Shield Maiden rages war against gender inequality

No fourth walls here. Melanie Teichroeb will trek back into the 10th century as she steps forward into character – on Saturday, Dec. 16 at New Westminster’s Anvil Theatre – bringing Garrison Commander Ingrid Larsdottir alive in her one-woman show, Shield Maiden.

“I think the word unapologetic is the most powerful as a woman,” says Teichroeb. “[Ingrid] is who she is, and she does what she does, and she doesn’t care what you think about that.”

The great battle of characterization

Armed with Ingrid’s warrior spirit, this performance highlights contemporary feminist struggles. Conversations will be sparked and will continue in the post-show talk featuring Jessica Schneider, executive director of Massey Theatre.

Drawing inspiration from TedTalks, Teichroeb, who also wrote the show, describes it as a “RedTalk” with Ingrid attempting to recruit new women warriors.

Melanie Teichroeb. | Photo by Bill Pope Photography

“I wanted to know her, I wanted to give her an authentic voice,” says Teichroeb about her writing process. “Originally, she appeared as I imagined myself standing in the back of a theatre watching her move around.”

First performed in 2018 on Gabriola Island stages, Shield Maiden then premiered at Texas’ 2019 FronteraFest; and graced a New York City stage before the Covid-19 pandemic closed live theatre. Teichroeb used the following two years to reflect on her theatrical staging – with Ingrid’s presence in mind.

“I realized I needed a bit more space around how Ingrid moves on stage,” says Teichroeb, who has also taken over the show’s directing. “Post-pandemic, the show feels for me, the performer, very grounded and fluid.”

With more improvisation, Teichroeb’s return to stage emphasizes a playfulness with her audience. This attention to the spectators has been foundational to Teichroeb’s creation of her Viking warrior, including her design of Ingrid’s costume. Wearing lots of leather and carrying heavy weaponry, such as a shield with directional markings, Ingrid’s look was designed with self-transformation in mind rather than historical accuracy.

“I had to find a way to make her appealing to a modern-day audience, and to grab that inner warrior spirit myself,” says Teichroeb, while noting how her compassionate personality made it challenging at first to get into this fierce character. “For me, the costume was the way to do that.”

Warring with laughter

Shield Maiden is a feminism-focussed one-woman show blending history and humour. | Photo by Bill Pope Photography

Ingrid’s story is, however, based in history. Inspired by a National Geographic article, correcting the long-held misconception that a decorated Viking grave belonged to a male warrior, Teichroeb combined historical research with her observations of women around her to
create Ingrid.

“She really existed, and I wanted to honour that,” says Teichroeb, noting the Vikings’ lack of a written language created challenges. “A lot had to be interpreted by the author, and my imagination filled in the blank.”

Activating that historical accuracy required understanding how the violence of the Vikings era contributed to Ingrid’s inner world. For Teichroeb, it’s important to recognize that the real Ingrid, as a highly successful warrior, would have been a violent person with warfare trauma – an experience that is brought to stage via humour.

“All humour is a conduit, or a window into pain, heartbreak, and trauma,” says Teichroeb. “And it gives us a way to process it and deal with it that isn’t retraumatizing.”

Teichroeb emphasizes that Shield Maiden’s humour arises from building a common ground between Ingrid and her modern audience, one that highlights the similar struggles they share as women across time and culture. With laughter as a bridge, Teichroeb’s performance reveals how there has been little progress towards gender equality since Ingrid’s time – an observation that is both heartbreaking and angering. In fact, Teichroeb’s favourite scene involves embodying rage, an emotion that women don’t normally express due to society’s policing of gender.

“My hope is that people come away inspired and curious about their own possibilities in their own life for warrior support,” says Teichroeb, who has not only found her inner warrior but dons it proudly.

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