Grit, determination & a love affair with the speed bag in the funny, moving, inspiring Newsgirl

Savoy Howe in Newsgirl—photo by Dahlia Katz

 

Tracey Erin Smith and Soulo Theatre celebrated the 5th anniversary of the Soulo Theatre Festival, opening this year’s fest with an Opening Night Gala presentation of Savoy Howe’s Newsgirl. With direction and dramatury by Soulo Theatre A.D. Smith, Newsgirl ran for one night only at the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club in front of an enthusiastic, sold out house—and a standing ovation—last night. The fest continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre tonight and throughout the weekend.

When Savoy Howe moved away from her home in New Brunswick in the late 80s to study theatre in Hamilton and later move to Toronto, she had no way of foreseeing what was in store—and the journey that would bring her the sense of strength, determination and empowerment that she would go on to share with women and trans people.

This is the story of Newsgirl, Howe’s autobiographical solo show that takes her from a tomboy growing up on a Canadian Air Force base, to her coming out, to training as a boxer and later passing on her knowledge as a boxing coach, starting the first women’s and trans-friendly boxing gym in Canada: the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club. And, while it was a photo of a woman wearing boxing gloves that inspired Howe to take up the sport, it was a speed bag that made her fall in love with boxing.

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Savoy Howe in Newsgirl—photo by Dahlia Katz

Combining the physicality, strategy and philosophy of boxing with considerable stand-up and storytelling chops, Howe is an engaging, energetic and endearing performer. With Howe primarily telling her story from inside the boxing ring, the show is dynamically staged, moving her around the gym as she highlights discovery and work on the heavy bag and speed bag; and her rookie first entry into the ring is hilarious!

Newsgirls is a story of struggle, grit and a ‘don’t give up’ attitude that takes some rough, and sometimes violent, turns. Perseverance, a big heart and a curious, open mind—not to mention a hard-working, helping hand way of looking at life—make the wins and losses equal in value. Always learning, never backing down from a challenge, and enduring the deep-seated sexism and male aggression of this world, Howe is an inspiration. Newsgirl is a classic underdog makes good story. And it definitely packs a punch.

Grit, determination and a love affair with the speed bag in the funny, moving, inspiring Newsgirl.

Check out this great interview in VICE Sports with Savoy Howe on how she got into boxing, opened Newsgirls, and how she and the gym are empowering women and trans people. You can also follow the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club on Facebook.

Howe is in the process of launching a crowdfunding campaign to keep the gym alive and serving the community; stay tuned for details on how you can help.

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Soulo Theatre A.D. Tracey Erin Smith in the ring at Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club—photo by Dahlia Katz

Newsgirl was a one-night only performance, but no worries—there are lots more life-changing, life-affirming true stories to come tonight and this weekend at the fest, which includes solo shows and panel discussions. The Soulo Theatre Festival continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre till May 28; check out the full schedule and purchase advance tickets and get your festival pass.

Department of corrections: The original post for the show mentioned that Howe studied theatre in Toronto; it was actually Hamilton. The error has been corrected.

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Toronto Fringe: Blood, sweat, tears & heart as you root for the underdog in Bout

Matthew Gouveia & Stephanie Carpanini in Bout - photo by Chantale Renee
Matthew Gouveia & Stephanie Carpanini in Bout – photo by Chantale Renee

A struggling actor drawn to the boxing ring. A has-been boxer turned trainer.

As we enter the gym, you can smell the hard work, the fight, the sweat. A lone woman jumps rope in the ring as her trainer catches a cat nap off to the side, classical music blaring over the speakers.

Inspired by her training with three-time world champion, Olympic boxer Mary Spencer, Stephanie Carpanini wrote The Greatest – seven years later, in collaboration with Matthew Gouveia, that one-woman show has been re-imagined as Bout, produced by Sats Theatre and running at Sully’s Boxing Gym (1024 Dupont St., on the north side, a bit west of Dovercourt) during the Toronto Fringe Festival.

Jackie (Carpanini) is a “stumble bum” in auditions, waiting tables to make ends meet in her daily battle to make her mark in the world. Down, but not out, her sense of fight and lifelong fascination with boxing take her to a boxing gym, where she meets “Coach” Manny (Gouveia) and embarks on a journey of hard knocks training and discipline – and the fight of her life.

Incorporating moments from three of the best boxing movies ever made (Raging Bull, Rocky and Million Dollar Baby), Bout tells the story of an everywoman who feels like a nobody, but still strives to be a somebody. Carpanini’s Jackie is full of drive, deep longing and guts. This actor turned boxer is stubborn, determined and unwilling to give up as she pushes herself to be better – an inspiring character that you can’t help but root for. Gouveia’s Manny is a Portuguese Canadian who talks like an Italian; he has a way of cutting through the bullshit and getting to the point – and the heart – of a matter with dead-eye accuracy. He is tough and relentless in his pursuit of excellence, his rough exterior tempered by a big heart and abiding love of the sport.

The site-specific venue, with its accompanying atmosphere and training gear, puts the audience solidly in this world. The fight scene (Chelsea Ferrando as Jackie’s opponent, and Margaret Evraire and Emily Jeffries as the Ring Girls) near the top of the show and the training exercises throughout are intense and evocative of the hard physical, mental and emotional work. And when Jackie’s jumping rope, you can feel the ground vibrating, thumping like a heart pounding blood through veins.

Bout immerses you in the blood, sweat and tears of an underdog full of fight and heart – and features truly beautiful, honest and nuanced performances from Carpanini and Gouveia.

Bout runs every night at Sully’s Gym (except for no show on Mon, July 6) at 10 p.m. – check the show’s Fringe page for more info.