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New play explores Vancouver’s pre-Expo 86 gang scene, from a female perspective

A new play is exploring the not so shiny version of Vancouver that existed before Expo 86 — from a female perspective.

Sunrise Betties tells the fictional story of an all-female street gang and was written by Cheyenne Rouleau, playwright-in-residence at ITSAZOO Productions.

Rouleau says the play is loosely based on the real-life Clark Park Gang, as told in the book The Last Gang in Town by local historian Aaron Chapman.

But Rouleau says she created this fictional gang for her play because she feels women who were involved in gang life in Vancouver have been overlooked in history.

“I started getting interested in the gangster genre… but I noticed there weren’t a lot of women in these films so, I started doing a little bit of research,” she says.

Rouleau tells CityNews she got in touch with Kim Brooker, a female member of the Clark Park Boys, and from there she decided to write Sunrise Betties, a historical fiction from the perspective of an all-female gang.

“Females were definitely involved in the gang life in Vancouver… we just don’t talk about it much, so it wasn’t a far stretch to make an all-female gang,” she says.

Rouleau says she wanted to set the scene in pre-Expo Vancouver because it tells the tale of a city that’s different from the one Vancouverites have come to know.

“We have this idea of Vancouver as this world-class, shiny new city. Pre-Expo it was a working class port town, and a blue collar city,” she says.

She adds her family is from here, and she likes to share what Vancouver used to be like.

“We tear down historical buildings all the time, we are constantly gentrifying,” she said. “I like to research and know a little bit more about what was there…what were our roots.”

Rouleau says her play demonstrates “direct links” between current issues and those present in the 1960s and ’70s.

“The drug trade starting, heroin starting, we can really see how we got to where we are now,” she said.

Rouleau adds having female characters in her play was important to her because she wants see more females in theatre.

“I think it’s really important to see a bunch of (females) in roles that we don’t normally get to play, in this genre in particular,” she says.

“We usually (play) either sex workers or the girlfriends of the gangsters.”

Rouleau says it’s important that women get to play the same variety of roles as men do, and don’t get cast into a stereotype.

“I think we’re sort of past the point in feminism where every depiction of women has to be perfect (and) idealistic,” she said. “I think it’s important that we get to see women fulfilling those dark gritty roles too.”

Sunrise Betties runs from Feb. 21 to Mar. 10 at The Russian Hall in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood.

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