Making waves at last year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival with its production of Soul Samurai (which gets a remount this November), Vancouver’s Affair of Honor returns to the local stage with another fight show, Heroine.
“The year is 1722, two legendary pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read are captured and await the gallows,” says Jackie Hanlin who plays Read. “Held entirely within a prison cell, the audience is trapped with them as they compare their lives cross-dressing among men, rising through rank or reputation, and fight over what a life well lived truly means.”
“Exploring desperation through a fierce and unforgiving feminine lens, Heroine is a story of two contradictory women, their fight against each other and death itself,” adds stage manager, Shona Struthers.
With a mandate to produce fight and movement heavy shows featuring female leads, Hanlin goes on to say a show like Heroine is a perfect fit for Affair Of Honor’s season. “Not to mention, it’s a Canadian playwright,” she says of east coast writer, Karen Basset.
As an actor-combatant, and one who has trained heavily in performative combat and dramatic studies, Hanlin has found herself drawn to shows like Heroine.
“The theatre is my first love, but I personally have discovered a remarkably strong side of myself through our physical and fight work,” she says. “And it’s exciting to bring more of myself as a performer forward for our audiences.”
For actor Nathania Bernabe, who plays Anne Bonny, it is her love for physical theatre that continues to draw her to these types of shows, and in being able to share it with Hanlin.
“I was very lucky to find my fight partner Jackie. Our partnership is the catalyst to creating this company,” she says. “We started off as a duo creating performance based fights for events around the city, and now we produce shows that combine both these worlds.”
Proud of the foundation that Affair Of Honor has been built on, Bernabe acknowledges its takes a lot of hard work to create these types of work, while still managing to have some fun.
“Not to mention our work lets us play with weapons like swords, knives, and lightsabers,” she says.
Describing Heroine as unrelenting, Hanlin says the show is as much a workout for the audience as it is for the two actors.
“The audience will feel as trapped as Anne and Mary, tempers will rise and blades will fly,” she says. “Fights, stunts, comedy, and tears, we leave everything we have on the stage because the gallows await, and there is nothing to lose.”
Preparing for a show like Heroine takes a great deal of preparation. Hanlin and Bernabe undertake circuit training while doing text work, and do over six hours of extensive fight work each Sunday with fight director, Sylvie La Riviere.
“On the acting front both, characters are mentally and physically demanding and we are so excited to be able to work with our director, Mayumi Yoshida,” says Bernabe. “She has incredible insight on character development and relationship and is not afraid to push us in rehearsal. She knows we can push it physically so she’s not afraid ask that from us mentally as performers, and we are extremely grateful in rehearsal when we reach those moments. It’s a great challenge.”
Helping to put the show into a contemporary context, Heroine’s assistant manager, Heidi Damayo, finds a connection between the lives of the two real-life 18th century pirates, and today.
“In 2018, gender fluidity is an important topic of conversation, an even more important part of many peoples’ identities, and arguably more accepted in mainstream Western society than it ever has been,” she says. “And with Pride around the corner, it’s the perfect time to take a moment and pay tribute to the lives of people who lived inside more rigid lines – when cross dressing was as grave a crime as murder.”
Heroine opens at Pacific Theatre (1440 W 12th Ave, Vancouver) on July 10 with a preview performance and continues through July 14. Tickets are available online at theatrewire.com.