The original cast of Glory. (photo by Barbara Zimonick)
I hope Glory inspires audience members to look up the Preston Rivulettes and learn how amazingly driven, committed, skilled and bad-ass these female hockey players were,” Advah Soudack told the Independent.
The Rivulettes were entered into the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame in 1963. According to the website of the Rivulettes Junior Hockey Club, “The team played an estimated 350 games between 1930 and 1940, tying three and losing only two. In that 10-year span, the Rivulettes were 10 times the winners of the Bobbie Rosenfeld Trophy that was presented each year to the champions of Ontario. They were also six-time winners of the Eastern Canadian championship and the Elmer Doust Cup that went with it. They won the trophy each time they competed for it. The team’s crowning achievement was capturing the Lady Bessborough Trophy as Canadian champions no less than six times.”
“Their determination, their courage, their fight and their passion” were what inspired Tracey Power to write Glory, which starts its touring run March 29-30 at Kay Meek Arts Centre in West Vancouver.
Power was also interested in 1930s Canada, which “presented many personal challenges, a national depression, the growth of international hatred that would ultimately become the Second World War, and how those international relations greatly affected Canadian multicultural relations, antisemitism and sexism, to name just a few.
“Through hard times,” she said, “we often turn to sport or entertainment for escape, for community and for strength. For me, the women on this team and their coach represented not just a team of hockey players, but a country fighting to survive.”
Glory premièred last year, and the touring production brings with it some changes, including two new actors, Andrew Wheeler as the team’s coach, Herb Fach, and Soudack as the character Marm Schwartz.
“The choreography grows and strengthens with every run,” said Power of other changes. “I’m a huge believer in trying new ideas, and the more detailed we can be in our storytelling, the more exciting it will be for our audience. There may be some new text ideas that come out of rehearsal. I’m always open to a new play exploring new territory each time we go back into rehearsal.”
Kate Dion-Richard reprises her role as Helen Schwartz.
“Tracey reached out to me a couple of years ago to play the part of Helen in a workshop and reading for the show,” said Dion-Richard. “A few months after the workshop, I auditioned formally for the role. That included reading a couple of scenes, as well as taking part in a group dance call. The dance was a new style of ‘swing-skate’ that Tracey had created, which incorporated swing dance moves of the 1930s with hockey skills and plays.”
It is not an accident that Jewish community members have been cast as the real-life Jewish sisters.
“Marm struggles with being able to get the education she wants because of quotas universities had at the time; she fights back against antisemitism and must find ways to deal with her anger both on the ice and off. Helen is confident in her femininity and struggles to figure out how such an aggressive sport fits within the expected view of a woman of that time. It has always been important to me to have Jewish actors play these roles,” explained Power.
“During the development of the play,” she said, “the conversations we had were instrumental in bringing the characters’ truths to the stage. I am not Jewish, but it’s my duty as the playwright to understand the souls and bones of these women and what they went through. I’m extremely thankful to Kate Dion-Richard, Gili Roskies [who played Marm last year] and Advah Soudack for being so open and honest with me about their own Jewish history.
“Bobbie Rosenfeld was one of the most famous Canadian athletes of the 1920s/30s,” she added. “She was an Olympic gold medalist and, among many other sports, played hockey for the Toronto Pats. She inspired many women to follow their athletic dreams – including Hilda Ranscombe, who was the Hayley Wickenheiser of the Preston Rivulettes – and, much like Marm, she also fought against antisemitism in her sport and life.”
“The awareness of, frustration and personal experience with antisemitism are a big part of Marm’s storyline and journey in this show,” said Soudack. “I personally have not experienced the extent of antisemitism that Marm experiences in this story, however, my close family members have, and I can understand and imagine what it would be like. I feel that I bring my strong sense of Jewish identity to the role of Marm, with all its deep-rooted traditions and expectations. I also share and connect with the concern and, at times, discomfort Marm feels with being Jewish in a world where antisemitism lingers right around the corner.”
Dion-Richard, whose Jewish side of the family is from London, England, grew up hearing stories of living through the war from her grandparents. “Those stories stay with me and in many ways is why this role is so close to home,” she said. “Although Helen is Canadian, the antisemitism felt in Canada in the 1930s was strong and I am able to connect to that through my family’s experiences. Also, on a lighter note, I married a man who isn’t Jewish and so did my character, so that’s a nice similarity.”
And there are other connections for Dion-Richard, who was a hockey fan before taking on this show. “My large extended family of Richards are huge Montreal Canadiens fans due to our distant cousin Maurice Richard (‘The Rocket’),” she shared, “and I grew up on the West Coast, so the Canucks were frequently on the television at home. I have definitely become more of a fan since doing this show – especially of women’s hockey. The Canadian women’s team is incredible and I’d love to meet them and chat about their experiences as women in a traditionally male-dominated sport. I’d also love to know if they know about the Rivulettes!”
Soudack admitted to not having been much of a hockey fan before she started her research and work on Glory. “My husband is a big fan, so I always hear him talking about it, and get dragged onto his computer to watch videos of amazing plays and goals,” she said. However, since Glory, she has become more interested in the game. “I recently went to Thunderbird Stadium to watch the UBC Women’s Hockey playoffs,” she said. “Their commitment, drive and talent were inspiring. I was moved to tears as I sat there, thinking of Hilda, Nellie [Ranscombe], Marm and Helen, realizing and deeply understanding why they loved the game so much.”
About sports and the relevance of the Rivulettes’ experiences for today’s audiences, Soudack said, “It still feels the same, in regard to women not having the same opportunities and not really being seen as equals to men in athletic ability. I find it sad that young girls can fall in love with a sport and be exceptional at it, like Hilda Ranscombe; however, there is no future career they can look toward. Once the war was over, women’s opportunity to play sports vanished, whereas the men’s opportunities and careers took off.”
“Women not only had to fight for ice time – often having to play and practise in the very early hours or very late hours of the day; essentially when the men didn’t need the ice – but they also had to fight to be taken seriously,” said Dion-Richard. “Many of the reports of the women’s hockey games included remarks about the apparent lack of femininity within the game and some even questioned the sex of the players because of how aggressive the women were. Also, women were unable to be professional hockey players. The men were paid and the women weren’t. As a woman living in 2019, I still see the need to fight for equality with pay, representation and respect.”
Directed by James MacDonald, Glory has some minor profanity and is recommended for ages 9+. The Western Canada Theatre production – which includes Katie Ryerson as Hilda and Morgan Yamada as her sister, Nellie – heads to Gateway Theatre in Richmond April 4-13 after the March 29-30 Kay Meek shows, then to Capitol Theatre in Nelson April 16, Vernon’s art centre April 18 and Coquitlam’s Evergreen centre April 23-27. It also travels to Ontario, where it plays in several communities over the course of a few months.
“I’d love to add that this show has something for everyone,” said Dion-Richard. “The Canadian history is so important to know, as well as the fight for respect and equality that these women pushed for. They really paved the way for all of us and I hope we can show how grateful we are to them for that. This is a show that could be a link for people who don’t normally go to the theatre. It fuses sport and theatre with Canadian history, and the story is as relevant today as it was in the 1930s.”