The Vancouver based trio of female performers that comprise The True Heroines are having a go at what they love doing, having fun doing it, making their own opportunities, and are working across mediums that are either blowing up at the moment or are on the verge of becoming incredibly mainstream. It’s certainly a lot of hard work to maintain their multimedia and multiplatform vision, but through a blend of high motivation and a slew of seemingly dissimilar creative influences actors, performers, and dancers Fiona Vroom, Paula Giroday, and Jovanna Huguet have created success for themselves both on screen and on stage.
Coming from the Vancouver cabaret scene, the three actresses and dancers knew they wanted to continue working together after the cabaret they worked for closed. They brainstormed ideas for what to do next and came up with a concept that could allow them to create both a live webseries and a regular Vancouver based stage show component.
True Heroines on the web follows three young housewives in the sleepy little Hamlet of New Paradise Hill in 1951 and their struggles in suburban society. The three women once belonged to a shadowy corporation that was creating genetic supersoliders prior to World War I, but was shut down after a short time. With the corporation on a never ending quest to kill and destroy all of the “HSAs” they created, best friends Pearl (played by Vroom with the ability to become invisible), Dotty (Giroday, with super strength), and Margie (Huguet, who can move super fast) decide to settle down and lie low with their new husbands. Not only are their home lives filled with conflict, but the corporation keeps getting closer and the friends have to investigate the murders of friends while preventing their own.
While in town for this week’s Canadian Screen Award events, where the series was nominated for an award for best web content, the heroines sat down with us over lunch to talk about how the show was shaped, what it’s like to pull off an ambitious period piece on a small budget, and how the live act portion of their personas informs the webseries. You can check out the show below (Season 2 is currently in the works, as is their next show) and you can find out more information on where and when to see them on their website.
Dork Shelf: This is a really ambitious show because it’s a superhero story, a period piece, and a really kind of subversive look at the kind of masks and roles women played back in the 1950s and even to a certain extent today. Initially what was the biggest component of the show that made you want to pursue this as something you wanted to keep working on and coming back to?
Fiona Vroom: I think we wanted to highlight women in a powerful position within a timeline where it was a man’s world. We gave these 1950s housewives superhero powers and the story kind of unfolds from there. It was really important to us to highlight women even on the set. We had a female director, a female cinematographer, and a large female crew.
DS: I think a lot of people don’t necessarily think that a superhero story taking place in this time period – which for comic books was kind of a golden age – would really make people think about female superheroes, or perhaps more specifically that these women in your show were actually created by the government. You really only had Wonder Woman and Nelvana for female superheroes and that was it. Did you look more towards the period piece aspect while you were creating the show or the more comic book elements?
Jovanna Huguet: I honestly think it was the time period first, so we could look at the struggle that was kind of faced by women at the time. But when we started digging into the superhero stuff it was a lot of fun to play with the fact that there really wasn’t anyone else.
DS: You guys are very much following the comic book formula, as well, when it comes to explaining gaps in the story and filling in backstory. There’s one entire episode that takes place in the 1940s instead of the 1950s that just explains a good deal of their origins.
FV: That’s actually something we explore a lot more in our cabarets, too! Our cabarets and our director Joel Sturrock, who couldn’t be here with us today because he’s off shooting a film, tell the story entirely from the 1940s. It fills in all that history and we want it to be a whole different story. Each show will be a brand new show that continues telling the story until it reaches the 50s.
JH: We call it a “comic strip cabaret” because it’s filled with all of these vignettes that we might not be able to fully cover otherwise.
DS: In the cabaret setting, which you think would focus on your characters alone and where they came from, but you guys actually give the men quite a bit to do during the stage show, as well.
FV: We have a really big world. Our next cabaret is going to be going inside the corporation that created us, so it will be really male heavy.
DS: With all the content you guys have going on between the cabaret and the web show, how long in general does it take to plan out a stage show with the same characters since there’s a different kind of set-up and execution?
JH: Well, it helps that we know these characters inside and out so we can keep them consistent. They’re really tied to our own personalities in a lot of ways. We kind of live in these characters. We do the shows once every two months so we’re planning to come back to these characters bi-monthly anyway. So we plan year round and rehearsing something new every two months. Nicholas Carella will write a show for us and Joel will direct and choreograph us for two months at a time where almost all we work on are these characters. So even when we aren’t shooting another season of the show, we always know where those characters need to be.
FV: I love it because my character is kind of the nerdy, comedic relief because on stage I can play with that a lot more than I can in the webseries. I can go bigger and be a little larger than life, so I really love that. Then you find more interesting things about your character on stage than you can when you’re shooting for a series.
