Donna Spencer’s Response to Colin Thomas

In this week’s issue of the Georgia Straight, critic Colin Thomas reviewed Kid Gloves and took fault with Firehall Artistic Producer Donna Spencer’s choice to produce an “unpolished” play. This is her full response, a portion of which was sent in to the Georgia Straight as a Letter to the Editor.


Letter to the Editor

Re: Kid Gloves Stylistically All Over the Map, November 22, 2012

In closing his recent review of Kid Gloves, Colin Thomas takes me to task in my role as the Firehall Arts Centre’s Artistic Producer for producing this new play, advising that “Spencer’s biggest mistake was at a programming level … she should have looked beyond the historical and contemporary relevance of the subject matter and recognized it for being the artistic grab bag that it is”. One would assume from this statement that he is suggesting that the play should have never been produced. I am not writing to respond to his criticisms of the play, as they are his personal opinion, but rather to take Mr. Thomas to task for his cavalier and dismissive comments which seem to suggest that only polished and perfect plays should be produced. As a playwright himself, surely he does not truly believe this and if he does, what is it about theatre that keeps him drawn to writing about the imperfections of theatre? Is he questing for the perfect play, which frankly may only exist in the minds of academics and playwrights who have become critics? If only perfect plays should be produced, why are we still enjoying Shakespeare 400 years later?

One of the mission statements of the Firehall is to give voice to new and emerging works from both established and emerging theatre artists which have relevance to Canadians. That indeed is a risky business and one that allows for failure and success. Our thirty-year history reveals that we take our mission seriously, with the most recent evidence of that being our highly successful production of Chelsea Hotel.  Not a perfect play but indeed a highly imaginative artistic expression. And our production of Kid Gloves is a continuation of that mission.

I would remind Mr. Thomas of the purpose of theatre through two quotes from playwrights whom I am certain he has admiration for:  “I regard theatre as the greatest of all forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being”- Oscar Wilde. In response to his suggestion that the perfect play should take precedence over relevance, I remind him of the words of Dario Fo, famed Director, Playwright and Activist whose plays are recognized for their criticism of organized crime and political corruption,  “A theatre, a literature, an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time does not have relevance”.

Sally Stubbs’ Kid Gloves is indeed an artistic expression that does speak for its time, has relevance and does share with another the sense of what it might have been like to be the first women in Canada sworn in with full police powers.  It does “hold a mirror up to nature” (Shakespeare) and reminds us that women still go missing; gender bias still exists and good people still fight for positive change.

Kid Gloves Profile: Marlene Ginader

Marlene Ginader just came off her second successful run as “The Woman” in our production on Chelsea Hotel and has jumped right into her role in Kid Gloves.

GD: Tell me about your character in Kid Gloves.

MG: Mai Ji is a tough, strong, young woman who’s been through a lot but doesn’t pity herself and I really admire that about her. She finds opportunities and strength in all sorts of ways (laughs) and is working really hard to get herself out of it, but at the same time doesn’t feel bad about where she’s come from or what she has to do to do that.

GD: Do you feel like a staple here at the Firehall now?

MG: Well, I have sublet my apartment for the last two months.


But it really is like a home away from home right now. I haven’t even moved my stuff (points to dressing table). The people around me have changed, but I’ve stayed the same.

GD: What do you like to do when you’re not working?

MG: When I’m not working…I’ve also decided to become a traveler recently. I went to New York for the first right before Chelsea, and I’m going to Mexico to take some Spanish lessons right after Kid Gloves closes. I’m trying to take little trips here and there and become a traveling type.

GD: How long are you going to Mexico for? Is it a Spanish retreat?

MG: About 12 days. I’m taking a program and living with a family. It’s all very new.

GD: That’s exciting.

MG: I’m  making myself sound more interesting than I actually am.


I listen to a lot of stand-up and watch a lot of stand-up.

GD: I recently listened to a Steve Martin album from the 70s.

MG: Ooh! I think I burned one of his in high school and I don’t remember it very clearly, but I used to listen to it while driving a lot.

GD: What are you doing after your time off?

MG: I’m taking some time to do some film and television. I got an agent about a year ago but then did a lot of there so I’m going to take some time now to see what will happen.

GD: I’ve been asking everyone would you rather questions, but I’m totally blanking on one right now.

MG: You know what’s funny? It’s not funny. You know what is?


