Epic sword fights and tall tales of pirates, nuns and Queen Victoria combine in Mary Littejohn’s original new play The Untold Legend of Imogen Flight.
Currently onstage at Vancouver’s CBC Studio 700, the comedy tells the story of a group of patrons at the local ladies-only pub sharing stories of their heroine. When Imogen herself shows up, along with her trusty sidekick Volta, she comes with stories of her own and someone on her trail with evil intentions.
Featuring an array of diverse women portraying the different sides of the female experience in a time rooted in the oppression of women, despite a female monarch, it is about how women come together and celebrate one another.
In this Q&A, Vancouver Presents chats with actors Eryka Alanna and Monica Maia to find out more.
This interview has been edited.
Tell me about the play and the character you play.
Alanna: A fictional character, Imogen Fight is based on women of that period who wore men’s clothes, wielded swords and other weapons, and fought for the rights of the underserved. In the play, stories of Imogen’s adventures are gossiped about at the local pub, the Saucy Chicken. My character, Jane, alongside several others are average, every day women of the time. It’s not until Imogen and her feisty sidekick, Volta, show up unannounced at the Saucy Chicken that some light is shed on the real stories of Imogen Flight.
Maia: The Untold Legend of Imogen Flight is the story of a fictional female sword fighter in Victorian England. I play Nancy Silver, a young mother who loves nothing more than to chat and drink with her best friends at the local pub The Saucy Chicken.
The play sounds very physical, what has been the biggest challenge in the rehearsal process?
Alanna: Honestly, time has been our biggest foe. To choreograph, rehearse and bring full sword fights up to show speed plus block, scene study, rehearse and character development was a huge challenge. But everyone, cast and crew included, were just so hardworking and determined to make it all come together. I’m so impressed and inspired, working alongside all these wonderful women.
Maia: As an actor with no stage combat experience, every rehearsal was a new challenge and learning experience. Not only was it physical, but between all the fighting, we had to make sure we were all still present as actors.
What might audiences not appreciate about the show?
Alanna: From a combat standpoint, we review and adjust fights every single day before our shows to ensure safety for all actors on stage, as well as audience sightlines. We meet hours before the house even opens each performance. And our actors only really had one and a half months to learn an entirely new skill and choreography.
Another thing the audience might not know is how little time we had in the studio space. Where we rehearsed and where we perform are extremely different spaces, which resulted in making changes and adjustments up until the hour before our preview performance. It just goes to show how flexible all the actors have been, and that there are always improvements being made to make the production that much better.
Maia: I don’t think people, myself included before doing this show, realize just how intensely choreographed fight sequences are. Even the ones that look relatively simple take lots of time and rehearsal. So many hours were spent learning and perfecting the fight sequences that I hope the audience will be thoroughly entertained. We are lucky to have skilled and patient fight coaches, Sylvie la Riviere and Eryka Alanna, who made the training fun and engaging but, most importantly, safe.
What will be the audience experience? What will they take away?
Alanna: There is just so much to love about this show. The writing is clever and witty, all the characters are so distinctly different, and there is so much heart at the centre of it all. I think Mary said it best in a rehearsal once: “every time I watch this show, I have a new favourite character because everyone brings something different to the table each time.” I hope that the audience can leave empathizing with all of us women because each female character summed up together is the embodiment of the complexity of a woman and her various personas.
Maia: I hope the audience takes away that a play full of women can be all things. The Untold Legend of Imogen Flight truly has something for everyone – comedy, drama, romance and exciting sword fights. I feel fortunate to be part of a show that not only has a fabulous all-female cast but also allows us to all break free from the norms of how women typically get cast and behave on stage. I sincerely hope people leave this show inspired to see and create more art that shatters expectations and pushes boundaries.
The Untold Legend Of Imogen Flight continues at CBC Studio 700 (700 Hamilton St, Vancouver) until March 7. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets.