Northan’s new recruits

Kung Fu “Sisterhood” draws fresh blood

Kung Fu Panties premièred in Calgary in 2011 to massive ticket sales and acclaim. Penned by Calgary performer Rebecca Northan Panties is an action movie for the stage filled with sword-wielding combat car chases and comedy. Posters for the première production featuring scantily clad cast members were notoriously stolen on a regular basis; in one case the thieves attempted to pry open a steel-framed poster marquee. Moreover advertisements popped up on Kijiji with people looking for tickets and willing to pay an exorbitant amount of money to get them.

Northan says that kind of theft and hunger for tickets to a live theatre show is unheard of and reflected the level of excitement surrounding the show. The latest production opens this week and has already been held over until mid-March due to demand.

Northan says the original run was one of the most enjoyable experiences of her career. “It made me feel like I had won the lottery” she says. “I was in a rehearsal hall working on a play with some of my favourite comedic actors in Calgary. I couldn’t get up in the morning early enough and get to the rehearsal hall soon enough and at the end of the day I didn’t want rehearsal to be over. It was a ridiculous amount of fun.”

Kung Fu Panties tells the story of The Sisterhood an elite underground vigilante group that pursues criminal masterminds who evade capture by international agencies. Where Interpol fails the Sisterhood steps in and their latest mission will be their greatest challenge. When arms dealer Alberto Flores resurfaces two years after the only failed assassination attempt in Sisterhood history the women spring into action eager to finish the job.

For Northan the play is about love heartbreak and betrayal set against the backdrop of a kung fu movie satire. She believes the best comedy has heart and emotional truth as its foundation.

Rather than a remount with the original producing company and cast this latest production is produced by Northan herself in collaboration with Loose Moose Theatre. It will feature a lineup of up-and-coming performing artists alongside Loose Moose veterans. Northan says the decision to produce the show with new talent was part economics and part aesthetics. Working with younger talent generally reduces the cost of a production when compared to hiring equity performers. But she worked with a number of the young performers during a recent production with Shakespeare in the Park and she thought they showed incredible talent.

In exchange for working on an independent production for less pay Northan offered her emerging performers a host of training workshops in fight choreography marketing self-production comedy and improv.

“I asked the cast if they would take this risk with me” says Northan “because who knows if we’re going to sell enough tickets to make money?”

The value that she offered them in exchange for taking the risk was to provide mentorship that would give them the tools they would need to succeed in their long-term career goals.

“When I think back to when I was graduating from school” says Northan “I wish someone had sat me down and talked to me about the importance of producing my own work…. I’ve got the most satisfaction out of doing my own work. But it also took me a long time to figure out a process of production that was affordable and got me visibility.”

She says the cast was very excited to receive this kind of instruction — the kind of training they never received in their post-secondary theatre schools.

Working on the show with two different casts has been a unique experience for Northan. Veteran performers will often make bigger bolder choices as they interpret their characters and remain unapologetic about it. Younger emerging actors often lack the confidence to make such choices and often seek approval beforehand or avoid making bold choices altogether. Northan tried to drive home to her cast that she wanted them to share their ideas freely and openly.

“I believe that the best idea is in the room. I don’t necessarily believe it’s going to come from me. So I told them ‘I really want to hear your suggestions and I want to see your offers — because that inspires me and it makes me better.’”