Modern Theatre Roles for Women

16 mins read

When it comes to working on a character, prepping a role for class, or even deciding to put up your own play – it all starts with story. It can be overwhelming to decide what pieces truly speak to you. From Shakespeare to Wilde to Chekhov, the ‘right’ role can be a very daunting dilemma. However, ladies we want the grit, the mess, and the challenging artistic chaos required to dive into the true depths of theatre.

I am going to share with you the plays that I have either produced, acted in, or studied during the numerous hours of class upon class I have taken throughout my acting day thus far. (Which spans over 18 years but who’s counting). These plays have all been written from 1986 – 2007. Modern, relatable, and oh so fun.

Let’s begin with one of my favourites, Bachelorette. I love Bachelorette. You may be more familiar with the 2012 film adaptation starring Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan and Rebel Wilson. This film definitely makes the girls night out hit list, and has many moments of dark dramedy. I first workshopped this play in a scene study class with renowned acting coach Ben Ratner, in Vancouver BC. I played Regan, and was in love with the ensemble core of lost class that embodied gal pals Katie and Gena. Two years later, I produced and acted in the play for a six day run at Studio 1398 on Granville Island, Vancouver.

The play is where the real raw sin lies. First written by Leslye Headland in 2007 and then later performed three years later off Broadway in 2010, this play surrounds the suffocated relationships of four high school besties. Based on Headland’s Seven Deadly Sin’s themed tales of every human flaw we absolutely love exposing during character study, these girls give it all.

Okay so Regan. Main mean girl whose own relationship is suffering. When she finds out Becky (the overweight ‘less attractive,’ never thought she would get married) is in fact, getting married – to a very successful attractive man, this does not sit well with Regan. In order to maintain her ‘perfect,’ stature Regan is common to pop pills and drink only the finest champagnes while of course provoking party girl high school best friends Katie and Gena. Against Becky’s will, Regan openly invites Katie and Gena where the entire play begins and remains within the Bachelorette party a la bridal suite, sans bride. Regan is the ring leader maid of honour who completes the play will a full blown panic attack after ripping Becky’s dress, attempting a one night stand, all the while trying to ‘save,’ Katie from an overdose. Her role includes the levels the defectless divine to absolute destruction. A highly recommended character to research and practise.

Next, Katie. Unapologetic reckless Katie. Easily convinced into every daring deed, Katie wears her scorn on her sleeve. Working retail, with a self-inflicted death sentence if she is not married by 30, Katie reeks of desperation. Aside from her evident jealously, Katie has a more fun and playful approach to the lost child on the loose of adulthood. Ultra-vulnerable, self-loathing, need I say more? Complete with a cocaine induced monologue where she attempts a loving connection to, innocent stoner Joe, Katie will provide full layers of lethal life.
Now Gena. To-cool –for-any school Gena. Gena is the hard, punk – goer type of the two. Always onto Regan’s next scheme, Gena plays a big sister figure to Katie when things start to turn. Gena is written as ‘compassionately compelling, always the sexiest women in the room.’ Ironically and arguably the most sane and responsible of the trio, Gena may come off as the ‘bad one,’ but she pulls it together and is quick on her feet to safe the malfunction madness of the evening.

Becky. Bless Becky. So in love, and so naïve. All this woman wants is to walk down that damn aisle with some form of sisterhood. Putting her faith in Regan to organize and keep the prenuptial events in order, Becky wants what any bride wants, the day of her dreams. Choosing to explore this role will give you the dynamic of blissful bride, cut to I will stand up for myself and dismiss anyone (Regan) who attempts to destroy my deserved day. Becky is a beautiful character who finally takes ownership of whatever ‘imperfections,’ her high school life made her believe she had.
Bachelorette is never short of comical moments, complete with a full cast of chaos. Enjoy them, love them, and get your bachelorette bash on!

Spike Heels
The next play I want to dive into is, ‘Spike Heels.’ Written by Theresa Rebeck in 1990, the play was first performed OFF Broadway in 1992. The original cast included Kevin Bacon, Tony Goldwyn, Saundra Santiago and Julie White. The play has been performed many times throughout the New York theatre scene, most recently making its revival in January of 2019 at the Gene Frankel Theatre.

Unlike Bachelorette, where the cast are primarily women, Spike Heels is a four-sided love story between Andrew, Edward, Georgie and Lydia. Rebeck brilliantly highlights the many elements of pushing power amongst men and women. From sexual harassment, to social status, and making it in a ‘man’s world,’ both Georgie and Lydia have very different plights to ultimately be loved by the men who manipulate them.
Let’s start with Georgie.

