The fridge inside the Cinema Studies Student Union (CINSSU) office is plastered with the faces of actors from various movie posters that have recently been shown at Innis Town Hall. The collage of posters tellingly feature one particular type of face; white and male. Just a few feet away, Chandler Levack, an Innis College Alumni and film director, is furiously highlighting through a script less than an hour before her show. An excerpt in a series of shows that Levack curates, Feminist Live Reads, is about to begin.
Feminist Live Reads’ mission is to highlight the disparity in roles for female actors of all backgrounds. Levack’s actors, who met thirty minutes before the show, are an all-female cast of Canadian talent. The women represent diversity both in their careers and in their cultural backgrounds. Sook-Yin Lee plays Mr. White, Nadia Litz is Mr. Pink, Mia Kirshner is Mr. Blonde, Deragh Campbell is Mr. Orange, Jennifer Podemski is Joe Cabot, Lorna Wright is Nice Guy Eddie, Mina James is Mr. Brown and Sabryn Rock is Mr. Blue.
On Tuesday, October 27, the cast of eight staged a cold read of the iconic Tarantino flick, Reservoir Dogs, at the Innis Town Hall. Supported by Cleo Feminist Journal and CINSSU, the show not only sold out, but managed to oversell its tickets, raising $2000 for Elizabeth Fry Toronto. Erin Ray, President of CINSSU, spoke of the event, saying “everyone who was there to see an incredible performance, knowing that they are supporting a good cause, allowed for an overwhelmingly positive outcome.”
One of the audience members, Matt Antay, reflected on the concept before the show. “I was just really interested to see that script read through a female voice.” Claire Bartleman, another audience member, attended the show to see if readings of Tarantino’s films as being sexist or misogynistic would hold true in a female voice; “I am curious if in seeing it from a female perspective will either take that apart or confirm that.”
Reservoir Dogs itself consists of an all-male ensemble. The film is full of action, violence, and swearing — the sort of roles that, as Sook-Yin Lee, who is best known as the host of CBC’s Definitely Not The Opera (DNTO), points out are not typically for women. “It’s not that often that you get a call for a role where a woman is kicking ass, pointing guns, and fighting, and so I thought that was really interesting to get into that mindset.”
With no direction and very little prep time, the cast launched into the performance. This performance allowed for a few hiccups, and on occasion the actors struggled with a word or a line, but the mishaps were anticipated. As the reading progressed, the actors grew increasingly comfortable with their roles, and with each other as well. By the final scenes, Lee’s Mr. White had developed a notable chemistry with Campbell’s Mr. Orange, and the show had grown from a stiff reading between strangers to a lively rendering of the script between peers.
To say that the script for Reservoir Dogs uses “strong language” may be an understatement, and it was evident that Levack struggled with this beforehand. She posted on the Facebook event the day of the show to inform attendees that she and the cast had decided not to censor the language. As James elaborated, “If you were to somehow censor that, it would not be true to that person you are trying to do a character study on.”
When Litz came across the first instance of saying the ‘n-word,’ as Tarantino films are prone to, she visibly stumbled. Litz elaborated after the performance, “I definitely noticed that [Mr. Pink] says the ‘n-word’ the most. They asked us beforehand if it was okay, and I said ‘yeah, it will be fine,’ but, as soon as I had to say it out loud in front of people, I found it quite difficult.” After the performance, Levack reflected on her decision not to censor any of the language, noting that she still felt conflicted about it.
In the future, Levack can see the organization and its events growing in size and popularity. “I think it will be interesting to do a romantic comedy next, or something with substantial female roles. I don’t know how to tackle that yet, so it will be an interesting challenge. I’d also like to open up the casting possibilities to more non-actors and diverse casting, especially with members of the LGBTQ community.”