You’ll want to get your ringside seats for Wendy Froberg’s new play, Queen of the Ring – The Story of Johnnie Mae Young being presented by Attollo Productions and running from November 15th to 24th in the Motel Theatre. Tickets are just $20.00 for adults and $15.00 for students with a special Pay What You Can Performance on Wednesday, November 14th. Please note this is a mature show and restricted to adults 18 years of age or older.
Queen of the Ring is the story of Johnnie Mae Young who spent over seven decades of her life slamming, punching and clawing her way to the top of the women’s professional wrestling world. Despite her pin-up good looks, she was a trash-talking bad girl the crowds loved to hate. From the carnival sideshows of the dirty thirties to the glitz and drama of the WWE, Mae Young rose to fame as the toughest, most dangerous female and one of the top attractions in the rough and tumble, disreputable world of old-school pro wrestling.
So, Wendy, how did you stumble upon the story of Johnnie Mae Young?
I was reading my Facebook newsfeed in early 2014 and a story came up about her because she had just died at the age of 90. And even though I’m a native Calgarian and I grew up with Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling I’d never heard of Johnnie Mae Young. The photo of this blonde bombshell throwing another woman around a wrestling ring captivated me and I just had to click on the link and once I started, I couldn’t stop. Everything I read led me to the conclusion that this was one of those, truth is stranger than fiction, stories that needed to be told.
Well, why did you feel this need to tell her story and write a play?
Johnnie Mae and other female wrestlers like her had to overcome incredible odds to make their mark in a world dominated by men. A lot of them escaped brutal childhoods where they were neglected or abused, and they were exploited physically, sexually and financially by the male wrestling promoters who they depended on to make a living.
These women lived in a time when women were supposed to be demure ladies in heels and make-up, and not down-and-dirty, ass-kicking fighters. They broke the rules about how women were supposed to behave sometimes at a great cost to themselves. These women were feminists before we had a name for it. They were trailblazers who proved that despite the theatricality and fakery involved in wrestling it’s a true sport and they were bona fide athletes.
WENDY FROBERG: Wendy’s solo shows Interruptions and A Woman of a Certain Age® were each awarded “Outstanding Original Script” at the 2011 and 2013 Calgary One-Act Play Festivals, with AWOAC going on to win “Best of Fest” at the Calgary International Fringe Festival. Her plays, Riches and Best Interests, were produced in 2013 and 2014 by Urban Stories Theatre. She wrote the libretto for the 2015 Cowtown Opera Company production Annie Davidson. Wendy is also an actor who has appeared on stage with Theatre BSMT, Morpheus, Urban Curvz, Fire Exit and Scorpio theatres in a wide range of roles. In addition to working in theatre, Wendy is a registered clinical psychologist. She hopes you, like her, are inspired by the story of Mae Young and her fellow tough broads of wrestling!
“Frankly as human beings we all have a tendency to be more wary and distrustful of anyone who is not like ourselves. Also there has recently been a lot of discussion about who has the right to tell other cultures’ stories and my play touches on that topic. As our society becomes more diverse it is important to talk about this and to understand how to respectfully approach the telling of stories about other cultures. I don’t think it is wrong to write stories or make movies about others but one should always think about how to do so in a respectful and mindful manner.”
Maria Crooks is an emerging Calgary playwright who began writing plays after retiring from a corporate job in the oil industry in 2011. She describes her most recent play, The Mary Mink Story, as a play about untrammeled ambition, ruthlessness and deceit and one man’s relentless efforts for the truth to be told.
You know I find it inspiring that you’ve come to playwriting later in life and I think that’s a great thing. I think people should go after their dreams no matter what their age. What motivated you to go after this dream?
I love the theatre and I love acting and in fact after retiring I started taking acting courses and I’ve acted in a couple of plays since then. I also love words and writing and so the acting led to the writing of plays and somehow the writing has taken centre stage as it were, at least for the time being.
How much of your own life experience do you find you put into your writing?
I think it’s inevitable that my own experiences will seep into my writing consciously or unconsciously. When I was a child we moved from Cuba to Jamaica and after the move my parents couldn’t find an item, it’s been so long now I can’t remember what it was, but they immediately assumed it had been stolen by the woman who had been helping with the packing. This woman had been a family friend and my parents never responded to her letters because of the assumption that she had stolen from them. Many years later they found the missing item but by then it was too late, the friendship had been broken.
That story became the basis of my first play, The Servant, which is a story about a servant who is accused of having stolen a valuable ring which was subsequently found. I wanted to examine the nature of trust and how quickly it can be eroded when we jump to conclusions.
Your current play is The Mary Mink Story. What is that play about?