I just joined Twitter but I’ve just been posting Would you Rathers but as a person who doesn’t understand them. Like, ‘Would you rather have sex with a person you really like, or eat glass?’ It doesn’t make sense and people are all, ‘you don’t get it!’ But, yea, I do. Like, ‘would you rather get your MacBook stolen or go to a petting zoo with your best friend?’


GD: Ok then, give me your lamest Would you Rather.

***Marlene is thinking but then my amazing powers of observation note the mug of tea in her hands ***

Would you rather burn your mouth on really hot tea…

MG: Which I am about to do. Where did you get that idea Gabby?

GD: You know, they just come to me. I’m really creative. Or…get a hug from a furry.

MG: One has a physical after effect and one has an emotional one.

GD: Yup.

MG: Hugging the furry!

GD: You’d rather hug a furry?!

MG: Yea, I’d be ok with that! I probably have hugged a furry.


And by furry I mean mascot.

GD: What was the first show you were ever in?

MG:  Aside from some long-form improvised shows that my parents indulged me in, in grade six my class had to write  a Christmas play and I took it upon myself to write most of it. It featured me as a lawyer with a monologue and I cried. I gave myself a crying monologue in a school Christmas show. I killed it too. It was staged crying during a trial because there was a legal case about Santa.


GD: Oh, ok. I was wondering how lawyers and Christmas went together. So you put Santa on trial?

MG: Santa was on trial and I had to fight for him.

GD: What do you think audiences will take way from Kid Gloves?

MG: Most people probably don’t know about this story. I know I didn’t know about these two women. I think their story is incredible  the things they were up against and what they fought for [to give us] what we have now. It’s really profound to see Dawn [Petten] and Colleen [Wheeler] bring that to life, it’s really moving to see.


Steve Martin image from here, bear hug from here and Looney Tunes court room drama from here

Kid Gloves Profile: Deborah Williams

Deborah Williams is a fixture in Vancouver’s theatre scene and is behind some of the city’s most fun and interesting offerings.  Today, she tells us a little bit about them…

GD: Hi Deb, who are the characters you play in Kid Gloves?

DW: I play Bella Boychuk, who is a syphilitic prostitute and is middle-aged, which is old for a prostitute 100 years ago. She has brain damage from her syphilis and is very well-equipped to live where she does. She’s based on a true character who  could bend iron bars. All the police officers were frightened of her, apparently it took ten men to get her under control. So that’s kind of fun. I don’t think I’ve ever played a character that powerful.

The other character I play is Gertrude Crane, the wife of Alderman Crane, and she is the chair of the Central Mission Rescue and Protection Society which is an actual society that existed here in Vancouver. They were created to rescue and protect women of the night. ‘Wayward women and girls’ is another term they used for prostitution at the time. She is very Christian, a temperance believer and her goal is to protect these women at all costs.

GD: How does it feel to play two characters that are so completely different?

DW: That’s why I took the part, because it was so extremely different. One is from the Ukraine, and one is very Canadian  and one is not educated and all and the other is highly educated and yet they’re both really intelligent, well-adapted women. Which is always fun, and certainly in the time before women had the vote – we were still chattel at that time, we were belongings  so to have these women who were very powerful and in control of their lives in many ways – they’re obviously not in control in many ways too – I like to look at what they are doing and how powerful they are.

preview image

GD: What do you do in your spare time?

DW: I produce a lot of theatre, and I have a couple TV shows in development and I work a lot. I’m a middle-aged actress and I’m working more than I have ever, which is really great. I spent the last 19 years doing Moms the Word, and now that my kids are grown I’m able to take a lot of different roles, and go from role to role to role.

Besides that, I produce The Flame which is my heart project. I produce it at a restaurant around the corner from my house, it doesn’t take any sets or smoke, lights or mirrors to make it happen, my friends and neighbours can walk to the event. I produce that once a month, the first Wednesday of every month at the Cottage Bistro on Main Street.

GD: When’s the next one?

DW: The Flame Christmas Special is airing on Shaw TV all through December. We’ve got some really great storytellers at that one. And the one after that, January 2nd.

Other than that, I garden, I’ve got chickens. I’m very in love with my chickens, so I spend a lot of time watching them. We’ve raised them since they were a day old, so we’re kind of attached to them. They’re very funny, they’re good clowns. 

GD: Do you have any roosters?

DW: No, you’re not allowed in the city. We’ve had a couple roosters and we’ve had to send them off to send them off…to dinner and farms.


GD: What do you think the audience will take away from Kid Gloves?

