘Centre of culture’ is not about space

THE WORD ‘Centre of culture’ is not about space

says Reuben Kench, director of culture, events and leisure at Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council in response to a recent Taitmail input into the debate about cities and towns of culture, and our empty high streets

AI PROFILE		Lord of the dance

AI PROFILE Lord of the dance

Sir Richard Alston, artist director of The Place and the Richard Alston Dance Company

Carlos Acosta to run Birmingham Royal Ballet

Carlos Acosta to run Birmingham Royal Ballet

Former Royal Ballet star Carlos Acosta is to succeed David Bintley as artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, the company has announced.

Kathy Bourne returns to Chichester

Kathy Bourne returns to Chichester

Producer Kathy Bourne is to be the new executive director of Chichester Festival Theatre, along alongside artistic director Daniel Evans.

Tullie House all dressed up for Wolfson award

Tullie House all dressed up for Wolfson award

Carlisle’s Tullie House Museum is the big winner in the latest round of DCMS/Wolfson Museum and Galleries Improvement Fund grants.

MY STORY The other side of the picture

MY STORY The other side of the picture

DAVID HICKS   

The greetings card company Really Good was started by David Hicks more than 30 years ago with a £40 government enterprise allowance, and capital of £200. It is now worth £4m and sells in 30 countries, but its founder has made a dramatic career change. 

DEA BIRKETT  Mime - and the last word in circus

DEA BIRKETT Mime - and the last word in circus

In the latest in her series marking the 250th anniversary of the circus, Dea Birkett – the official Ringmaster of Circus250 – discovers more about her artform at the London International Mime Festival

ACE launches £6m leadership fund

ACE launches £6m leadership fund

Arts Council chair Nicholas Serota today launched a new £6m leadership investment fund for museums, libraries and the arts.

RSC heads new era for immersive drama

RSC heads new era for immersive drama

A £16m research programme led by the Royal Shakespeare Company could herald a new era for audiences.

Five vie for new £125k art gallery prize

Five vie for new £125k art gallery prize

Five galleries have been shortlisted for the new £125,000 Ampersand Award to help realise development proposals.

Preston’s Harris Museum gets HLF development boost

Preston’s Harris Museum gets HLF development boost

A £10.7m transformation of Preston’s Harris Museum, Art Gallery and Library has received a major funding fillip with a development grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Creative students on the rise

Creative students on the rise

The numbers of university students studying creative arts and design has grown by 10.5% in the last ten years, according to a new report from the Knowledge Academy.

Drama of keeping more things in the air than you have hands

Drama of keeping more things in the air than you have hands

AI Profile :  Sean Gandini, artistic director, Gandini Juggling

Dramatic new bridge to Arthur’s castle

Dramatic new bridge to Arthur’s castle

Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, traditionally associated with the legends of King Arthur, is to get this dramatic new bridge as part of a £5m English Heritage improvement programme.

What's up in… Glasgow

What's up in… Glasgow

AI looks at what's coming up around the country – this time, the arts in Glasgow

DEA BIRKETT  Fear and risk – still part of the circus

DEA BIRKETT Fear and risk – still part of the circus

In the next on her series marking the 250th anniversary of the circus, Dea Birkett – the official Ringmaster of Circus250 – sees that life under the Big Top is as perilous as ever

NEW YEAR HONOURS: Alston leads arts list

NEW YEAR HONOURS: Alston leads arts list

Choreographer Richard Alston has crowned his 70th birthday with a knighthood in the New Year Honours List.

Sister Wendy Becket dies

Sister Wendy Becket dies

Sister Wendy Becket, the hermit nun who became the most unlikely TV star of the 1990s, died on Boxing Day in her beloved solitary caravan in Norfolk at the age of 88.

THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month

THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month

Orgreave, South Yorkshire, June 1984, by Martin Jenkinson

DEA BIRKETT  The real world shared by circus and museums

DEA BIRKETT The real world shared by circus and museums

In the next in her series marking the 250th anniversary of the circus, Dea Birkett – the official Ringmaster of Circus250 – finds that big top performance and gallery display have more in common that you think

Iskander to take over Battersea Arts Centre

Iskander to take over Battersea Arts Centre

Tarek Iskander, Arts Council England’s director for theatre, is to be the new artistic director and CEO of Battersea Arts Centre.

