Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Chick Reid, left, and Maria Vacratsis in Her2.

Cylla von Tiedeamnn

On a winter afternoon, 10 actresses are sandwiched into the basement dressing room of a downtown theatre to discuss the play they are rehearsing. The script, entitled Her2 and written by Toronto playwright Maja Ardal, brings together seven disparate women suffering from an aggressive form of breast cancer as they undergo a potentially life-saving drug trial.

How do the players relate to their parts? What does cancer mean to them?

Clearly these are not the right questions; they are received with blank looks.

Story continues below advertisement

Diane D'Aquila, one of the senior members of the cast, steps in: What is extraordinary about Her2 is that it brings together a large, all-female cast. "In Canada, an intergenerational play that has so many women of so many ages – other than Les Belles Soeurs, I can't think of one," she says, referring to the Michel Tremblay classic.

And at that, the floodgates open. These women, who play seven cancer patients, two doctors and a nurse, find nothing notable about cancer; everybody knows somebody who has lived through or died of cancer. What they do find unusual is how seldom they get to work with each other.

"There is a lot of history in this room," says Stratford Festival veteran Chick Reid. "The first or second day of rehearsal we added up [Actors'] Equity years; we have 302 Equity years."

This depth of experience is seldom called on. It's not just that the main characters in classical theatre are more often male than female; it's that new plays also seem to be written in a weird world where there are always more men than women and women over 40 simply don't exist.

"I have been watching my fellow actresses becoming older and more brilliant by the year and I have been watching many of them not getting enough work, not getting enough stage time," says Ardal as she squeezes into the group. "I was running around the world doing a one-woman show and I made myself a promise: Get as many woman as you can, as many women of a certain age, into a show. And that was before I got cancer."

She was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2011 and, when she read an article about a group of women in a cancer drug trial who were all treated in the same room, she saw the theatrical material to make good on her promise.

"There is something terribly wrong; the quality and power and creativity that exists in 50 per cent of the population is not getting to the place where it needs to. I can't do anything about the film and television industry, but in theatre we just have to treat ourselves as leaders," she says.

Story continues below advertisement

Easier said then done if you find that, as soon as you have the chops, the roles have disappeared.

"It takes a long, long time to get as good as you wish to be. Just as you hit your 40s and say, 'I am so ready, ready to do big things,' they are just not available," says Reid. "Whereas a guy hits 40 and boom, the world is open."

The 40-year-old actor can simply play a man but the 40-year-old actress discovers she can only play an old woman.

"A 45-year-old woman, looking a little the worse for wear," says Kyra Harper, mocking the character descriptions in many scripts. "It's always a little the worse for wear."

"Could lose a few," chimes in Reid.

And don't get them started on lookism in Hollywood.

Story continues below advertisement

"I look like Paul Giamatti," says Maria Vacratsis, comparing her heavy Mediterranean face to that of the American actor who has played John Adams, Barney Panofsky and Hamlet. "The roles for a woman who looks like Paul Giamatti are not being written, but Paul Giamatti is like a sex symbol or something."

Mention Russell Crowe, and the room explodes in a collective guffaw. The leading man recently patted himself on the back for taking mature roles and suggested that actresses who complain they can't find work just need to accept they won't be playing ingenue roles in their 40s.

"These women may want to play age-appropriate parts but there are no age-appropriate parts," Vacratsis says.

So, they audition to play grandmothers.

"I can't tell you how many times I have gone in for a grandmother part and it will say, age 60. You go in and look around, and you think: All the women I am seeing in this room are 40, 45," says D'Aquila.

Her2 opens Thursday and it is D'Aquila's 61-year-old body that is advertising the play produced by Nightwood Theatre at Buddies in Bad Times: She is shown bare-chested, exposing one breast and one scar.

Story continues below advertisement

And so, finally, she also turns to that question about the relationship between art and life: "I separate my life, the time line is B.C., A.C. – it used to be before children, after children, now it's before cancer and after cancer. … I am five years cancer free; they rang the bell … I was a little worried this might bring up elements of those five years that were painful. Not at all. I have found it illuminating."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies