As her colleagues strike poses under a spotlight on stage, Flora Karas twirls just beyond the curtain.
Decked out in a white and gold bustier, Karas sparkles. Her tail feathers fall in a cascade as she shakes her bottom, seemingly oblivious to theatre technicians around her at The Columbia in New Westminster.
Much like her character, the spunky bombshell who plays Pink Champagne in NeverYouMind Productions’ presentation of A Particular Class of Women needs to float into her own world at times.
“People don’t know if Pink Champagne is in reality or not and I think a lot of people look at me like that. They think Flora lives in her own world. Trust me, it’s way better in Floraland,” Karas says with a cheeky grin.
Written by Janet Feindel, who spent 10 years as a stripper, A Particular Class of Women is a revealing composite of life in the skin trade.
It was inspired by a 1985 court case in Ontario, where a stripper was raped at knife-point. The presiding judge paid little attention to the crime because the victim “was from a particular class of women whose profession it is to promote lust.”
Featuring raw monologues, the play offers a realistic look at the lives of these often marginalized women.
Karas’ character is a Polish immigrant – a feature dancer – who is alienated and bullied by the other strippers at the club.
Transforming into Pink Champagne has centred Karas. Though daunting, it’s a role she wants to honour.
“She’s probably one of the strongest characters in the play,” says Karas.
“She had to make a really hard choice in life. All she truly wants is to be accepted.”
Karas can relate to Pink Champagne’s drive to be a feature dancer – a star.
“It takes a lot of responsibility and hard work to get yourself to that status. It wasn’t just given to her. It’s not far from how I am,” she explains.
“I think the other girls don’t understand that she is where she is because she’s worked hard for it.”
To prepare for the role, Karas got Polish women to read the script, tweaked her accent to turn the “k’s” to “g’s” and had learned to accept her body, flaws and all.
“I believe my whole life has been building up to this part,” says Karas, from Port Coquitlam.
“This play forces you to accept yourself 100 per cent. Once you give yourself permission to use your humanity and your meat-suit to tell a real, truthful story, it’s magical.”
Maple Ridge actress Lauren Campbell knows exactly what Karas is talking about. Campbell first got acquainted with her character Luv when she was cast in an Emerald Pig production of the play. That production won accolades last year at Mainstage, B.C.’s provincial theatre festival.
Campbell, however, wasn’t ready to give up Luv.
“It’s such an important story to tell. I want as many people to hear about it as possible,” she says.
In February, after a few words of encouragement from Bard on the Beach’s Christopher Gaze, Campbell decided to start her own production company, signing up two cohorts – Karas and Lisa Marie Marrelli, who are also part of the production.
A year of playing Luv, the sexy Southern belle, has allowed Campbell to grow more comfortable with the role.
“Every time I play her, rehearse or read over my monologue, I learn something new about her or myself,” she says.
This time round, reincarnated Luv is not just angry, she’s more nuanced.
“I realized she loves soap operas. She is very different this time around. It’s exciting to find these discoveries,” says Campbell.
“I’ve learned so much about her as a woman and an artist. I have so much love for her.”
NeverYouMind Productions draws its name from Blueberry Girl, a book and poem by Neil Gaiman, a tale of empowerment Lisa Marie Marrelli often reads to her twin daughters.
It’s perfect for the company whose goal is to create theatre that feeds the soul.
“Our mandate is to create theatre that’s enlivening, that gets people thinking and feeling and believing in theatre again,” she says.
As the director Marrelli has had to acquaint herself with all the characters in A Particular Class of Women.
Rather than stifle, it’s allowed her to understand her character Angel, the exotic club clown who is hiding a dark secret.
“It feels like she always lives inside of me,” says Marrelli.
Each dancer embodies something the audience can relate to and that makes the play special for Marrelli.
Just like the dancers who let loose in their dressing room, Marrelli has designated the stage as a safe space.
“It’s about empowering women putting them in a place of being in control,” she says.
“Yeah, some of these women are abused but they are up on stage and no one can harm them and no one can touch them. They are in control.”
• A Particular Class of Women which plays at the Waterfront Theatre in Vancouver Oct. 16-20 and The Columbia in New Westminster: Oct 24-25. For tickets, visit neveryoumindproductions.com.
Cast & crew
A Particular Class of Women stars:
Sarah Dawn Pledge
Emily Doreen Wilson
Lisa Marie Marrelli
• Set designer: John McGie
• Costumer designer: Charlene Rowley
• Technical director: Ian McAdie