ROCKPORT – The requirements are simple: Be a gutsy adult woman, be able to fight with a sword, and portray a larger-than-life character. The first of two auditions for a new play, A Specific History of Women Pirates, were held Sunday, March 31, at the home of Tomm Tomlinson, in Rockport. Another audition will be held later in April.
The play will travel around the Midcoast, June through August, and portray the life of five women pirates who were known for their ruthless villainy.
Director Tomm Tomlinson, also known on the high seas as Captain Crudbeard when he is performing with the Pirates of the Dark Rose, authored A specific History of Women Pirates.
Tomlinson said these stories should be told.
“It’s not as much a play, as a stage combat presentation with history thrown in,” he said. “We all have images of a pirate climbing over the rail of a boat with a bristly black beard and a dagger in his teeth. This Victorian image isn’t quite correct. Women were pirates, too; in fact, the most successful pirate captain was a female, who commanded more ships and sailors than any other pirate ever.”
Bonny and Read, who was also known as Mark Read, were two of the most famous female pirates of all time, and among the few women known to have been convicted of piracy during the early 18th Century, at the height of the golden age of piracy.
“These two women sort of brought in the custom of cross-dressing,” said Tomlinson. “Don’t laugh, because cross-dressing in piracy is advantageous. In other words, they can play the feminine side, or they can cross-dress and do anything they want.”
Tomlinson said he would like to have big women to cast in the roles.
“They had to be big to command the respect,” he said. “If you think about it, nowadays women have big leadership roles. Back then they were much more limited. For these females to be able to hold down pirate crews by force of authority they had to be pretty exceptional.”
Tomlinson said they move a little closer to modern history with pirate Sadie the Goat.
“Sadie was active on the New York waterfront,” he said. “She was a river pirate. She ran a pirate gang and was known in a fight for doing the goat thing, and that’s butting people, so our third act is the story of Sadie and then we’ll finish up with the most successful pirate of all time. Not the most successful female pirate, but the most successful pirate of all time, who happened to be a woman.”
That was Ching Shih.
“She operated off the coast of China,” he said. “She was successful enough where she negotiated with the emperor of China to remove her blockade on his ships. She got to retire and keep all her wealth. She died an old woman, unlike most of the pirates from the golden age. So we start around the 1580s and go right up through the 1800s.”
Tomlinson said it’s more about combat than a story.
“Any time you pick up swords onstage and go at it you get people’s attention,” he said. “We’re lucky enough for this production to have a nationally recognized combat choreographer, Angela Bonacasa. It so happens, she’s a resident of Maine when she’s not traveling all over the country teaching stage combat.”
Tomlinson said he has worked with Bonacasa for over a decade.
“We really like her and she will do an incredible job,” he said. “She associated with SAFD, the Society of American Fight Directors.”
A Specific History of Women Pirates will open June 25, at the Boothbay Harbor Windjammer Days. It will be at the Fort Knox Pirate Parlay on July 13 and the Hollis Pirate Fest on August 10. It will finish at the Camden Windjammer Festival on August 31, but Tomlinson said other dates and events are possible with some tentative at this time.
The next audition date for A Specific History of Women Pirates will be Sunday, April 28, at 122 Camden Street in Rockport. Start time is noon.