The Mary Mink Story is about a black woman who lived in Toronto in the mid-19th century. Her father, James Mink, was a prosperous business man who owned a hotel and livery stables and had several lucrative government contracts delivering mail and so forth. According to several historical accounts, which I found online and in books, James Mink placed an ad in the Toronto papers offering $10,000 for a white man to marry his daughter. A white man married her and promptly took her across the border to the US where she was sold into slavery. The story was so intriguing that I felt compelled to write a play about it, however my research led me to a researcher from York University in Toronto who has done extensive work on James Mink and his family and she provided me with information which disproved the story.
After doing your research and finding out the real story – how did that impact your play?
I found myself in a dilemma. I felt the story was so dramatic that I wanted to tell it, but at the same time I didn’t wish to perpetuate the myth which is based on racism and bigotry and I didn’t want to be a part of that. I therefore decided to tell the myth while at the same time debunking it. This has been my most difficult play to write and my hope is that I have succeeded in exposing the myth while at the same time telling an interesting Canadian story.
Why do you think this story needs to be told?
I felt this was a story about a black family that needed to be told and I had a responsibility to set the record straight. A TV movie about the Minks was made in the 1990s and it too recounted the myth as if it were true. Wikipedia has an account of James Mink and that account does not say that it is a myth either so anyone coming across the movie or reading the Wikipedia account will come away believing it to be true.
Why do you want to set the record straight. To tell the truth about what really happened?
I feel a responsibility to James Mink and to his daughter to set the record straight because both were real people who were respectable and hard-working intelligent folk who do not deserve this continued insult to their memory. James despite his humble beginnings rose to become a prominent citizen of his community both he and Mary were proud of their African heritage and it is inconceivable that he would have made the offer he was purported to have made in order to get his daughter married.
What are you hoping audiences will get out of your telling of The Mary Mink Story?
First of all, I hope they will find it entertaining and enjoyable but I also want people to see how easily lies can be created and perpetuated. This myth was born out of jealousy and dislike of the “other” and it persists even today.
I assume you’re referring to the “other” as in immigrants or people of different race or nationality.
Yes, I’m referring to immigrants and minorities but frankly as human beings we all have a tendency to be more wary and distrustful of anyone who is not like ourselves. Also there has recently been a lot of discussion about who has the right to tell other cultures’ stories and my play touches on that topic. As our society becomes more diverse it is important to talk about this and to understand how to respectfully approach the telling of stories about other cultures. I don’t think it is wrong to write stories or make movies about others but one should always think about how to do so in a respectful and mindful manner.
Maria Crooks is a Calgary playwright whose plays are often inspired by real events which she uses as a starting point for her fictional work. This is an excerpt from a longer interview. You can read the entire interview at jameshutchison.ca by following the link: An Interview With Playwright Maria Crooks: The Mary Mink Story
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“Have fun and be creative. If you won’t find it interesting to read why is your audience going to find it interesting to read? If you don’t like the way it looks, chances are your audience won’t like the way it looks. So, trust you and do what you want to do. Marketing is the place where you can be creative and do your own things. Financial people have to follow a budget – have to follow numbers, but marketing is that world where you can have your creative juices flow, if you will.”
Marketing is the process of telling people your story and why they should buy your product or service, and in theatre that means finding ways of reaching people and telling them why they should come and see your show.
I sat down with Lauren Thompson, shortly before she left her position as the Director of Marketing & Communications for Lunchbox Theatre, to talk with her about her approach to marketing and some of the things she’s done during her time at Lunchbox.
I was doing a little reading and it was talking about people needing to think about the theatre experience beyond the performance. It’s not just the show. It’s the whole atmosphere. It’s everything.
It is everything. I had a lot of fun with Ai Yah! Sweet and Sour Secrets this year. That was Dale Lee Kwong’s play that went up over the Chinese New Year. I specifically remember that one because it was this culture that I didn’t know a lot about. And it was so specific to Chinese New Year and those traditions. Dale was super supportive and teaching us everything, and she gave me this forty-page document about all the traditions that they do and what red and gold means and what these symbols mean and why they do these things. I really wanted people to enter the theatre and read these quotes and fun facts along the wall about Chinese New Year and just be immersed in this new culture and this new experience. On Instagram I did little fortune cookies, so you had a little image of a fortune cookie and you had to slide the image and it would be a different fortune every day. It was just fun posts that aren’t directly promoting the show, but it’s creating awareness and fun and excitement.
I’ve noticed, just for an example, The Shakespeare Company will do an interview with one of their actors and post it on their website, and then promote it through their social media. What types of content are you creating with Lunchbox?
