After having received a coveted Frankie nomination (Best English Production 2018 – Centaur Theatre) for its inaugural play “The Dollhouse Effect” at last year’s Montreal Fringe Festival, Montreal-based theatre company FIMIIDO is back at it again to give birth to its newest brainchild.
Company founder and director-playwright Victoria Dudley returns to the local fest this summer with “Bath/Ory”, an original multidisciplinary creation that focuses on two pivotal moments of the life of 16th century Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory: her curious, unconventional childhood within nobility, and her extraordinary rise (or fall) in power to become “the most prolific female serial killer of all times”.
It’s eccentric, occult, deviant, queer, and experimental –– and thus quintessentially Fringe. Read our exclusive interview with its creator –– a promising emerging voice in Montreal’s theatre scene –– below.
Note: this interview has been edited and condensed for purposes of length and clarity.
Pictured: Performers Camila Fitzgibbon and Samara O’Gorman play Elizabeth and Young Elizabeth, respectively, in FIMIIDO’S “Bath/Ory”
(Photo Credit: Victoria Dudley)
With over 600 assassinations to her presumed tally but with limited historical evidence to support the claims, the real-life Elizabeth Bathory’s folkloric story is still something of a mystery. The startling numbers, however, leave little and few to wonder as to why the royal subject of “The Blood Countess” first piqued our interviewee’s interest.
“I initially heard of Elizabeth Bathory when I stumbled upon a Youtube video of her on my 13th birthday,” shares Victoria Dudley. “I thought she was interesting, but thought nothing more of it for the longest time after that.
“And then, exactly one year ago during the previous Fringe, I again came across another video of her. Anxious about directing my first-ever show at the time, I decided right there and then that I was going to write a 10-page play about this person –– just for fun and as a distraction from all the stress of production. Afterwards I realized ‘you know what – I actually have something here. Maybe this could be my next thing.’”
A Psych Thriller
With all of her sadistic practices and sinister beauty rituals – which allegedly included mutilating and bathing in the blood of her victims – Bathory is indeed a most peculiar character study. “Bath/Ory“, however, steers clear of overt depictions of violence and gore on stage, delving instead into the fascinating psyche of a woman driven to destruction.
“It’s the psychological aspect of her story that intrigues me,” reveals the passionate playwright-director. “I would imagine it takes a lot out of someone to kill hundreds of people, and I wanted to understand not necessarily how but why Elizabeth did the things she did. She was obsessed with preserving her youth because everyone around her constantly told her that she was beautiful, and that became the one thing in life she felt she had – the one thing that gave her any sense of self-worth.”
Protagonist or antagonist, Bathory is a figure of great controversy, and redeeming human qualities may be difficult to discern at a first glance. Why care for the story of a mass murderer?
Dudley argues that the anti-heroine of her play is a product of an unusual upbringing, of inbreeding/incest, and of the realities of the times. “There is a genetic component to it, certainly, but I believe [Elizabeth Bathory’s] living conditions ultimately turned her into the person she became,” she asserts. “I believe that people start out as blank slates in life and that we are then shaped by our environments and influencers around us. That doesn’t justify Elizabeth’s actions – but it does explain them to some extent.”
It Takes a Village
While “Bath/Ory” aims for historical accuracy in its reimagined portrayal of the infamous “The Countess Dracula”, the piece is not documentary or verbatim theatre –- although the dramatized dialogue is grounded in reality and there are excerpts of to-the-letter speech in the script (most notably, 54-year-old Elizabeth’s final words before death). In focusing on the exploration of the inner thinkings of a convict as opposed to re-enacting physical acts of homicide, it is primarily textually driven. However, as a multidisciplinary production, movement, music, and digital media converge as important elements in the time-hopping, nonlinear storytelling.
“There are several dance numbers in the show,” reveals Dudley (Alexa Artzy is credited as the primary dance artist and choreographer.) Certain sequences are isolated; others are seamlessly integrated into dialogic scenes. “In some cases, the choreography is anchored in reality in that we have the actors dancing on stage as characters. But then we have other segments where the movement is more abstract and symbolic of what’s happening. Our main dancer (Artzy) then appears to illustrate ideas of what’s going on in Elizabeth’s head or to subtly depict acts of crime.” While the performance is predominantly defined by naturalistic acting, it is also stylized, theatrical, and heightened at points to expose the emotional extremes of its mercurial lead character.
And, although the eponymous Bathory is the central figure of FIMIIDO’s new work, the ensemble spectacle also focuses on the stories of her household servants, many of whom were accomplices and/or victims.
Dudley explains: “Looking at both sides of the coin, I find the lives of these people to be just as interesting as Elizabeth’s. Stuck inside castle walls, they were caught in the middle of it all, and although they weren’t the main instigators, they also weren’t completely guiltless.”
The Beauty in the Beast
“Bath/Ory” was not penned to be a social or political drama, but with its prevalent themes of power imbalance and dynamics, it provides for topical discussion.
“It’s frightening to see the things that people with status and money can get away with,” reflects Dudley. Protected by wealth and nobility, Elizabeth Bathory’s only punishment was solitary confinement in her own home of Čachtice Castle –– a lax, disproportionate sentence in comparison to the brutal beatings and executions faced by her accomplices. The realities of injustice in the criminal penal system is regrettably something still to be grappled with six centuries later.
The greater questions and concerns of “Bath/Ory”, however, are profoundly human, when we look at the dark depths of loneliness, abandonment, boredom, loss –– love, even.
In witnessing her downward spiral, “it’s important to realize and acknowledge that Elizabeth Bathory was a person, too, and that’s what I’m trying to do with this show.” Concludes Dudley: “I hope audiences will have some empathy and in the end I think they will feel some sympathy towards her when they learn that her life really wasn’t at all easy. She didn’t do the things she did completely out of hatred or bloodlust. I find her quite tragic.”
A complex centrepiece character and layered narrative with thrilling plot twists renders “Bath/Ory” a decorous spot at this year’s Fringe. Add lingerie and bathtubs at the MainLine and Bathory’s story doesn’t get more intimate. Miss not its World Premiere now running until Sunday, June 16th.
FIMIIDO presents the World Premiere of “BATH/ORY” at the 2019 St-Ambroise Fringe Festival
June 6th – 16th, 2019
(3997 St. Laurent)
$8 – 10
Written & Directed by | Victoria Dudley
Choreography | Alexa Artzy
Stage Manager & Sound Design | Nathan McConnell
Costume Design | William Bastien
Lighting & Video Design | Isabelle Huang
Prop & Set Design | Fiona Larnder-Besner
Scenic Artist | Robyn Ellison
Promotional Video | Ross Jay
Featuring | Camila Fitzgibbon, Samara O’Gorman, Dov Fridman, Michael Briganti, Mike Mastromonaco, Emily Pincin, Veronique Gagnier, Erin Walsh, Alexa Artzy
Editor’s Note: Given that “Bath/Ory” was only the English production not included in Montreal Theatre Hub’s special coverage of the Fringe this year (due to my personal involvement with the piece), this interview was granted to FIMIIDO as a special acknowledgement of the work of my fellow artists. I hope you will honour and celebrate their efforts by joining us for one of our performances at the MainLine.–– Camila Fitzgibbon