Kate Dion-Richard, Gili Roskies, Katie Ryerson, Morgan Yamada, and Kevin Corey in GLORY. Photo: Barbara Zimonick. (Set & Lights: Narda McCaroll. Costumes: Cindy Wiebe.)
When I read that Calgary’s ATP would be putting on a new play about women hockey players, and specifically the Preston Rivulettes of the 1930s, I knew I needed to go to Calgary to see it. And I was right!
I cried a lot during the performance, because the portrayals of the young women and of their community’s responses were so familiar from my own experience of female hockey starting in the 1970s. I felt represented, understood, and honoured. “I’ve always wanted to play on a team!” enthuses future captain Hilda Ranscombe (Katie Ryerson). “Girls don’t play hockey!” retorts reluctant coach Herbert Fach (Kevin Corey).
The playwright Tracey Power (Chelsea Hotel) chose two pairs of sisters, Hilda and Nellie Ranscombe (Ryerson and Edmonton’s Morgan Yamada) and Marm and Helen Schmuck (Gili Roskies and Kate Dion-Richard) to represent the players, and created interesting distinct characters with enough backstory, conflict, and connections to be compelling. The historical background of the 1930s was essential to the story, filled in by the characters talking about their families and community and by listening to CRBC (later CBC) radio. One player couldn’t go to university because her father’s business was struggling and her brothers had lost their jobs; another wasn’t admitted to law school because she was Jewish.
Hockey games were represented on stage in stylized choreography (Power), with different movements and music for each game. Yamada was an agile and stubborn goaltender. Hard shots (of imaginary pucks) had me ducking in my seat. Set and lighting (Narda McCarroll) and costumes (Cindy Wiebe) support the storytelling. I was particularly impressed with the rapid movement of the rink-boards pieces to become changerooms, factory workrooms, and even a baseball park. Director James McDonald (formerly of the Citadel) and playwright Power paced the action well and kept the human stories to the forefront.
I have known of the Preston Rivulettes since I was a young hockey player and fan, looking at team photos and trophies in the old Preston Arena. I vaguely remember meeting Hilda and Nellie much later in their lives, at a Preston Trianglettes game, and finding it hard to comprehend that forty years earlier, they had played for provincial and national championships. In the 1970s there was no provincial or national governing body or championship for female hockey – but in the 1930s there was. The play Glory included enough of the documented facts to make me happy as a scholar, but more importantly captured perfectly what it is like for women to play the game they love despite many obstacles. I hope to tell some of the second-wave women’s-hockey stories on stage myself someday, and this play affirms my sense that they are worth telling.
“When we fight to win, we have a whole lot more at stake”, one of the characters in Glory says, explaining why fans find their matches exciting. And Hilda Ranscombe finishes with a monologue daydreaming about what will happen someday, despite the loss of competitions and opponents on the eve of war. Someday, she says to her teammates, there will be so many teams we won’t be able to play them all. And there will be women coaches. And women referees. And women announcers. And Olympic medals.
There are, Hilda, there are. Thank you.
Glory is playing at Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary until April 21st.