2018's listing highlights: a cock, a cricket pavilion and a subway

2018's listing highlights: a cock, a cricket pavilion and a subway

Historic England have highlighted the 23 most notable listed monuments of 2018, including the elaborate underpass at Crystal Palace, the Sutton pub sign with no pub and Robin Hood.

Tate acquires Sylvia Pankhurst paintings

Tate acquires Sylvia Pankhurst paintings

Tate is to acquire four paintings by the Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960) depicting the working conditions of women in the north.

Why the hell not?

Storme Toolis burst onto the national scene three years ago in BBC TVs New Tricks, one of the few disabled actors to appear on screen whose disability is not a feature of the plot. now the 23-year-old has taken on one of the most demanding roles in the shakespearean canon – in a production of which she is creative director and which is the subject of a forthcoming television documentary

Redefining Juliet
Tim Bowie and Storme Toolis as Romeo and Juliet

Playing Juliet is something I have always wanted to do. I knew it wasn’t a matter of talent, ambition or luck as other actors may find – the reality is that disabled actors like me have never even been considered for mainstream romantic roles, much less the iconic role of Juliet.

She represents a starting point in casting. You can’t get bigger than Juliet if you want to challenge the universal image of young beauty and romance on stage. If no one would let me get past the casting call, I had to do the casting myself. So I devised Redefining Juliet – a play which casts six different women as Juliet who would normally never get the role. It takes Shakespeare’s major speeches for his young heroine and interjects them with verbatim accounts written by each actor, highlighting how they are perceived by others as women who just can’t do romance and love. The actors challenge the conventional casting of people like them, whether they’re small, or fat, or black, or tall, or deaf. Or like me, in a wheelchair. We had our showcase at the Barbican and the making of the play is the subject of a BBC4 documentary on May 1, part of the BBC’s Shakespeare Festival.

Redefining Juliet uses the character of Juliet as a springboard to address a range of issues that women face in casting. In the play, we talk about body image, sexuality, the limitations placed on actors who are different in any way. Casting decisions are routinely made on your appearance – you need to have the right look for a role, you have to fit the part according to the conventions surrounding it. But that approach only serves to support preconceptions about what counts as sexy and who can be an object of desire.

The women who are believed to fit that description come from a very small stable. I’m fed up of size eight white women with shoulder length light brown hair getting all the young romantic leads, and Juliet in particular. I want to broaden the horizons of who can play Shakespeare’s most iconic heroine. 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 the hell not? The most important thing about playing a lead Shakespearean character is that the audience believes in her and believes in how she feels.

We need to trust these audiences more. They have the capacity to be open-minded when we confront them. When they encounter a Juliet who doesn’t fit their ideals of beauty, it probably matters in their heads for the first few minutes. But if she does the job, if you’re convinced by her acting that she’s desirable and in love – she’s Juliet. If these actors can convince the audience they are fully committed to Juliet’s journey, then we’ve succeeded in telling her story.

When I looked at the text of Romeo and Juliet I found that any physical description of Juliet is absent. She could look like any of our diverse actors. Shakespeare himself has nothing to say about her appearance – he doesn’t care whether she’s tall or short, fat or thin, white or black. (Remember, this supposedly waif-like woman would have been played by a man 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 knew Juliet was a part for me, but the only way I can make that happen is by putting on the play myself. The sad reality is, in the current state of casting in our industry, all six of us who are Juliet in Redefining Juliet will probably never get to play this romantic lead again. But by claiming Juliet for all those fine women actors who’d never usually get past the casting call, I hope casting directors’ and audiences’ eyes are opened to the possibilities that women of all sorts of difference can play sexy, desirable, romantic roles. We can be all of these things. Just let us act.

Redefining Juliet - So You Think You Know Who Can Play Juliet? Think Again! will be broadcast on BBC4 on May 1 as part of the Shakespeare Festival.
Twitter @redefinejuliet

www.manyriversfilms.co.uk

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