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I like Men's Roles

by Fatma Rushdi

Fatma Rushdi in L'Agilon

I have, in the course of my career, performed on stage a great many characters but have never known so much gratification as from my depiction of men’s roles...

Men’s roles require skill and ability, a certain je ne sais quoi that only the female psyche can provide. The parts, though not necessarily the men, are somehow more profound; and to me, for one, they are a great challenge to my talent.

The character of Tou Tou when rendered by me on stage was met with such huge and unprecedented success that I performed it hundreds of times. I also acted the part of Caesar in the play by Ahmed Shawki Bey a number of times. And always to great acclaim.

I have performed and I have known success, and I owe this foremost to my unrelenting efforts to understand and study the characters I portray, so that I can “live” their experiences to the point of total assimilation.

At the time, some thought I was insane, that it was too bold for a woman to take such initiatives, but I believe that I have proved to them beyond doubt that a woman can well assume those masculine roles in the best way possible. For I have had great success.

I have appeared in historical plays from L’Aiglon to The Two Homeless Children. It has been my conviction that men’s roles are of superior quality to those of women. There are immortal roles that have been performed on the stage all over the world and they are the basis of theater the world over.

Those very roles though not destined for women, are most suited to their psychological and emotional make up. Those roles suit the very nature of womanhood because they denote a universality of human nature that only she can portray. For her sensitivity, intelligence and cunning will be her keys to unraveling the depths of these rich and complex characters. Only a woman can get under the skin of a character and make it breathe through her very pores.

Tou Tou has been successful onstage because it represents irresponsible modern day youth, and it was a trifle of a challenge for me playing that role. I had to have my hair sheared for the part, and I did not mind that in the least. In historical plays, make up is more than enough to patch the differences in appearance. It can do wonders to enhance more than just the physical, for even power and self assertion have something to benefit from appropriate make up.

Apart from make up and costume, of course, the rest is talent. It is the artistic talent of a woman that will determine her failure and success at interpreting male roles. May it be likewise noted that the figure of the actress is of utmost importance, for it should fit the part like a glove. A curvaceous overly feminine body cannot successfully represent a man’s, and this is where many women have been miscast and have therefore failed.

Men’s roles have attracted me most because doing them is representing Art for Art’s sake, regardless of gender. I am an actress who loves Art for its own sake, sublime and supreme. The texts of men’s parts are of such profundity and genius that I have found lacking in female roles, and that is a great temptation for the actress with the artist within.

That men have been luckier in the field of acting is understandable and unfortunate. But it is woman who has a real, inherent, intrinsic, instinctive ability to perform the act of acting. Woman is by her very nature an actress, a multi-facetted versatile creature with far reaching means to her ends.

All in all, and in spite of the superior quality of male roles the number of outstanding female actors all over the world has managed to exceed by far that of outstanding male actors. It is more possible for women to portray men than it is for men to portray women for they are not as richly endowed.

When all is said and done, an actress can take it upon herself to render the male character more and better than the male portrayed, to give a performance less flat and more fulfilled than that given by a man. And herein lies the beauty of a feminine expression of the male, and the splendour of her creation. Not to mention the ultimate: the influence on the spectator's innermost being, on his heart.

El Kawakeb. Issue no. 25. February 1951