by Nat Vickers
The Rogue Festival will be here soon-it opens on March 1! Here is another Rogue Performer Preview article, with another one going up today as well, and more this weekend-you will be able to find them all in our Arts & Entertainment section. We also have a Rogue Festival event page with many of their press releases, and an article about this year’s Muse.
At one point in history, almost every major North American city boasted a Pantages theatre, a lavish affair that featured the best of touring theatre and Vaudeville. The empire of theatres was built, in name, by magnate Alexander Pantages, a Greek immigrant who had ostensibly struck it rich in the Klondike gold rush, and returned south able to fulfill his lifelong dream of being an artist. But…that wasn’t the whole story.
See, when Pantages was cutting ribbons at his first finished venues, there was up in the Klondike, a dancehall girl footing the bill. But, when asked about her, all he would ever say was “Kate who?”
Kate Rockwell single-handedly funded the early Pantages empire, without a single credit to her name. And for the creative team of Klondike Kate’s Sourdough Reunion Show, that makes her an incredibly exciting (and dare we say, badass) historical figure to explore.At the end of the 2018 Rogue Festival, Donna Kay Yarborough, L. Nicol Cabe, and I (Nat Vickers) retreated to a bar, for a drink and a rant. The drink was to celebrate the end of another fun festival, and the rant? That was about our audience numbers at Fringe Festivals outside of Rogue. See, we had been noticing a curious trend, as solo female performers on the Fringe circuit; there were far fewer plays written, directed, and produced by teams of all women. And those that were, showed far fewer audience members than anything performed by our solo male colleagues. Donna and I had even been told, in a number of reviews, that stories we had brought to the stage, which focused on uniquely female experiences, “had nothing compelling to say.” Rogue, for us, had always been this exception, this anomaly, where we found our stories had homes. And with a full summer touring ahead of us, we needed to get together and commiserate; were we losing our minds, or was something else going on behind the scenes?
We shared stories, consulted statistics, and realized we weren’t the only ones wondering what was going on. In fact, a Canadian study found that women comprise less than 35% of all employed directors and playwrights, with the greatest disparity being amongst playwrights. A survey by the Playwrights Guild of Canada found that of 812 productions in 20131/2014, only 22% were by women, and 15% by mixed-gender partnerships. All the rest? By men. And that doesn’t even begin to account for the disparities between works by cis white women versus women of colour or trans women. With such obvious gaps, what stories or experiences are being neglected, hidden, or just plain uncovered.
We decided that if we got into Rogue the following year, we would collaborate on a story, using our skills as a performer (Donna Kay Yarborough), playwright (Nat Vickers), and director (L. Nicol Cabe), to bring to light a little-known story of a woman who was all of these things…and was similarly under-represented in her artistic career.
And then, we stumbled on the story of Pantages-backer Kate Rockwell. Or, I guess you could say, she stumbled on us. Rockwell, more popularly known as “Klondike Kate,” was a force, challenging gender stereotypes and refusing to settle for the gentle domesticity that was expected of a young woman in the 1800s. When she heard about the Klondike gold rush, she knew it was the place for an ambitious performer to make a name. Despite all warnings about how harsh life would be in the Canadian arctic, she barrelled up the legendarily tough Chilkoot Trail. And when told by the Canadian Mounties that no women were allowed, she simply disguised herself in another man’s clothes, and leapt into the Dawson River, swimming after a barge before anyone could stop her. Klondike Kate spent the next few years building a name for herself, and a theatre, and enough money to fund her paramour’s theatrical dreams. And then?
Pantages went down in history as one of the most successful theatre magnates of his time, and Rockwell – the one who did all the work – was just history.
We knew this was the story we were going to bring to the stage, but what really sealed the deal for us is discovering that Rockwell was born in Washington — where Nicol lives. She became famous in Canada — where Nat is from. She spent the remainder of her life homesteading in Oregon — where Donna lives — at a time when women were not even allowed to own land. And in 1931, during a resurgence of interest in the Klondike gold rush, mostly by aging miners looking to relive the good ole days, she was called to perform at a reunion show, in Portland, Oregon. In subject, theme, and location, it seemed like Rockwell just chose us to tell her story. And to advocate for all the female theatre-makers out there who are working hard, not getting the credit…and not getting hired.
Our goal for this production is to give the audience a fantastic time, a re-creation of the Klondike reunion cabaret that Rockwell might have performed. And also to suggest that the net time you’re torn between shows, both on and off the Fringe, consider heading to see something written, directed, and performed by women. We have amazing stories to tell and histories to uncover.
P.S. If you’re curious, “Sourdough” isn’t about the bread. It was a nickname for all gold miners in the Klondike who stuck out a full season in the arctic. Come join us, and for at least an hour, you get to count yourself among them.
Dianna’s School of Dance
(816 N. Fulton Street)
Friday, March 1st – 8:30pm
Saturday, March 2nd – 2pm
Sunday, March 3rd – 6:30pm
Friday, March 8th – 10pm
Saturday, March 9th – 8pm
Purchase online: roguefestival.ticketleap.com
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out our new Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. The first 12 episodes are now up! You can check the podcast out on iTunes and Google Play, and also on podbean.