The ladies of Herstory

The ladies of Herstory

Originally commissioned by Rising Tide in 2005, Sara Tilly wrote the first draft of The (In)complete Herstory of Women in Newfoundland (and Labrador!).  She then developed it with Berni Stapleton through the RCA’s Write On! Program before a series of staged readings in 2006 and 2007.  Now on its sixth draft, the show will have its premier as a co-production between RCA and She Said Yes!  Tilly is co-directing with Lois Brown and the show promises saucy humour that will make you think.  It’s presented as a blend of traditional theatre with clown improvisation.  “This silly and strange show is grounded in familiar and universal human emotions,” says Tilly.  Both Sara and Lois spent some time to tell Current a little more:

Clown development can be difficult, can you speak to that?
ST – There’s a lot of different types of clown training and approaches to what ‘is’ a clown. I’m trained in Pochinko Clown Through Mask and the process begins with mask work using your own mask, then transference to a clown nose and potentially into a non-nose, Joey clown. We’re not in red noses for this show. These are sophisticated, adult clowns, not as innocent or as bumbling as the red nose variety, with a much larger vocabulary than your standard circus clown. You wear the mask and let it move you, then take that energy and keep it going when the mask comes off. This way, you allow your character to take the lead organically. We follow impulse in rehearsal and let it dictate how to create the show.

How do you turn your clown on?
ST – It comes from the mask. We spent a two weeks in January working with masks and taking that physical exploration; now we’re comfortable experimenting within these clowns and can find their full range of emotions and tics. There’s no need to have the nose if you are intent – we’re using headgear like swim caps as a character anchor.

Who is in the cast and how did they come together?
ST – The cast is my dream team and I’m glad they were all able to do it! Susan Kent is playing the director (Herr) and Ruth Lawrence is the star actress (Prima). Lois Brown is the old-school feminist theatremaker and visual artist and writer Craig Francis Power, in his first onstage role, as the lighting operator (Noseworthy). I play Squirrel, the stage manager, who is thrust into the show after Janice has an accident with her curling iron.

How have they all done getting into the world of clowning?
ST – This has been an amazing group to work with and I thank my lucky stars that I have such open, talented artists. They’re all naturals and it’s been a belly laugh and a half leading them through the clown work and watching these characters come into their own.

Who else is involved behind the scenes?
ST – I’m designing the set, costumes and props; Sean Panting is designing sound, Jamie Skidmore is designing lights and Craig Francis Power is doing the projection design.

How much of a history lesson will the show be?
LB – I think there is a fair bit of history there – but because Sara is showing us how we bend history for political reasons.

ST – Well, most of the ‘facts’ are true. The truth was, in most cases, funnier or more bizarre than anything I could think of. It’s how we mess with the facts that make it a questionable lesson. More like a weird and hilarious dream involving a lot of historical detail. I think more than anything you might be tempted to look a few things up later to see if we made them up.

What’s the overall concept and storyline of the show?
LB – Legendary feminist theatre artist Janice pokes herself in the eye with a red-hot curling iron minutes before showtime on opening night and dies. Marco is debilitated after being trapped under the Death on the Ice set. Noseworthy is stoned. And Squirrel the stage manager turned actress is so scared that she pisses herself several times during the opening number. That leaves the director, Herr who is in love with her star, Prima. They say show must go on.  How will the Estro-collective do it? It’s a show that not only satirizes Newfoundland history and feminism – it satirizes itself. It takes the notions of patriarchy, feminism, Newfoundland history and the way we tell it and mocks it all. It’s irreverent. Takes the piss out of everything, really.

The show runs March 24 – 26th at the Majestic Theatre in St. John’s, check out www.shesaidyestheatre.ca for more information.

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