Stripper role for actor on a roll
Featuring Tara Rosling. Directed by Tanja Jacobs. Written by Simon Heath. Set and lighting design by Andy Moro. Presented by the Shed Co. Nov 14-Dec 1. Tue-Sat 7:30pm, Sun 2:30pm. Tue-Thu $16, Fri-Sat $18, Sun PWYC. VideoCabaret at the Cameron House, 408 Queen W. 416-703-1725.

“To strip or not to strip? Do I take it off or not?” asks rising actor Tara Rosling. “I think we all ask these questions of ourselves.” In 1002 Nights, which opens this week at the Cameron House, Rosling plays Stella, a “shit-hot stripper” facing a personal crossroads. You needn’t be a stripper to identify with the situation. “We all do things in our lives that we know aren’t the best for us,” she says. “We feel like we’re chopping off a limb or throwing out a part of ourselves. It’s like, ‘Do I want to keep doing this or do I have the strength to do something I dream about doing? To move beyond the place where I feel a part of myself is dead?'”

Over coffee and a bagel at Tequila Bookworm on Queen, Rosling explains how she finally began following her dream in the mid-’90s. Visiting Toronto from her home in Vancouver, “I saw people I had gone to school with on stage and I said to myself, ‘Y’know, if this is what you wanna do, you better get your ass back to Toronto.'”

Since then, Rosling has carved out a pretty impressive resume, earning three Dora nominations, her first coming in 1997 for her work in the title role in Daniel MacIvor’s See Bob Run. “Maybe if I win one, I won’t work anymore,” she jokes, “like if you buy a house in Stratford, they won’t hire you back.” Lack of work hasn’t been a problem. In the past year, Toronto audiences have seen her in Zadie’s Shoes (the Mirvish Productions remount) and Lonesome West (which got her the third Dora nod). As a member of the Stratford Festival company, she turned in a critically acclaimed performance as Viola in Twelfth Night, a character that has borne countless actors’ interpretations.

In contrast, Rosling’s character in 1002 Nights was written specifically for her by first-time playwright Simon Heath, the Chalmers- and Dora-winning director of Alien Creature: A Visitation by Gwendolyn MacEwen. Stella the stripper undergoes a traumatic experience and must deal with the aftermath. She rents a theatre to perform a different kind of show: telling stories.

“Stella has created a fantastical fantasy world to keep herself safe so she can do what she does for a living, but that has been raided and destroyed,” Rosling says. “So she’s rented this space, she looks fabulous, she’s got a pole — at one point she says: ‘What would you do if you didn’t have to earn money, who would you be? I’d tell stories.’ So part of her night is about her fantasy coming true. But it’s also about her being able to tell her story in a fairy-tale fashion, to an objective audience, which enables her to gain perspective.”

The premise and the play’s title come from Arabian Nights (sometimes published as 1001 Nights) in which Scheherazade tries to postpone a death sentence levied on the women of her village by telling stories to the king night after night for three years.

“Stella loves Scheherazade,” Rosling says. “She loves to know that this woman told stories to save herself — to save herself and to save all women — and Stella has, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, a feeling of ‘I need to tell my story to save myself.'”

Rosling says it’s remarkable that a man wrote this story of female empowerment. “For sure it’s a beautiful gift to women,” she says.

Rosling says the production has faced many unusual challenges, moving through six rehearsal spaces in three weeks, suffering set delays and script changes, and “going to rehearsals at the Cameron House last Sunday and there’s a fuckin’ band in the front room, so we can’t rehearse.”

And of course she had to get a handle on the dancing. “The belly dancing, I took some classes,” she says. “The pole dancing, I went to strip clubs [to see how it was done] and then they put in a pole and I just started whizzing around it and coming up with whatever moves I could. The tap dancing I’m gonna fake really well, hopefully.” Rosling leans back and laughs. When it’s suggested that the dancing skills might come in handy someday, she laughs again. “The belly dancing, okay. But the pole dancing? No.”

Originally published in Eye Weekly on November 14, 2002.