The Women of the Wild West come alive in Send in the Girls’ Soiled Doves

Delia Barnett and Ellen Chorley in Soiled Doves

Delia Barnett and Ellen Chorley in Soiled Doves: A Burlesque with Boots On. Photo credit: dbphotographics.

Send in the Girls returns to warm up the winter with some hot history: this time bringing to life four ‘soiled doves’ of 19th century American West in their newest work, Soiled Doves January 16 – 27 at the Backstage Theatre as part of the Fringe Spotlight Series.

The term ‘Soiled Doves’ was a term used in the 1800s to refer to women who broke the law, typically through prostitution. Send in the Girls was inspired to create Soiled Doves: A Burlesque With Boots On to tell the stories of the women of America’s ‘Wild West’: Josie Bassett (a rancher), Kitty LeRoy (a gambler, saloon owner, prostitute and trick shooter), Belle Starr (an outlaw) and Pearl Hart (an outlaw and stagecoach robber).

As is typical for Send in the Girls, the project began with a lot of research about women of the Wild West, which of course was difficult as many of these stories weren’t recorded, or were inaccurately recorded. Eventually, however, Send in the Girls whittled down the list to four women who, Delia Barnett (co-Artistic Director of Send in the Girls and a performer) says, “in today’s society, would be shamed for various behaviours, but without whom the west would not have been built up the way it is today.”

Delia says, “One of Send in the Girls’ mandates is bringing women’s history to life and part of that is finding these women who really blaze trails in different ways and presenting those people in a world and time when they’re largely forgotten. A lot of what they did and stood for would really still be quite relevant today, but they’re mostly excluded from history books. As a young girl who had a big history nerd obsession, I remember in history class thinking it was really boring – these men did this or that, these men are great. It wasn’t until I read a history of mistresses and how some of them took down or saved royal families and all these different stories that I was like, ‘Oh women in history were famous’. For me, it’s important to hear about these women who actually lived and did all these things and set the stage for women today. I think it’s really important to remember there were really incredible women in history because they often got glossed over or left out entirely.”

Delia Barnett and Ellen Chorley in Soiled Doves.

Delia Barnett and Ellen Chorley in Soiled Doves: A Burlesque with Boots On. Photo credit: dbphotographics.

Delia plays Belle Starr, who was also known as the Bandit Queen. “After she died, they released a dime novel that had wild lies about her, so her reputation was really inflated, but she was this really amazing woman who was from a pretty good family and got involved with some men who were not great, and because they were outlaws, under the law she became an outlaw so life was pretty tough for her for a long time, but she managed to make it work and get through life and now she’s known as the bandit queen.”

Sydney Parcey, who joins Send in the Girls for Soiled Doves in the role of Pearl Hart describes the woman she portrays as, “a little left of centre. Starting out she went to finishing school and was a little lippy, I’d say, she definitely got herself into trouble with the way she spoke to anyone who was an authority figure. She ended up going to the states and getting involved with a travelling entertainment show, and that was the life she lived for a long time. Her claim to fame was that she was the only female stagecoach robber in the wild west.”

On why the story of these women of the west was such a good fit with the artistic form of burlesque, Sydney says, “Burlesque is a really great form of self-expression and is a great way to tell a story while claiming and celebrating your body. That’s something we wanted to highlight with all these women, that even though they broke the law or were against the grain, they should be celebrated for the things that they accomplished at the time. That’s something burlesque really gives us as a medium, is we can express ourselves in a way that sometimes text doesn’t give us. It’s such a celebratory style that works well with the stories and women we portray.”

Delia adds, “In the Wild West, some of the predominant theatrical forms were dance hall girls who would do the can-can, flitting around the stage wonderfully, as well as pantomime and traveling vaudeville or circus-style shows were really popular back in the 1800s, so burlesque with its presentational form and has its roots in the dance hall form, it makes sense to mix it in the with this story of the West.”

Delia and Sydney say Soiled Doves is no average burlesque show, with the team (which is rounded out by playwright and performer Ellen Chorley and Morgan Yamada) having added various new tricks to the show. Sydney says, “We’ve added a lot of tricks and surprises throughout the show, and each woman who comes on stage really gets to take the stage with a bang. It’ll be a fun an exciting show to see.”

Soiled Doves: A Burlesque with Boots On, runs at the Backstage Theatre January 16 – 27. Tickets are $14 – $22 through Fringe Theatre’s box office.

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