We are Footfall Theatre, an all-female theatre company with a passion for Shakespeare’s texts and collaborative theatre. We know that a lot of theatre makers tackle Shakespeare. What make us different is our emphasis on illuminating the female voice and gender within his plays.
Please read on to find out what makes our approach unique.
Gender, Language and The Body
Footfall was founded in 2014 as a result of a desire to explore the ‘female voice’ in Shakespeare’s plays. The voices of female characters in Shakespeare’s plays have the potential to be explored and questioned in ways that they have not been before. We know that this is a big claim considering the fact that some of the world’s best actors, companies, and directors have spent the past 400 years interpreting Shakespeare’s women. However, we approach the texts with a key difference: we give the female characters access to the text written for male characters in ways that explore how this changes our perceptions of the women. We consider how the language they have access to, what images they use, and the particular nature of that language, alters how we think of these characters as women.
As we move on to future projects we want to see how the reverse process might be enacted. It is equally interesting to consider what language male characters use, and how this affects our view of them as ‘masculine’ or specifically ‘male’. All classic texts, because they are situated within specific historical and social contexts, have loads to tell us about how diverse communities and individuals think about gender. There are plenty of productions that draw on these gender questions, but we want to make it our mission as a company to see how every text can tell us something new and exciting about gender which becomes the central theme of each production.
We also want to explore how the physicalisation of language affect the perceptions of gender on stage. Language and speech is a physical event [see text section]; it exists in the body and is formulated by the body. Thus for a woman to speak a ‘masculine’ line while behaving in a physically ‘feminine’ manner may be either an undesirable or a very interesting counterpoint. Either way, this example shows us that language does not exist in isolation from the body. As a result, Footfall are interested in developing our approach to languages of movement, not just speech language. Physical language is a powerful tool and medium, and you can expect any Footfall production to challenge perceptions of gender through the physical bodies on stage.
Part of the challenge with using language and the body to explore gender lies in the fact that infinite diversity exists in these categories. We do not claim to find any definitive answer to the questions that we raise about what gender or the female voice might be.
We do not claim to represent any
singular ‘female voice’, as such a thing does not exist. Instead, we want to spark thought and dialogues among our audiences and our collaborators about what female voices – and male voices – there are, and what they mean, as well as their impact in different situations.
We want to make Shakespeare as widely appealing as possible to a large spectrum of people. We strongly believe that we can make shows that are both horizontally and vertically accessible. By this, we mean finding new meaning (vertically accessible) in the text for those who already hold a love of Shakespeare’s work. We are examining characters and language created by Shakespeare himself, but looking at them from a new perspective – questioning them and exploring them in ways that have not been done before.
However we also aim to be horizontally accessible. By this we mean that the stories we tell are also stories in their own right. Audiences do not need to know the original story or be familiar with Shakespeare’s language to understand what is going on. We will create a world that is instantly accessible to anyone coming to see the show. We do this through our detailed focus on the language, extensive verse work, making sure we know exactly what we are trying to say with the text, and also through our choice of venue. Please also see our ideas on space and intimacy and live music which link into how we make our productions as horizontally accessible as possible.
Space, Intimacy and Live Music
As a company, we have decided never to stage anything in proscenium arch. We’re not claiming to be doing anything new by staging our productions in the round, or in thrust, or whatever other configuration our imaginations will allow; but what we do claim is that intimate staging is fundamental to our process of modernising the texts. Shakespeare’s plays are full of asides, metatheatrical nods to all the world being a stage, soliloquies which directly address an audience; so for us, breaking down the fourth wall, (bringing the audience onto, or around, the action and stage itself), is central to our understanding of how the plays would have been received by an Early Modern audience, and how we can recreate, or simulate, this experience in way which are as relevant and exciting for our modern audiences. For some Shakespeare veterans, who may be more used to seeing his plays performed in Stratford or the National’s Olivier, here is real proof of what exciting staging of Shakespeare can do for an audience member, (a Shakespeare academic, in fact, who had never seen a production staged in thrust, as we did in ‘Lear’s Daughters’):
“I am still startled by the intimacy and (for lack of a better term) upfrontness of this kind of performance, where actors and audiences not only hear one another, but stare right into one another’s faces, smell one another, and actually share what I guess I would call a space of threat.”
We believe firmly in using live music in our work. It has a unique capacity to allow audiences and actors to share the same space through the shared experience of hearing the music. In this way it contributes fundamentally to our aims of creating intimate, sensory and physically engaging productions.
We aim to increase accessibility through the use of live music. We aim to use music in ways that enhance the stories we are telling, rather than just
providing a ‘backing track’ to a story that could exist on its own. As raw sound, music is rooted in the body – of humans or of instruments – and so enables listeners to engage with emotional experiences in an immediate way. Music can increase the immediacy and shared experience of a piece of theatre and so all our productions will contain live music. Music stimulates connectedness and emotional reception – and in this way we will be drawing audiences who may not be familiar with Shakespearean texts to be emotionally engaged, thus making them more able to choose to mentally engage too.