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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Coming soon: SOULO Theatre pop-up show The Return of Superlady!

Hey, kids! A new superhero is coming to town. It’s Superlady!

A pop-up show hosted by SOULO Theatre presents a new dark comedy (with hints of light): The Return of Superlady. Written by Katie Ford and directed by Anita La Selva, the show features Tracey Erin Smith, Christopher Sawchyn, Caitlin B. Driscoll and Savoy Howe.

I asked playwright Katie Ford how The Return of Superlady came about. Here’s what she had to say:

The Return of Superlady, I wrote about eight years ago originally. A friend of mine, Andrea Bendewald, showed up to lunch wearing aviator sunglasses. She struck me as looking like a superhero. And, in that moment, I wrote the play—of the everywoman as superhero. Superhuman strength and human weakness… and a cool pair of aviators.

Andrea and I worked on it, but never developed it fully. Then … I was meditating about a month ago and it came to me to give it to Tracey [Erin Smith]. The goddess and superhero, and gal’s gal. Tracey is so electric onstage, and her work is full of humor and compassion—I thought she is the superhero for our times. A super lady in comfortable pants.

Here’s the synopsis from the production:

Superhuman strength and human weakness, it’s a screw over, says Cherie (Superlady). Born into a small town with no idea of her destiny, Superlady has been fighting foes, evil and her own neurotic family for years—and now she’s done. She longs for home but fights for humanity. One more quest before she can go back—if a major super villain or working on intimacy with her family doesn’t kill her first.

The Return of Superlady runs March 29 to April 2 (Wed – Sat @ 9pm and Sunday @ 4pm & 8pm) at Red Sandcastle Theatre; advance tix available online.

What are you waiting for? Get your cape and aviators on—and fly on over!

 

 

A marvelous evening @ Mini-Soulo Festival, ft. Bits & Pieces by Diane Flacks & Katie Ford

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Diane Flacks & Katie Ford (front), Tracey Erin Smith (back) – photo by Shy Alter

Last night’s program for Tracey Erin Smith and SoulOTheatre’s Mini-Soulo Festival at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre was a multipurpose, big fun event that combined theatre fundraiser, love-in and new solo works.

Smith played auctioneer throughout the evening, calling out fabulous items that included a ukulele lesson from Jodi Pape (who serenaded us before the festivities began), one night’s rental at Red Sandcastle Theatre, a photo shoot with Shy Alter and a surprise last-minute offering of a year’s membership at Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club, courtesy of Savoy Howe.

Solo show class student Sara Armstrong kicked off the night’s performances with her show Tripping on the Way out of Town. Featuring personal stories of her life, spanning childhood memories to experiences of sexuality, and bookended with camel rides, Armstrong’s show is unflinchingly frank, and a strong commentary on the assumptions and expectations of others. Peppered with humour and dance breaks, the serious subjects are matter-of-fact and avoid the slide into maudlin. Funny and poignant, keep an eye out for Armstrong and this piece.

For the main event, Diane Flacks and Katie Ford performed a reading of their two-person solo show Bits and Pieces, which received dramaturgical support from Smith. Part stand-up, part monologue, part dialogue between two good friends, Flacks and Ford take us on a trip of life, love and resilience.

From the opening back and forth on everyday things we should just stop doing, to personal experiences of fear and courage, the piece is equal parts autobiographical, inspirational and motivational. Whether performing in character, like Flacks’ hilarious self-involved but present hot yoga instructor, or presenting personal anecdotes – Ford’s musings about a fledgling relationship and whether to keep it at a safe arm’s length or dive right in, and both share heart-wrenching accounts of experiences with death – Flacks and Ford make us laugh, cry and think.

Ultimately, Bits and Pieces is about finding your authentic self, getting back up when you get knocked down – and just staying present. Life really is too short after all. And what if, like Ford’s dog Ollie, you thought the whole world was your friend?

Bits and Pieces is a funny, moving, joyful ride through life’s experiences, and a reminder to stay present and not give up. A work in progress, I look forward to see where Flacks and Ford go with this piece. In case you missed it, check out the cowbell interview with Flacks and Ford.

The Mini-Soulo Festival wraps up this afternoon (Sun, Nov 30) with workshops and a public reading at Red Sandcastle Theatre. Congrats to Smith and SoulOTheatre for winning NOW Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Award for Best Small Theatre Company!

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