Well we’ve had a media call planned and the media has had to cancel, last minute because there was an accident, or something else came up, or whatever, right? So, this year I said to Samantha MacDonald, our Artistic Producer, that we need to do it ourselves. I can’t rely on the media to get the story of our show out there. So, I started the coffee chats that I post on Facebook and Instagram.
I would interview two people from the production. Typically, the playwright or director and then an actor from the show and ask them questions about the process, about the play, and about their characters – what would typically come out in a media call. And then I put it out in the world so we’re not relying on something we have no control over. And it’s worked in our favour. And we’ve had media coverage this year, but I think those coffee chats opened up a different side. A more casual side. A different conversation about the play that a poster or a typical social media post won’t do for you.
One of the things we talked about before the interview was based on your experience do you have any tips or lessons learned that people could take away in regards to marketing?
I do, but there are a million others. I would say, be open to ideas is number one. Be open to exciting new technology that’s coming out to apps to trends. The trends that are coming out are trends for a reason. Try them and see if they work for your company and your audience. Everything moves quickly. So, react to it all. And take it on your own spin.
Tip number two would be have fun and be creative. If you won’t find it interesting to read why is your audience going to find it interesting to read? If you don’t like the way it looks, chances are your audience won’t like the way it looks. So, trust you and do what you want to do.
And my third one is to have a consistent voice. Know your brand. Know your company and your voice regardless. It might have a different tone for your different mediums. Our Instagram has a different tone than our Facebook, but it’s still a consistent voice, and I still know what the brand is and you’re always pushing that. Whatever you do it has to fall under that umbrella.
How much do you think having a healthy box office impacts the overall company specifically your ability to get donations and other funding?
I don’t think it’s a secret that arts in Calgary are suffering. Sam does a pre-show chat to the audience before every single show, and in the latter half of the year we started to add in – you know obviously we’re struggling like everyone else, and it was just an awareness of it, and if you want to ask more questions and you want to help please come find us after the show. It’s just being transparent about it, and then people come and see the shows and support the shows and leave the shows talking about how much they love it and how much they want it to be around. We had some people come to Girl Crush with Sharron Matthews which was the first Lunchbox show they had ever seen, and next thing you know we’re getting cheques of money because they loved it so much.
Girl Crush was an entertaining and successful show and it showed that you can do a lot in the Lunchbox space. It expands in the consumers mind your venue as an entertainment venue rather than just theatre. Are there plans to do more?
Traditionally September is a tough sell. Is that one of the reasons you’re going with the cabaret to see how it does?
Yes. September is hard on every theatre. This year we had Book Club II. The sequel to Book Club by Meredith Taylor-Parry. And it did well, but it also struggled just with it being in the September slot – nothing to do with the show. Mickey and Judy is a show that we’re really excited about – it being a musical and having a different style to it – the Cabaret feel you know. It’s a different exciting start to things.
I really like the artwork for next season. Tell me the story behind this.
Last season we found a new graphic designer. And she did all of the artwork for the 17/18 season. This year our programming is taking a new shift, and we’re doing different styles and kinds of shows, and this is Sam’s first programmed season as artistic producer, and so we went to the graphic artist. Her name is Kimberly Wieting, and she’s young, and she’s so good at what she does.
She’s an individual contractor, and she’s incredible. Her company is Gritt Media. We sat down with her, and Sam and I chatted about the season. We gave her a brief synopsis of everything and said, “Tell us what you want to do.” And she pitched this concept of this image on image and black with a pop of colour and it was a lot of work, but it was so worth it. And it’s just a totally different look for Lunchbox.
And it’s like we’ve said, Lunchbox has been around forever. Everyone knows Lunchbox, but now you’re looking at it differently. And we want them to. Our shows are different. Our production quality is different. Our outlook on what we’re doing, the projects we’re taking on, the scripts we’re developing, everything is different, and we’re shifting, and we want the imagery of Lunchbox to shift with us, and we think it’s gone in the perfect direction.
Sounds like such an exciting time to be a part of Lunchbox, so what’s going on with you?
And ahhh – I’m going to leave! I’m moving to Amsterdam this summer. And I really just needed a change. I don’t know how else to explain it. It was this whim in February. I just sort of was like – I need to go do this. I looked into visas, and most visas in most countries are the working holiday visa, and they’re only valid until you’re thirty. So, I said, I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t have a partner. I don’t really have anything tying me down. I can come back to this wonderful community – that I know will take me back when I come back – and I just need to go. I need to do this.
What are you going to do?
I have no idea. (Laughs) Step one is find a place to live. I just want to work when I’m over there. I want to travel. I just want to meet people.
Well, good for you for doing this. Do you think this explains part of your success as a marketer? I mean just even in your own life the willingness to take a risk – to try something new – to see how it works?
