Fabulist Theatre Company, formed by two CapU grads, explores 90 years of women in musicals in 90 minutes
Christine Beyleveldt // Editor-in-Chief
Capilano University grads Mary Littlejohn and Damon Jang have had 10 years to explore their careers since graduating from the Musical Theatre program in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Neither of them thought they’d end up where they are today – conjointly running a theatre company based out of Vancouver and about to launch a new theatrical revue that’ll set audiences laughing about the historical stereotypes of women in theatre.
While living in Australia a few years ago, Littlejohn worked on a production of Songs for the New World, and kept an idea of refashioning the production to tell the tales of immigrants and refugees and other marginalized groups, since people were starting to notice them. When she moved back to Vancouver, she approached Jang with the idea, although she was hesitant to take it to another theatre company.
Instead, their award-winning performing arts company Fabulist Theatre was born, and Songs for the New World was their debut show just two years ago in 2017. Through Fabulist Theatre, Littlejohn and Jang are dedicated to showcasing the talents of diverse artists. “We’re trying to break the barrier by showcasing performers who are more marginalized, more diverse communities, not just women but men too typically in roles that break the stereotypes that have been set forth not only by industry standards on TV but in mainstream theatre too.”
This up-and-coming theatre company’s newest theatrical revue written and directed by Littlejohn, Better Than This, premieres at the Havana Club on Feb. 28 and shows until March 9. The show reduces 90 years of stereotypes about women in musical theatre into 90 minutes of song and dance. As they work their way through the decades, exploring tropes from 1926 to 2017, they’ll look at characters like that of the long-suffering female who stands by her man and many more that have stood the test of time.
“We’re also trying to capture and salute the pioneer women of musical theatre,” said Jang, who choreographed the theatrical revue and recently won a Broadway World Vancouver Award for his work.
“What we wanted to do was create more opportunities for more diverse performers and kind of fill the gaps,” added Littlejohn. “The big popular musicals of yesteryear are so male heavy a lot of the time and there are so many talented women in this community so our shows have always been skewed female.”
The biggest challenge Littlejohn faced producing Better Than This, despite claiming it’s been a relatively easy process, was condensing 90 years of historical stereotypes into a single performance, and choosing songs that would serve the theme well. Audiences may recognize many of the songs in Better Than This, including “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, but some are more obscure.
Joining the production of Better Than This is Brianna Clark, who worked with Fabulist previously on a performance called Once on This Island, and Cathy Wilmot, who recently performed in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Mamma Mia! “She’s got wicked talent and picks up moves quickly,” Jang said excitedly. “The goal is to make sure everybody looks the same and is in style and in period, but also within the parameters of the stage. We have to try and fill the empty space with movement that propels the narrative.”
Fabulist’s theatrical revue is the first of its kind the company is doing, and Littlejohn is excited to see how the audience reacts. Tickets are $24 and are available through showpass.com.