DW: I think they’re going to be interested in what was happening in this neighbourhood. I love that we’re doing this show about this neighbourhood in this neighbourhood.  In some ways, it hasn’t changed at all. This was an entertainment district for men because everyone was in industries such as logging and so the women working down here were ‘working’ women and part of the entertainment as dancers and prostitutes. All these vices, and they’re still part of this neighbourhood. I find it quite fascinating. I don’t know why people want to chase it off so fast. It’s just part of it. And the women are fantastic. Those two women must have been really ballsy. To say that you wanted to be a police officer when there were no other women police officers ever in Canada. What incredible guts.


Chicken image from here


Kid Gloves Profile: Patrick Keating

Kid Gloves will be the sixth time Patrick Keating has been in a Firehall production. Today we speak with him and receive a guest visit from Scott Bellis.

GD: Patrick, tell me about your character.

PK: My character, Daniel Crane, is an Alderman in Vancouver, and an upstanding citizen.

GD: What are you doing now outside of acting?

PK: Right now, writing.

GD: What kind of stuff do you write?

PK: Different stories, trying to put together a one person show.

GD: Oh wow, can you tell me a little about that?

PK: It’s very rough right now, but it’s stories of my life.

GD: Very cool. What was the first show you were ever in?

PK: First show I was ever in, was The Ecstasy of Rita Joe.

GD: Really? Here at the Firehall? When was that?

PK: 1992, I believe. I played a bunch of different characters, I played a clerk, a policeman and a murder.

GD: What other shows have you done at the Firehall?

PK: Oh yeah, this is my sixth show. I did Respectable, Stone Angel, Sisters, I did the Ecstasy of Rita Joe again. I like the Firehall a lot. It’s a wonderful theatre and Donna’s really great at bringing in and including great people in shows.

GD: What would you like audiences to know or take away from seeing Kid Gloves?

PK: What women had to go through to be part of the police department and all that goes with it. I’d love to see a play about Gertrude [Crane, played by Deborah Williams] and what she had to go through to get the police department to listen to her and install these two women.

***At this point, Scott Bellis walks in and I ask him to make up a Would You Rather question for Patrick.***

SB: Would you rather sing a jazz solo or dance a ballet solo in a show?

PK: Sing a jazz solo.

GD: Why?

PK: Because I can’t dance.


Fantastic dancer from here and writing image from here

Kid Gloves Profile: Scott Bellis

Scott Bellis, who can be seen back at the Firehall in December for Hotel Bethlehem, talks about his characters in Kid Gloves and his search for an all powerful talisman.

GD: Tell me about your characters in Kid Gloves.

SB: I play two characters. I play constable Fields, who is a member of the Vancouver Police force, who is not overly thrilled to be having female members joining the force. His role in the play is to illustrate to the audience what the establishment is. What the two lead characters are pushing up against coming into this male dominated world. The other character I play is a man called O’Rourke and they call him the ‘Lord of the Bawdy Houses’. He is an Irish ex-patriot in Canada who has found his way to a fairly high level of, what you might call the ‘underbelly’ of Vancouver society. He’s a saloon owner, and he runs a prostitution operation.

GD: An all-around good guy.

SB: Well, he does provide some colour, and he’s not entirely bad, but he’s not entirely good either.

GD: That must be fun, playing two characters.

SB: I always like playing more than one character in a show. It usually provided me with a few different challenges. And certainly keeps me busy.

GD: What do you do when you’re not working?

SB: (laughs) I’m pretty lucky, as an actor I work a lot. My work keeps me busy and when you’re a working actor in the theatre you’re on six days a week usually. And then you try to cram real life into that one day off. I have a family, I have three kids. My off-stage life is not that interesting. I like to watch movies with my kids, play board games, do the New York Times crossword puzzle.

GD: What’s your favourite board game?

SB: We’re into this game right now called Talisman.  Everyone is racing around the board trying to find the key to the talisman that will let them into this magic area where you gain the Wand of Control, so they control all the other characters. Once you have that, you’re pretty much close to winning the game.

GD: Would you rather fly or be invisible, and why?

SB: Oh, I would rather fly. Probably the sense of freedom. I used to have recurring dreams when I was younger about flying – well not flying so much as controlled giant leaping. The exhilaration I would feel waking up from those dreams. I love it, I love flying.  I always love a window seat when I’m in an airplane.

GD: What are some things people will take away from Kid Gloves?

SB: I hope they have a good time, I hope they have a couple of laughs, but I think the story of these women pioneers, is so interesting, so intriguing- quite arresting. These women became police officers before women had the vote, before women were even considered equal members of society. And these women were given law enforcement powers.  I think that the world the story takes place in is really fascinating. It’s a story about Vancouver, it’s about our own history. I think there are so many levels that you can appreciate it.

