In the 19th century, Swedish archeologists discovered the remains of a Viking warrior outside Stockholm. Along with the body, the grave contained an array of weapons, two sacrificed horses and gaming pieces, leading researchers to believe the warrior to be a wealthy tactician and leader. They also determined the Viking was a man.
However, that longstanding assumption was debunked in 2017 when DNA tests confirmed the skeletal remains belonged to a woman. When Gabriola Island resident Melanie Teichroeb read about those findings, she wondered what that Viking warrior would have to say about it.
“Here’s this woman who for basically 200 years her story was completely dismissed and I thought, ‘What would she say?’” Teichroeb said.
Teichroeb started jotting down ideas and soon discovered she had a the makings of a one-woman show on her hands. In the play, entitled Shield Maiden, Teichroeb’s Viking “Ingrid Larsdottir” is hosting the medieval equivalent of a TED Talk to set the record straight on what it means to be a woman warrior.
Teichroeb worked with Gabriola costume designer Dianna Bonder to create a outfit accurate to the 10th century while also giving Ingrid “an edge.” Teichroeb said Ingrid’s bold, defiant attitude was inspired by a workshop she attended on strength and femininity. She said these elements all came together on the stage.
“When you write a play, it’s one-dimensional, it’s in your head, it’s on the page and it’s not until you get to rehearsals when you start discovering really how she walks, how she moves, how she speaks,” Teichroeb said. “So that was where she was really born.”
Shield Maiden is Teichroeb’s first experience writing for the stage and last summer she debuted the production at Gabriola’s Cultivate Performing Arts Festival to an enthusiastic, sold-out audience.
“It was a crowd of really intense theatregoers – it’s pretty serious over here, the theatre festival – so it was such an exciting opportunity to get this character and this play out in front of an audience. It was great,” Teichroeb said.
“I really hoped that the character would connect with the audience. I really envisioned this character to be highly relatable, and she was. The audience was really able to dive right in and connect with her.”
This month Teichroeb is remounting the play and bringing it to the Haven’s Phoenix Auditorium on Gabriola on Jan. 18 and 19 before performing four shows from Jan. 29 to Feb. 2 at the Frontera theatre festival in Austin, Texas.
Teichroeb has been working with director and TheatreOne artistic associate Nicolle Nattrass to further refine the play before taking it on the road.
“We’ve gone even deeper into the character,” Teichroeb said. “I feel like I understand her a lot more clearly than I did before.”
This is the first time the two have worked together. Nattrass said Shield Maiden a strong for a debut effort.
“I think she’s put together an amazing show,”Nattrass said. “I think it’s really funny and I think it’s timely.”
Nattress said a first show is always “do or die,” but it’s also a learning experience.
“You look at it and go, ‘OK, so I birthed that … what did I like, what can I improve upon?’ And so your second production is just even stronger,” she said. “And I think Melanie has a natural gift. I think she’s really gifted and it’s wonderful to see her explore that.”
Teichroeb has ambitious goals for the play and plans to continue bringing it to new audiences.
“In my mind there is no limit to the potential of where this show can go,” she said.
WHAT’S ON … Shield Maiden comes to the Haven’s Phoenix Auditorium, 240 Davis Rd., on Jan. 18 and 19 at 7 p.m. Tickets $20, available at North Road Sports and online.