Paula Giroday: There are also a lot of characters that have been introduced in our live shows that haven’t been introduced into the series yet. Our characters in the live show have met so many people and there are so many other HSAs that when we finally do bring those characters into the series, we know that we have already lived in a world where they exist already. That makes it so much different when you’re acting because you can just say “Oh, I remember this person. I’ve had a conversation with them.”
JH: Yeah, and you can find out what works and what doesn’t work. It’s almost like a constantly evolving workshop, almost.
FV: And we find and explore new storylines that way. It’s also a great test to see how things work in front of an audience before we commit anything to tape. If the audience responds well to something at this point, we’ll keep going in that direction, but if they don’t, we won’t.
PG: It really makes it easier than just painting yourself into a corner like you can do with some storylines.
FV: It’s a sci-fi world, so if we need to write something out or we need to justify something we can find ways to explain anything. (laughs)
DS: I know you guys work on other stuff aside from the show and the cabaret, so it must be nice to have this show and these characters that you can keep coming back to and that it’s something that you guys helped to create. It sounds like a really gratifying kind of steady job.
FV: It will be a job when we start making money at it. (laughs) The three of us met when we were working at another cabaret in Vancouver that shut down, actually. We were dancing together for two years, and we just thought we could do our own. We really wanted to incorporate singing and dancing into the TV, and this was right before Glee came out that we had this idea, and that became kind of like the pioneer for that. Our show was inspired by that cabaret meet.
PG: We want to be able to sing, dance, and sing all the time, especially as you get older and you’re not necessarily getting as much work in the professional dance world as you might be getting when you were younger. We never want to lose that and keep that.
FV: We’ve all been performing since we were three years old, so we created a show because we wanted to showcase what we could do.
DS: At a certain point in your career if you want to keep doing what you love but no one approaches you with something specific you have to create your own opportunities.
JH: Right, and in some cases you might only get offered characters and parts that you don’t really care about. You’re auditioning for roles that pay the bills, but not all of them actually MEAN that much to you. So getting to do a great story with your friends and make it up on your own is just its own constant reward.
FV: With True Heroines I think we’re finally getting to the point now where we’re booking bigger things and getting out there a lot more. We’re booking corporate shows now, so we aren’t working for free anymore, and we want to keep moving in that direction. It’s great to be able to do that with something that you created yourself and that you love doing.
DS: You said before that you were starting this on the cusp of Glee starting up, but you were also doing this around the time of the rise of Mad Men and the current superhero boom that we find ourselves in. Is it hard not to try and keep up with those things and what they are all doing, or does it give you a sense of freedom knowing that since they are around they could help bring people to your shows?
FV: I think one of the things was when we created the show about four years ago and we started putting it all together, our biggest positive was that we were doing this before webseries started getting really big. I think even still people aren’t sure what to do with webseries: how to monetize it, how to write for it, how long it should be, all of that kind of stuff that you have to consider when you go into making something. I think our show is ahead of the times right now. Our production design is really high and I think it’s a really well made webseries. It looks like something that could be on television and our goal was to make it of TV quality so that it could eventually go on television. So keeping up with those kinds of shows means that we’re already ahead of where we need to be.
JH: And as far as storylines go, I don’t think we really think too long about what’s going on. We have a really great support system in place for the show. There are lots of hero shows and movies out there. There are a lot more Mad Men-type shows out there. It’s really supportive to have these kinds of shows around. We can fit right in and not worry too much about doing what they do every week.
PG: It certainly has its labours, but they aren’t the same at all. We’re so different from Mad Men and so different from something like X-Men. It’s pretty unique. I’ve never seen anything like it.
FV: Me neither. I don’t think you can really say you see too many shows about 1950s housewives with superpowers who sing and dance in a cabaret. (laughs) Why not?
DS: The show isn’t just about the struggle that these women are having with society or the corporation that’s trailing them or with their husbands, but also about a struggle that they have within themselves to keep a lot of secrets and confidence.
FV: Exactly, and the way that we came up with the name True Heroines was that the truth was a huge part of it because we can’t really show who we are on the show.
PG: The 50s was very much a time for things like that. People didn’t really have superpowers, but lots of people definitely took it upon themselves to hide who they were. If you were gay, you couldn’t say it. If you were hyperactive, you had hysteria. If you were a women, you had a whole other list of expectations. It was all so self-contained in that time, so that’s what kind of got us thinking about how our superpowers would fit into that and make these characters who they are.