Fearless cast keep it real at Presentation House

A Particular Class of Women deconstructs stereotypes in NeverYouMind production

A Particular Class of Women, presented by NeverYouMind Productions, Feb. 18-23 at North Vancouver's Presentation House Theatre. Tickets: $23-$28. For more info visit phtheatre.org.

Those involved in an upcoming play profiling the intimate lives of a group of women working in a strip club in the 1980s hope audiences walk away inspired to think before jumping to conclusions about a person's personality based upon their profession.

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"The play is really about breaking stereotypes that we often hold in our society, whether we know it or not," says Flora Karas, one of the creators of NeverYouMind Productions, which is set to open its production of A Particular Class of Women, Tuesday at North Vancouver's Presentation House Theatre.

"A lot of the times when you think of strippers there's a whole slew of associations that come to mind. This play basically deconstructs those stereotypes and I think that's really important because it doesn't matter whether you're working as a fireman, whether you're working as a stripper, whether you're working as a real estate agent, all of those professions come with a slew of stereotypes," she says.

Karas, a Vancouver resident, formed NeverYouMind Productions in February 2013 with partners Lauren A. Campbell and Lisa-Marie Marrelli.

Campbell and Marrelli had previously been involved in a production of the show in the spring of 2012 with community theatre group Emerald Pig, based in Maple Ridge.

"We had such a great ride with it, we won a couple of awards in a local community theatre competition, and after the play was over, we just felt like we weren't done with it yet, there was so much more we could do," says Campbell, a Port Coquitlam resident.

A Particular Class of Women was written by Canadian playwright Janet Feindel and was inspired by a 1985 Ontario court case where a judge minimized a crime against a stripper, saying the victim "was from a particular class of women whose profession it is to promote lust," according to the play's promotional materials.

"It's just a really empowering and beautiful story that we wanted to bring to Vancouver," says Campbell.

With Karas on board, the trio decided A Particular Class of Women would be their inaugural production and premiered the play last fall at Granville Island's Waterfront Theatre and at The Columbia in New Westminster. They're currently touring the work, having just completed a run last week at Vancouver's Firehall Arts Centre. They're bringing the show to Presentation House Feb. 18-23, and then to Port Moody's Inlet Theatre, March 6-8.

All three women are featured performers in the play, joined by five other actors. The action centres around one woman, Lil, played by Michelle Ferguson, who gets fired because she's considered to be too old to be a stripper, and is interwoven with monologues by her colleagues at The Cabaret Circus.

Campbell plays Luv, "a Southern belle," who opens up about abuse experienced in her marriage, leaving her husband and the challenges of supporting her children. Empowered by her journey, she talks openly about her sexuality.

Karas plays Pink Champagne, who emigrated from Poland to Canada.

"She does not in any way feel shameful for what she does, she takes a lot of pride in her work and she's using it as a stepping stone towards attaining her highest and greatest good, which is movie stardom," says Karas. "She wants to be a movie star and this is where she's beginning. Nobody's going to tell her otherwise. She's full of optimism when it comes to her success. She has worked very hard to get to where she is."

Pink Champagne's story resonates with Karas as her own mother and grandmother emigrated from Greece to Canada in pursuit of a better life. "There is no difference with the personality type between me or my mom or Pink Champagne. We will do anything we can to grow and to attain our highest and greatest goods," she says.

Marrelli, a Maple Ridge resident, also feels a connection to her character, based on a shared love of making people laugh. Bringing Clown Angel - or "Miss Nude Newfoundland" as she's referred to by the MC - to life, required her to draw upon her clown training undertaken as part of her theatrical background.

"Clowns always tend to cover up so much of their sadness," says Marrelli. While Clown Angel is a hilarious, upbeat performer, the sad side of her story comes out - that she was a victim of rape and lost her sister to suicide.

Despite its focus on the inner world of those working in exotic dance clubs, the play is intended to have wide appeal.

"It's about empowering women, it's about giving the strength for people to step outside of their boundaries, outside of their comfort zones and to feel something different," says Marrelli.

In addition to the emotional openness required to bring the women to

life, the roles require a fair amount of physical openness as well, as the actors wear bikini costumes, and generally show a lot of skin throughout.

"It's the scariest show to do but through that great vulnerability I think I've personally found a great strength," says Karas. "I've never been comfortable with my quote-unquote meat suit.. .. When you have to really own it and live in it and share it with an audience, I feel like I've entered a whole other level of self-confidence and acceptance and love for the human body. I know for the other girls in the cast, just us being so courageous and around each other all the time and seeing all the different shapes and sizes, has helped us have a sense of confidence that comes from within. A lot of the time women's confidence comes from an external thing."

"It was the hardest thing to do, but the most beautiful thing to do, for any actor, any woman, to just fully accept their body exactly as they are, imperfections and everything," she adds.

Many female audience members have thanked the actors for the feelings of empowerment that grew after witnessing the fearlessness of the performers. That empowerment has given the actors further motivation.

NeverYouMind Productions' version of A Particular Class of Women has so far been well-received, which the company cocreators are incredibly grateful for.

"We took a lot of artistic risks that could have gone either way but went in our favour," says Karas.

"I think it was just a magical journey right from the beginning because we all came together out of the good of telling this story. I often say the magic follows you when you're being of service to your fellow human being," she adds.

Karas and her partners have high hopes for their new company and plan to unveil a full season of plays next year.

In the meantime, all efforts are focused on completing the current tour of their inaugural production and they encourage community members to take in an upcoming performance.

"We are baring all, essentially we are going to take all off, figuratively, and show the world a different side of theatre, and a different side of humans," says Marrelli.

"Give it a shot. Give us a try. Come, test the waters and then judge us after. This is about not judging people, this is about breaking those boundaries and we want people to walk away talking," she adds.

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