The creator of a play likened to a “10th-century version of a Ted Talk” wants women to be more attuned with their warrior spirits.
As part of the Port Theatre’s ongoing Discovery Series, Gabriola Island’s Melanie Teichroeb will debut Shield Maiden for a Nanaimo audience.
“I don’t think women are particularly aware of their inner strength, their warrior spirit,” said the playwright. “Even though they have to tap into it all the time for all kinds of different reasons – whether they’re advocating for themselves in the workplace, or their home life, or even for their health. I don’t think women are consciously aware of how much they’re fighting for themselves and others.”
When stepping into the motivational character of Ingrid Larsdottir, Teichroeb said she was surprised by how greatly the fictional Viking impacted her own life. The Viking warrior isn’t based on a single idea or any one person in particular, but rather an amalgamation of all the women the playwright has known in her life – and even considers the character to be a reflection of the woman she wishes she could be. As a self-professed nurturer and motherly figure, Teichroeb grappled to define what her own “warrior energy” looked liked, how she could manage it, and what it might look like to others.
“It was not easy,” Teichroeb said, adding that the character isn’t shackled by modern-day sexism and much of what she says can sound shocking. “And it’s meant to shock and poke us a little bit – out of what we’ve become accustomed to, in terms of gender-normative behaviour.”
The premise of Shield Maiden portrays Ingrid Larsdottir as an unpractised public speaker looking to recruit warriors, and in turn, “unintentionally taps into some old traumas” and motivations on why the character became a shield maiden in the first place.
“There’s a lot of trauma-informed moments in the play. And I think pretty much every human is trauma informed, to different degrees,” Teichroeb said. “And I think she’s genuinely able to access that, acknowledge it, make jokes about it and move on. So I think there’s just this awareness that we all are slightly damaged, doing the very best we can in the world. And I think Ingrid gives us an opportunity to acknowledge that and be grateful for the gifts that our trauma has given us. And try to find humour in the moment.”
Although the play does not necessarily include audience participation, the fourth wall is broken when the character directly addresses the “rowdy crowd” before her.
To Teichroeb, it was important to tell this story as a stage production since she believes performing it in front of a live audience has the potential for further connection while working through feelings and issues stirred up by the subject matter. The playwright also said a live production provides further accessibility to those for whom reading text isn’t always easy. The Port Theatre staging will also include an ASL interpretation, as requested by Teichroeb, so the deaf and heard of hearing community can enjoy the experience with ease as well.
Shield Maiden was written in 2018 and launched at the annual Gabriola Art Council’s Cultivate Festival the same year. Since Teichroeb made a full-length video of the first performance, she submitted it to FronteraFest in Austin, Texas, and was invited to perform in 2019. Later that year, the play was also staged at the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York City.
The playwright said she had been gearing up for a big touring season in 2020, but was unexpectedly shut down by safety regulations at the start of the pandemic. The summer of 2022 brought about a resurgence of the show with several performances in the interior of B.C. and Teichroeb said she aspires to soon take the one-woman comedy across Canada.
The inspiration for the character, and her unapologetic nature, arose from a National Geographic article which stated a historical archaeological dig had been done approximately 100 years ago in Sweden of a high-status Viking warrior’s grave – at that time, believed to be a man. However, in 2017, archaeologists performed DNA sample testing and determined the skeletal remains belonged to a female body.
“So I thought, what a great character to bring to life when all these women are speaking their truths and standing up to all kinds of sexual abuse and harassment…. and this woman probably has something to say,” Teichroeb said, adding that she started the essentials of the play during the #MeToo movement.
The playwright also considered a “what if” scenario for Shield Maiden, specifically, what if history had included the stories of more women leaders from the beginning, and how would that have impacted how modern women view themselves in positions of power, or how might that change how men view women in power had history been more inclusive.
Following the Port Theatre staging, Teichroeb will host a post-show chat with Vancouver Island University professor Joy Gugeler and First Nations advocate Stephanie Johnson, where they will riff on some of the themes from the play and invite the audience to ask questions and share comments.
“It’s always a really juicy time right after the show, because the show does stir up a lot of stuff in people… It’s a wild ride,” Teichroeb said.
Shield Maiden will be staged for one night only at the Port Theatre on Thursday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased online through www.porttheatre.com.