Georgie is Andrew’s next door neighbour and a sort of ‘self improvement project’ to him. He gets Georgie a job at Edward’s law office as his secretary. Growing up in a working-class background and never attending college, Georgie struggles in the new corporate environment and takes it upon herself to read ‘books that makes no sense,’ to try and figure out ‘what the f- is going on down there.’ Georgie is fiery, with quick wit, reluctant adaptation to the world of suits and class, all the while never being afraid to utilize her sexuality when the necessary occasion presents itself. Rebeck wrote monologues between Georgie and Lydia as well as Georgie and Andrew where Georgie is challenging their means of upper-class society. She goes full viper in her bold Boston accent, shaming them both as characters who think they are better than her simply because of their connected family backgrounds.
I would recommend the challenge of Georgie’s intensity, and fight to be finally seen and taken seriously, not just for her feminine assets. Bonus practise for your Boston accent!

Now Lydia. The complete opposite of Georgie, everything about this women screams conservative class. From the shoes she wears, to the moderate length of her hemlines Lydia attempts her calmed control when she confronts Georgie in her monologue, ‘I don’t know you.’ Lydia believes that Georgie is trying to steal her fiancée, Andrew, and throughout her blame of betrayal, she actually cries to Georgie as a much needed girl-to-girl moment of relatable struggle. Depicted as ‘cold,’ and ‘un-emotional,’ Georgie takes to Lydia as the two drink, divulge, and even dance.Painted as the ‘better than,’

Lydia has layered tiers of painful sorrow developed from her exhausting plot at perfection.
Both Lydia & Georgie make the dynamic duo of difficult hardships many women go through when dealing with men in power. Through growth and understanding of each character’s background each of these women provide challenging levels of gritted grace.

Have fun, choose your spike heels wisely, and get after it!

Women of Manhattan
The three final roles for women that I want to explore are that of Billie, Rhonda, and Judy. ‘Women of Manhattan,’ was written by John Patrick Shanley in 1986. First making its Off-Broadway debut at the City Center Theatre in May 1986, and then continuing throughout New York and then California in 1999.
This play surrounds the lives of Upper East Side best friends, Billie, Rhonda Louise, and Judy. All three are going through the different phases, woes and wows of love. Billie is ‘stuck in the honeymoon phase, and enhances her marriage by having affairs. Judy is the sexually frustrated one of the bunch as she is described as a ‘fag hag,’ seemingly only able to attract gay men, and Rhonda Louis has recently been dumped but is trying to be brave throughout her broken heart.

The beauty of this love induced trio is the honest difference of how each woman approaches their solution. Rhonda Louise is described to have a southern charm which adds to her strong independent demeanor. While the other characters, Billie and Judy complain about their relationship troubles, Rhonda happily offers advice and is seen as the supportive ‘fixer friend.’She comes off as the realist until the end of the play, where Shanley wrote her beautiful monologue, ‘How can you help me?’ This is a great piece to explore as many women can relate to Rhonda’s evident painful struggle of getting over her ex, without making herself feel ‘less than 35-cents’ in the process. She admits that she has to be truly alone with herself before considering another man to ‘plug the hole,’ she feels inside. Raw, insightful, and lovingly the good friend, Rhonda is a great role to discover.

Now Billie. Oh Billie. Described as blond and flashy, Billie has no shame in candidly sharing the disappointing details of her marriage. Making Judy her project by convincing her to go on a blind date that she sets up, Billie craves a layered relationship full off drama. However, she complains that her marriage is stiff and stuck on the balcony in her monologue ‘It’s the courtship.’ Billie loves attention and desires sexual vigour, with others than that of her safe husband. She is a key ingredient in the balance of what women want amongst the very different situations of these girlfriends.

And finally Judy. Judy has similar qualities of lost desperation to that of Katie in Bachelorette. Judy’s issue is how she comes off to men. According to Billie and Rhonda, they directly break it to Judy that she dresses for gay men, not straight men. Her harsh, no shame and blunt energy is the usual result in attracting men who cry by the end of the night confiding in Judy about how confused they are. Billie and Rhonda try to guide Judy by coaxing her to agree to a blind date set up, where Billie has full control over the who, what, where and when. Judy has many moments of giving her own brutal honesty throughout the play, for example calling out Rhonda Louise for keeping Jerry’s old sneakers in her house. Struggling to finally become an active heterosexual again, Judy has two great monologues that both explore her sad predicament to stop attracting the wrong guys, while sticking to her desire of quality fulfillment when Duke (blind date) suggests they have sex right away instead of getting to know one another.
Complete with the dramatic comedy and honest suffering that is our human heart’s longing for love, Women of Manhattan gives three very strong female roles oh so worthy of their story.

To wrap up and close the curtains, all three plays, ‘Bachelorette,’ ‘Spike Heels,’ and ‘Women of Manhattan,’ prove that there are many modern roles for women. From Regan to Rhonda and Katie to Judy, every character will provide the challenging dynamics of character’s masking their pain while fighting for the evident want of love.
Be delicate with them, but deliberate with your delivery.

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