Leaping image from here

Leonard Cohen Raffle Winner!!

We’ve made the draw and…..

Congratulations to Ryan for being our Leonard Cohen Raffle winner!!
He was thrilled when I called him and I’m sure he’ll have an excellent time at the show on Monday.

We’d like to give  a HUGE Thank You to everyone who purchased raffle tickets. The Firehall Arts Centre raised almost $2000!
Thanks to you this money will go into helping us continue the fantastic work we do here.

Kid Gloves Profile: Dawn Petten


Today we get to know Dawn Petten, or constable Minnie Miller, in Kid Gloves. Dawn was kind and adventurous enough to let me take her picture while she lay on the floor of one of the hallways here at the Firehall.

GD: What’s the first show you were ever in?

DP: Well, from the time I was very young, so from about grade two, I was always one of those kids putting plays on at home. And even in grade two whenever there was an assignment in class, I would always do a performance. And as a young kid I was in all the church plays. In my early years we went to church and I was Mary six years in a row in the Christmas pageant, and in puppet shows at Easter.

The schools I went to were always very arts focused. In middle school I was very drama focused and then I went to an arts high school as a drama major, so I’ve always done it. I have no idea what the first show would be because it was always happening.

GD: Who do you play in Kid Gloves?

DP: I play Minnie Miller, who is one of the first two female police officers in all of Canada. And of the two police officers, I’m the pious one, the Christian police officer who really feels like I’m on a mission from God, to lift up wayward girls and youth and to do it in a Christian way. To try to bring back respect to the streets in some ways and always doing my job with no foul language, being gentle with people and always good manners. Those are important attributes.

GD: What do you do in your spare time?

DP: I don’t have a lot of spare time, because since February I have overlapped shows. This one came right after Tear the Curtain in Toronto; I flew back and came right here, so I haven’t had any time. Sometimes I’ve been rehearsing by day and doing a different show at night.

But the other thing I do, which is really fun, is that I’m a sexual health educator. I work for Options for Sexual Health, doing sexual health education for different communities and groups of people. I love that.

GD: How did you get into that?

DP: I had been a volunteer with what used to be Planned Parenthood of BC, and volunteered for years with what they used to call the Facts of Life line, and I also volunteered at their Vancouver clinic. The started a certification program [for sexual education]. It used to be only nurses who could go into schools to teach Sex Ed, and I had taught a lot in the past, teaching drama and Shakespeare and so I did a year program where I went to class for a month and then did a year practicum where I taught in schools from grade three to grade twelve.

GD: What’s it like to teach Sex Ed to kids?

DP: It’s amazing. I teach Sex Ed in the classroom as if it were a drama class. My classes aren’t drony; they’re on your feet doing exercises about passing STIs (they call them STIs now) I try to make it really fun and empowering and a place where people can learn to express themselves. I think the amazing values that you can teach with Sex Ed are about self confidence, self-expression, being able to communicate to others, and those are all values that hold people in good stead. I find whenever I’ve taught a Sex Ed class, right after I want to say, ‘and now let’s do some drama or Shakespeare!’ and whenever I’ve talk a drama class I’m always ‘ok, now let’s talk about sex!’


For me it’s the same sort of enthusiasm and very similar in that you’re helping people to feel confident and secure about themselves and able to communicate where they’re at.

GD: Would you rather have gills and be able to swim under water for long periods of time, or be able to go into Space with no protective suit?

Not quite gills, but you get the picture.

DP: Definitely the ocean. I’m an ocean gal. In the summer I try to swim in the ocean every day, I love being in water, I love aquacize classes. Swimming outdoors is my favourite thing in the world, and to be able to go deep, and be able to breathe underwater would be amazing. It just sounds dreamy, and romantic and sensual and brilliant.

GD: What do you want audiences to take away from Kid Gloves?

DP: I think it’s a charming celebration of a moment in history in Vancouver. With these charming characters. One of my favourite lines in the play is the other cop, Lurancy, says: ‘we’re the first in the Dominion, school kids are going to be reading about us’. Well, we didn’t. I never learned in school, none of us did about the first two female police officers and their being in Vancouver. It’s one of those bits of history that women have been written out of, and now it’s great that people can see the show and find out a little more about that. And it has such lovely singing and dancing, I think it’s just a charming show that people can appreciate. And as a strong feminist, I appreciate about learning about the steps and the courage it took when everyone was against this couple of women, and it amazes me.


