The Leaping Thespians are throwing open the saloon doors and spoofing the Western in their latest show, which marks 10 years since the lesbian theatre company’s first Vancouver performance.
How the West Was One transports the audience to a world of whisky and women in an interior-BC town during the 1850s gold rush.
Humour, singing, dancing and drinking combine to deliver a “faux history of BC,” explains Karen White, who co-wrote the script with fellow group member Leigh Burrows.
“With a Western, right away you know there will be shootouts, bar fights, horses and, of course, the costumes,” White adds. “We have fun with the Western, but we pay homage to it as much as we spoof it.”
The show revives four characters briefly featured in 2009’s Once Upon a Lesbian. Weary bar-owner Miss Kitty, hard-drinking Prospector and the dangerous duo Hustler and Outlaw are now joined by five new faces.
“It will definitely have the Leaping Thespians’ style of silliness, but the characters end up being multilayered,” Burrows notes. “Each character has her arc — finding acceptance, community and family.”
The writers believe the show’s themes have interesting parallels to the lesbian experience.
“All these women stumbled across each other and created a life together in the West,” White explains.
“The idea that you could come from the East and reinvent yourself and find your own family can represent how lesbians have created their chosen families.”
With more music and choreography in this show than previous productions, the actors have benefited from a new rehearsal space in a converted East Vancouver garage — a step up from the living rooms they’ve used in the past.
The award-winning troupe will also perform at a bigger venue, The Cultch, while sponsorship enabled them to consult Vancouver Island dramaturge and playwright Nicolle Nattrass.
“We feel grown up,” Burrows says of the developments, but she stresses that the tightly knit group remains focused on bringing stories of lesbian lives to local audiences.
“We don’t want administration; we want to do plays,” she adds.
“Where are the lesbians in theatre? It’s just so nice to come and watch something that applies to you, and where do we really get to see that?”
Burrows finds common ground between How the West Was One and the Leaping Thespians’ ethos: “We’ve made our own town and we don’t want to do it anyone else’s way.”