The fight-choreography world has long been dominated by men—but that’s changing thanks to women like Nathania Bernabe and Jackie T. Hanlin, the fight directors of the new play The Five Vengeances, premiering with a preview on September 24, then running Tuesday, September 27 to Friday, October 1. Both Bernabe and Hanlin are trained through a stage combat workshop called Fight Directors Canada, during which the pair fell in love with the whole process—and then created their own physical theatre company, An Affair of Honor.
Now, they’re producing, choreographing and starring in fight shows that “have women at the forefront—but these kinds of plays are hard to find” says Bernabe.
“Because it’s typically a male-centric genre,” adds Hanlin.
“It was important for us to find these works because we want to show that women are just as capable,” Bernabe continues.
And show that they do. The Five Vengeances is a queer love story that follows Fury (played by Bernabe), a raging warrior who is on a mission to avenge the murder of her love, Bella. While I’m not reviewing it—I was lucky enough to catch a sneaky early rehearsal and not the full production—I expect the show will be just what I witnessed: like watching a badass fight movie filled with quick impactful hits, weaponry and sick sliding moves on a half-pipe.
Bernabe and Hanlin aim to integrate the fights into the play, in the same way that songs are fundamental to a musical’s story. “We call them fight-sicals,” says Bernabe “because we spend as much time on movement and fights as you would on dancing and singing.”
Actors go through six months of training. There is, of course, a rigorous audition process, but less to look for inherent fight skills, and more to determine that who they select is up for a challenging good time—and is capable of taking it slow when necessary. Bernabe and Hanlin are committed to fight-safety above all else, and it’s this long-form training that guarantees that the actors will have the skills to perform killer kicks and flips, but also restraint when using stage weapons and hand-to-hand combat.
Running September 24, and September 27-October 1, The Five Vengeances is an action-packed play and an emotional love story all at once that showcases just how badass female fighters can be.