Smooth Faced Gentlemen – M18PA – Self Study

In my endeavours to hunt out theatre companies who champion equality and promote diversity. I came across the all-female Shakespeare company:  Smooth Faced {Gentlemen} The company were founded in 2012 with the ambition to create ‘…fresh, fast, and faithful productions of Shakespeare with entirely female casts.’

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I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this all-female performance company was in-fact co-founded by 2 males: Michael Grady-Hall and Yaz Al-Shaater in addition to its 2 female co-founders: Mariam Bell and Ashlea Kaye. Whilst I don’t think that there aren’t men who champion gender equality in the arts,  its rare to see men support a movement that places women centre stage in such a radical way.

The company was founded as a direct response to the numerous all-male Shakespeare companies who have dominated the scene for so long.

“It started when Michael [Grady-Hall, one of the co-founders] had told us about an actress he was talking to, who was saying it was unfair of companies like Propeller or The Lord Chamberlain’s Men to be all-male, and take the precious few female Shakespeare roles away from women. This view frustrated us – these companies are great, and there’s nothing to stop anyone setting up a company of their own.” 

In this interview with Female Arts – Ashlea Kaye (Co-founder and Artistic Director) goes on to discuss the moment of realisation that she and her fellow co-founders had after watching an RSC production of King John in which, Pippa Nixon played the role of ‘The Bastard’ it was in this moment that they realised that actually they should and could be the ones to pioneer an all-female Shakespeare company.

It’s positive to see the impact that this company has gone on to have. Since forming the company has staged 3 successful productions including: Romeo & Juliet, Titus Andronicus and a recent adaptation of Othello. They have won awards, developed a following, inspired others with their outreach and incited much needed discussion on gender-equality within the theatre.

Smooth Faced Gentlemen – Titus Andronicus – Edinburgh Fringe – Photo Daniel Harris

It is of course sad that such radical action has been necessary to highlight the gender gap in theatre, particularly in classical productions. It is however very inspiring to see individuals take action in this plight and in tandem make excellent theatre that promotes awareness.

I personally would like to see more companies make a more concerted effort to put female stories on-stage and to see more women provided with opportunities to be placed centre stage. I recently directed an all-female version of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. The raw energy of the young actors I worked with was immense and many involved felt empowered at being given the opportunity to tackle roles that have been traditionally only depicted only for young males. This frustration was transmitted in performance and fully supported the visceral nature of the story. It highlighted to me at the time the huge void in equality and the lack of parity in the industry.

All-female – Lord of the Flies

I’m looking forward to collaborating with the females in my current MA cohort. I am the only male in the group and fully intend on championing gender equality and learning from my peers experiences.



7 thoughts on “Smooth Faced Gentlemen – M18PA – Self Study

  1. I really like your comments on this topic. Gender equality in the arts is something that I am more and more starkly aware of and you have written so clearly about your thoughts and your opinions. It is truly about gender equality. Not one gender above the other. I had heard in passing about ‘Smoothed Faced Gentlemen’ but have yet to see any of their work. It really intrigues me.
    Have you seen or heard of Rash Dash ( ) a company that was created by two women? They regularly collaborate with live bands, musicians and dancers and they described their latest show ‘Two Man Show’ as ”we want to talk about masculinity and patriarchy but the words that exist aren’t good enough. So there’s music and dance too.” Have a look and see what you think.


  2. Wicked! Glad you appreciated it. Funnily enough,I have indeed heard of Rash Dash. They seem like a really interesting company. I found this video resource recently and it reminded me a great deal of the ‘Building Blocks’ process’ we explored during the introductory –

    I actually tried this exercise today with some of my HE students and found it to be an awesome tool.

    I’d love to see their work! I particularly like the idea of working with live music myself too, so it sounds like an absolute winner!


    1. When we first met I wondered how you would approach being the only male in the group. If I had turned up on day one and it had been 11 men and me, I wonder what my response would have been. It’s very interesting to hear your thoughts and how you have taken the gender mix in the group as an opportunity to look for further equality in theatre. I’m not sure others would have so readily recognised the situation as an opportunty – I’m not sure I would have! I have been reading Lucy Kerbel’s book – ‘All Change Please’. If you haven’t come across it, it’s basically a provocation for change. It addresses gender equality in our current theatre systems. It’s incredibly powerful and gives the reader no excuse not to make changes in the way we make theatre at every level. Her work with Tonic Theatre is truly inspiring and the website is excellent place to start looking for ideas. Her approach is down to earth and practical and I throughly recommend it as a resource. I’d be very inetersted to talk about this further when we start the Advanced module. Inspiring stuff, thankyou.


  3. These are excellent resources to be finding, thank you Gavin. Your perspective is refreshing and looks to see the way we should be heading. I think theatre is s bit like that golf club that are only just letting women in. There are so mantpy vital strong and versatile women in our industry we have to wonder why it is, does and has taken so long for equality. Thanks to you guys I feel I am able to face the right direction and start heading towards new ideas and discovering more. There’s just so much out there and we can’t do it on our own.


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