Maybe. And I’m realizing more and more, I react on my gut a lot. I follow my gut, and looking back on things and the decisions I’ve made – even the gut decision to take the job at Lunchbox – I’ve always followed that, and it’s always led me in the right direction. And my gut is telling me to go to Amsterdam, and so I’m just going to do it. And we’ll see what happens.
Lunchbox Theatre is located at the base of the Calgary Tower. Regular season shows run Monday to Saturday at 12:00 pm with a 6:00 pm show on Thursday and Friday. Individual tickets are just $25.00. Group discounts, play passes and regular tickets can be purchased online at Lunchbox Theatre or by calling the box office at 403-265-4292 x 0.
One of the most successful noon hour theatre companies in the world.
Mickey & Judy – September 17 to October 6, 2018
Playwright Michael Hughes
Performer Michael Hughes
As a young boy, Michael Hughes was obsessed with musicals and liked to dress in women’s clothing. His parents, confused by his behaviour and determined to cure him, sent him to the Clark Institute in Toronto. Mickey & Judy offers a wildly funny and touching account of Michael’s real-life journey from the psychiatric ward to Off-Broadway. With a score that spans from Broadway classics to the best of the Judy Garland songbook, this inspiring cabaret show will have you laughing, crying, and singing along like no one is listening.
Brave Girl – October 22 to November 10, 2018
Playwright Emily Dallas
Directed by Valmai Goggin
Musical Direction by Joe Slabe
In 2002, Sam and Amy lose their father to the war in Afghanistan. Determined to follow his legacy and do their father proud, the sisters enlist and support each other through the joys and hardships of military training. As the two girls advance, their individual journeys take a very different course. Will their friendship survive? At what cost? Taking its inspiration from the life of Sandra Perron, Canada’s first female infantry officer, this beautiful new Remembrance musical examines the life of women in power and the sacrifices that must be made.
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play – November 26 to December 22, 2018
Playwright Joe Landry
Directed by Craig Hall
Back by popular demand! It’s Christmas Eve and the unimaginable has happened. George Bailey is on the edge of ruin; thousands of dollars are lost and with seemingly no way to save the old Bailey Savings & Loan, George wonders if the world would be better off had he never lived? With the help of a rookie angel and a cast of charming characters, It’s a Wonderful Life reminds us that we are each precious and important. Conceived as a live 1940s radio broadcast, this classic holiday story of love and redemption will be brought to life on stage by our Betty Mitchell Award-winning ensemble.
Sansei: the Storyteller – January 14 to 26, 2019
Playwright Mark Kunji Ikeda
Performer Mark Kunji Ikeda
On December 7, 1941, an attack on Pearl Harbour triggered events in Canada that may easily be described as among the darkest in our history – the internment and dispossession of tens of thousands of Japanese Canadians. Through an engaging blend of dance, spoken word and loads of humour, Mark Ikeda weaves a tale that is illuminating and profoundly personal. Sansei: The Storyteller offers Ikeda’s observations about the internment, his own discovery of where he came from, and how Japanese Canadians found peace.
Assassinating Thomson – February 11 to March 2, 2019
Playwright/Performer Bruce Horak
Directed by Ryan Gladstone
Bruce Horak is a critically acclaimed visual artist, actor and playwright who lives with just 9% of his vision. In this, his one-man tour-de-force, Horak delves into the mysterious death of famous Canadian painter Tom Thomson and the subsequent rise of the Group of 7. Art, politics, ambition, love and murder all take the stage in Horak’s compelling work. As he explores the facts and fictions around Thomson’s death, Horak shares his own story and the unique way in which he sees the world. And if that weren’t enough – while mesmerizing them with his words, Horak paints an original portrait of the audience at every show.
Gutenberg the Musical – April 1 to 20, 2019
Playwright Scott Brown & Anthony King
Directed by Samantha MacDonald
Bud and Deb are aspiring playwrights about to give the performance of their lives. It’s a backer’s audition, and in a desperate, bravely hopeful bid to fulfill their dreams of a Broadway production, Bud and Deb, with an overwhelming supply of enthusiasm will sing all the songs and play all the parts in their “big splashy” musical about Johann Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press. Will all their dreams come true? Gutenberg! The Musical! is a raucous spoof of all things musical and is guaranteed to mildly offend everyone equally.
Lunchbox Theatre was founded in Calgary, Alberta, Canada by Bartley and Margaret Bard and Betty Gibb in 1975. Lunchbox produces one-act plays that deliver a fun and unique theatre experience in an intimate and comfortable black box theatre space. Patrons are encouraged to eat their lunch while they enjoy the show. Lunchbox is one of the most successful and longest running noon hour theatre companies in the world.
This is a shorter version of a longer interview with Lauren Thompson. You can read the longer interview at jameshutchison.ca
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