Karen Bassett previews Heroine in Toronto

Halifax actors Robert Seale and Francine Deschepper preview stage violence skills at Festival of Original Theatre Conference.

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Three local theatre artists are set to show Toronto exactly how violent Halifax can be.

Fight master/director Robert Seale, actor/ playwright Karen Bassett and actor Francine Deschepper are heading to a conference hosted by University of Toronto’s Graduate Centre for Study of Drama. At the Festival of Original Theatre Conference 2009: Exquisite Corpses and Bloody Bodies, they’ll show off their stage violence skills, while presenting scenes of Bassett’s new play, Heroine.

The story of two fighters from the 1700s—-Irish-American pirate Ann Bonny and British cavalry leader Mary Read—-Heroine follows these women as they await execution for crimes of piracy and male impersonation. The play reflects the physicality of these women’s lives and their fisticuffing ways: the scenes they’re performing involve “stabbing and grabbing, slashing, smashing, and trashing.”

So what constitutes “good” stage violence? Seale writes in an email, “Does the audience believe what’s happening? The illusion of violence is a microcosm of the acting process itself. The actor must define the who, with full commitment to the situation and the actions required: the intentions and actions must be shaped by given circumstances and integrated with an organic emotional response to the characters needs.”

Bassett relates his point to their process with Heroine: “the writing springs from the physical action, and the physical action springs from the very feisty, muscular and burdensome lives of characters Bonny and Read.”

“Emotions must be balanced by intense concentration and superb physical technique. The text, characters and the actions must share a symbiotic relationship,” adds Seale.
Bassett says even with all the stabbing and grabbing, she’s remained injury-free, and “if anything it has made me stronger. You need good core and upper-body strength to manipulate the sword, and exact the choreography itself.”

Although there isn’t a firm date for Heroine to appear in Halifax, it’s definitely coming, says Bassett. “This play has steadily been developing over the last two years through workshops with the **Playwright’s Atlantic Resource Centre** (PARC), and physical exploration in rehearsal with Francine and Robert. Because why *read* a play about women fighters? We’re ready to make it happen.”

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