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Team Starkid and the Gender Rules

Team Starkid is a University of Michigan based theater troupe that specializes in parody musicals that they later record and post to the popular website YouTube.com. Though the characters are usually portrayed by people of the same gender as the characters, occasionally the actors within the troupe "gender bend" characters. Gender bending is the portrayal of a character in a gender that is not one’s own or that of the character. Lauren Lopez is a woman who has played characters such as Draco Malfoy, an ex-military sergeant, and a young boy in some of their productions. Joe Walker is a man who played Dolores Umbridge in one of their productions. Lopez’ portrayals are often seen as more realistic whereas Walker’s were intended to be comical because of his gender. Why is a woman allowed to realistically play men and yet a man playing a woman is considered a running gag? Consider gender roles, gender rules and coded norms in the Team Starkid comedy dynamic.

  • I completely agree with your questions and concerns here. I've often found that when men try to portray women, unless under very particular circumstances, it is intentionally done in a humorous manner, and it is received as humor, as well, by the audience. In some instances, I have seen men portray a female role with tactfulness, respect, and a sense of authenticity--like Dustin Hoffman in "Tootsie"--by otherwise, very rarely. I myself have explored trying to portray a female character accurately, through voice and movement, and in a way that does not simplify the visage of a woman to cliches or stereotypes, unless the character itself is more flamboyant and such. But I think the main reason why men portraying women is approached and received in a comical way is because many people are still not comfortable seeing men of any sort embrace their feminine sides, whether they be gay or straight. And when it is embraced openly, it's usually regarding a male's portrayal of a decidedly drag-queen styled female character, with a very load, boisterous, or colorful personality, and thus it still becomes something to either laugh at or laugh with. But when it comes to subtlety, or grace, or even commanding authority as a female character, either men just don't do it very much, or it has yet to be part of many productions. In terms of what I would prefer, if I ever find myself performing as a female character (one of my passions is acting and voice impersonation), I would put an enormous amount of effort into capturing the distinct elements of what makes a woman sound like a woman, but then also approach the character herself as something aside from the fact that she is female, unless her character is defined in some capacity by those qualities. I think one has to open up, let down their guards, and be mindful of all their feelings, before they can either portray, or appreciate a female character, as a man. – Jonathan Leiter 6 years ago
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  • I personally have never heard of Team Starkid before. But considering how open this topic really is, you might consider broadening the scope to include other examples of the double-standard in media. – Jonathan Leiter 6 years ago
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  • I happen to love Team Starkid and have noticed what you're talking about. The cross gender roles, I think, tend to be less for gags, and more for character interpretation. Like with Lopez's portrayal of Malfoy in A Very Potter Music or Commissioner Gordon in Holy Musical B@tman! versus Walker's version of Umbridge. I actually think Walker was cast because of his previous ability to turn a thoroughly villainous character such as Voldemort, and not only redeem him, but cheer for his happy ending. But this is an interesting investigation question to be pursued given the theatrical nature of the performances, which is where this should fall. – artemis822 6 years ago
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  • I would suggest that when talking about gender bending in Team Starkid productions, one explores the use of camp as an aesthetic. – Cmandra 6 years ago
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