By Bria Isaacson, Staff Writer
Viewers of Asbury University’s As You Like It may have noticed one slight difference from Shakespeare’s version of the play: the Duke of the Forest is being played by a woman, freshman Emily Buonocore.
This switch of genders, called gender-bending in the theatre, is becoming more common in order to compensate for the lack of male actors in Asbury’s theatre department.
According to Jeff Day, Director of Theatre and Cinema Performance, there are twenty-five theatre majors at Asbury, and, of those, only eight are men.
This dearth of male theater majors was not a problem for Asbury until about seven years ago. Before that, Day said there were many more men than women in the department.
But this is not merely an Asbury problem, according to Day, who said that there is a universal lack of male actors in theatre and film, and that Asbury’s department is just now falling into this trend.
“It comes down to recruiting,” Day said. “We are trying to recruit more men, but there’s a smaller pool [for men in high schools] than for women.”
Day is not sure why Asbury is just now being affected, but said, “It was an anomaly that it hasn’t been this way [here before].”
Buonocore wonders if men are intimidated by the theatre, saying, “Theatre can be embarrassing, [as] you have to cry, be in love, show emotions, and wear tights.”
Regardless of when or why the change occurred, the theatre department has been working to overcome difficulties arising with the lack of male actors.
These difficulties include not being able to cast an Asbury theatre major for male roles, needing to cast men from other majors and being completely unable to perform some plays.
“There are not many plays with lots of women,” Day said. “This is one of the things we’re battling.”
Some roles in plays can be cast as either male or female, like Buonocore’s part in As You Like It.
Gender-bending this role worked well, according to Buonocore, who has played several male roles.
“I like it, because you have to stand taller and [be] more powerful and strong,” Buonocore said. “It’s a power that you don’t have with women in plays.”
Many more women will have a chance to play the part of a man in the future, even as Day attempts to find more plays the department can do with the few male actors they have.
Asbury’s upcoming production of 12 Angry Jurors, which originally featured twelve angry men, will feature a cast of nine women and three men.
While Day would like to see more men in the theater department, he is excited to showcase Asbury’s female theater majors in 12 Angry Jurors. Day also said that more plays should have female roles and strong female leads.
“Women often [have] the supporting roles in film; there are few female leads,” Day said. “They are debating this in Hollywood…. Theatre is trending out of [this], and film will follow theatre soon.”
It is Day’s hope that there will soon be more theatre and film projects with female actors, writers, and directors, as men are more often found in these industry roles.
Sophomore Jacob Jones, one of the few male theatre majors, said that he too would love to see more shows featuring women in lead roles.
“We’re so used to shows with both males and females…and the male-female conflict, so it would be different [to have an all-female show]. I would look forward to an all-female show,” Jones said. “Women are everywhere [in the theatre industry], but they’re not treated like they’re everywhere.”
Ultimately, Jones, Buonocore, and Day agree that there is little that Asbury’s theatre department can do to fix the lack of male participation, and they hope that there are more projects with strong women roles in order to compensate for both the abundance of women and lack of men in the theatre and film industries.
“The only thing we can really do [here] is to put on great shows,” Jones said. “And we can encourage men and women to dip their noses in for a while and really do something with theatre.”