Sex Ed image from here, Ariel comes from here and Shakespeare’s likeness from here 

Kid Gloves Profile: Colleen Wheeler

I sat down with Colleen Wheeler, who plays constable Lurancy Harris in the upcoming production of Kid Gloves. We spoke about her character and the play, but I also learned that had it not been for an optional class in university, Colleen’s career path would have led in a very different direction…

GD: Tell me a little bit about your character in Kid Gloves.

CW: Well, Lurancy Harris is one of two policewomen sworn into the police department in 1912. They were basically assigned the ‘female morality question’, to go around and check into the brothels, the clubs and make sure all the young women were behaving properly, etcetera but Lurancy wants to be a ‘real’ police officer.
She doesn’t want to deal with morality, she wants to study forensics, get in with the boys, get ahead of the game, use her head, use reasoning, all of her training to  move her way up in the police department. So at the beginning of the play, she doesn’t see helping the women get off the streets as her first priority but during the play, I think the character of Minnie (Dawn Petten) helps convince Lurancy that it’s a balance of both things: You can get ahead but our reason for being there is to help people.

GD: Do you have any spare time, and if so, what do you like to do?

CW: Spare time…(giggles) I look after my three-year-old and I have another job. I organize simulations for police training, child welfare services training and RCMP training. I supply all the actors for them.

GD: Wow, so you’re really involved with police outside of the show.

CW: Yes, and my husband’s actually in training to become a police officer. Yea, I guess that it a lot of police connections.

GD: What’s the first show you were ever in?

CW: What was the first show I was ever in…oh! Charley’s Aunt. Is that the murder mystery*? Yes, grade six, I was in Charley’s Aunt.

GD: And that was it, you loved it?

CW: No, I was actually a jock and a competitive swimmer, and I made the national team times when I was 14. I could have gone the way of a swimming career, but chose to go into other sports and became quite good at all sports, so I was going to be a Phys Ed teacher.
When I was in school in Calgary to become a Phys Ed teacher, I took what they called an “option” drama class with Keith Johnstone in Calgary. And then I never looked back. I switched the next year into the drama department. But yea, I was going to be a Phys Ed teacher…What the hell, eh?


GD: Would you rather be able to read minds or be able to teleport?

CW: Teleport.
GD: Why?

CW: Because reading people’s minds would make me stressed out all the time, and I wouldn’t get any sleep and it’s really important that people like me.


And if they didn’t like you, then you’d know, and what can you do about it?

GD: Yea and you can’t un-know that.

CW: Yea, and bad thoughts. (shudders)

GD: What do you think audiences can expect from Kid Gloves?

CW: A good ol’ romp in history! Donna has created a real world, the early 1900s in Vancouver and you’ll get a really good feel for what it must have been like for certain people down here and what it was like to be a police woman here on the Downtown Eastside, and what the world was like. It’s of course a world created by Sally [Stubbs, playwright], a completely fictional world but based in our history and what makes it especially interesting is that we’re right in that area, and right next door is the police museum. It’s really very interesting.


* Charley’s Aunt is a farce, not a murder mystery. Sounds like a great play though.

  Jane Lynch photo from here and awesome teleporting image from here

The Firehall is seeking board members

Want to get involved in the arts and serving the community?  The Firehall Arts Centre is looking for energetic, talented and arts-interested volunteer board members to become a part of our dynamic not-for profit charitable society.

We are looking for individuals with previous not-for-profit board experience and an interest in fund development, community outreach and networking, heritage facility renovation,  and a love of the performing arts.

Duties: the board of directors meets every second month with committee meetings; is responsible for the governance and the formulation of policies and procedures for the Society; participates in fund development activities and in the organization of the board of directors, officers and committees. Each board member is expected to participate in at least one committee of the board with board meetings and committee meetings scheduled for evenings and weekends.

If you are interested in contributing your time, experience and passion for the arts, please submit a short bio to the Firehall to find out if this volunteer opportunity is right for you. Please send your bio and contact information to our Artistic Producer and it will be forwarded to our board president.


Movember at the Firehall

Mitch Janzen (or “Milt”, as he’s lovingly referred to around here), our wonderful administrative assistant, has decided to donate his upper lip and his dignity to help raise money for men’s health issues including prostate cancer this November.

Click here to head on over to his Movember page and make a tax deductible donation.

He is currently rocking a rather unsightly basic stash, and hopes to be sporting a majestic handlebar by the end of the month.

We’ll believe it when we see it.

Mitch’s stash as of Nov. 1st