EUSOG’s Gender-blind Jesus

January 24, 2023 | By | Reply More

Gender-blind Jesus Christ Superstar for Church Hill Theatre

Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group is bringing a gender-blind casting of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1971 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar to the Church Hill Theatre this week.

EUSOG had to obtain special permission from the Really Useful Group, which licenses all of Lloyd Webber’s back catalogue, to make the casting changes. They can do so, providing they stick to the specific rules for the production, which runs from tonight to Saturday (Tue 24 – Sat 28 Jan 2023).

Jesus Christ Superstar in rehearsal. Pic: Eusog.

Jesus Christ Superstar is set against the backdrop of the events of Jesus’ last weeks, told through the eyes of Judas. In the fallout of civil unrest, the masses turn to Jesus Christ for guidance and to lead them in a new movement.

Under pressure from law enforcement and with the threat of prosecution looming, Jesus’s trusted friend, Judas Iscariot, takes matters into his own hands.

“The gender-neutral casting is one of the most prominent features of the production,” says the show’s creative producer, Lew Forman. “We have a female Judas and a non-binary Jesus as our two leads. We are taking non-binary and female creatives out of the shadows and into the spotlight, providing equal opportunities in every aspect of the production.”

protective

The changes are particularly notable as the Really Useful Group is notoriously protective of its products. Forman told All Edinburgh Theatre that the Group had warmed to the idea of the gender-blind casting provided the company ensured that there are no key changes to the music and no changes to the lyrics.

“Effectively, the show had to be exactly the same as written,” says Forman. “Within the show, the gender of the actors is not allowed to influence the script or the music. It wasn’t our aim to specifically make Judas a woman, for example, so that didn’t really matter to us.

“If anything, it aided in the gender-blind casting because it meant that we didn’t have any specific goals of which roles to change the genders.”

Jesus Christ Superstar in rehearsal. Pic: Eusog.

Forman says that he is excited about the casting and grateful to the RUG for allowing the company to do it.

He adds: “The idea for a gender-neutral production started more in terms of accessibility and opportunities, especially given that the Edinburgh University theatre scene is very female and gender-queer dominated. But it evolved into more than that, becoming a key feature of the show.”

Director Izzy Ponsford says that when she was developing a vision for the production, her main focus was to fulfil the spectacle demanded by the epic tale, while retaining its delicate emotional core and making the production feel as relevant to her audience as it did to audiences 50 years ago.

a careful modernisation

“Through precise use of set, costume and lighting I believe we have been able to achieve a careful modernisation of this piece,” says Ponsford. “We are fore-fronting the emotions of the story while still enjoying the show to its absolute fullest.”

Roza Stevenson, who plays Jesus, says that EUSOG has taken a well known story and, they believe, has made it something new and special.

They said: “By casting the whole show gender blind it really helps us focus on the core aspects of the characters and, with the help of the fabulous production team, bring them to life.

“This decision was the reason I applied to audition. Being a non-binary actor is a strange line to walk. Being able to audition for a show where my gender presentation didn’t make a difference broke down any barriers.”

Jesus Christ Superstar plays six performances at the Church Hill Theatre from Tuesday 24 to Saturday 28 January, with performances at 7.30pm nightly and a matinee on Saturday afternoon at 2pm. Ticket prices start at £8, with a 20% student discount available.

Listing & Links

Jesus Christ Superstar
Church Hill Theatre, 33 Morningside Road, EH10 4DR.
Tue 24 – Sat 28 Jan 2023.
Evenings: 7.30pm; Sat Mat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

EUSOG Facebook: @eusavoy
Twitter: @EUSOG

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