Common thinking goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, but in the case of Babes With Blades, when you fight 'em, you beat 'em. Frustrated at the lack of opportunity for female actors to use their stage combat skills, Babes With Blades was founded in 1997 originally purely as a showcase for the fight skills of a powerful all female band of performers and fight choreographers.
Artistic Director Stephanie Repin has been a member of the company since 1999. She recalls the company's gradual development from its originating fight exhibitions to the full-length productions they offer today, like the currently running A Gulag Mouse. At first the showcases provided an arena for the group's top-notch choreography, but step-by-step these dazzling displays were couched in increasing amounts of context, from original written dialog to any kind of story, "It could be Cyrano de Bergerac or Green Eggs and Ham", Repin says. The important thing was showing how character and confrontation inspires the violence. "I'm a firm believer in that stage combat is an acting tool," explains Repin.
The problem is, that too many women were graduating from top-notch acting programs all over the country with stage combat experience but were never getting the chance to use their skills. "Men get to play Mercutio and the Errol Flynn or Basil Rathbone roles," Repin explains. "There just aren't that many plays out there with strong roles and fighting roles for women." So, after years of rising above the problem with showcases and progressive all-female casting, Babes With Blades decided to attack the trouble at its source. What resulted is the "Joining Sword and Pen" playwriting competition in which writers around the world are asked to create new plays that feature women and violence.
Winners have included such disparate offerings as 2008's Los Desaparecidos, set in 16th Century Spain and the current A Gulag Mouse set in a Siberian gulag in 1949. Comnined they give an insight into the diversity of interests for the growing company and the inclusiveness of what may seem like a niche focus. Indeed, for Babes With Blades, an important part of the mission is the universality of the stories they're trying to tell. "Everybody results to violence in their life," says Repin, matter-of-factly, "But women are taught that girls are quiet, girls are nice, girls don't fight. We're here to explore the things that girls aren't allowed to do onstage."
With things continuing to heat up, Repin is confident the Babes are here to stay. "I have no intention of leaving. We joke about going to The Old Babes Home where we'll all still be together." Eating applesauce, swords drawn.