Breathing life into The Drowning Girls

Motyer-Fancy Theatre brings The Drowning Girls to the stage

The Motyer-Fancy Theatre continues to push the envelope with its current season of productions. Fresh off the highly successful run of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the theatre has proven to be one of the most loved artistic offerings for Mt. A students and the greater Sackville public. Their next presentation, The Drowning Girls, promises to bring another remarkable story to the stage. 

The Drowning Girls is a Canadian play that tells the true and brutal story of three women—Bessie, Alice, and Margaret, all of whom are connected by their murders at the hands of the same husband, George Joseph Smith. With the main action taking place in three bathtubs, we see the interaction of these women—united in their similar deaths—and hear their stories. The text of the play employs the use of lyrical dialogue, allowing for high interaction for the three characters, and a fascinating theatrical experience for audiences. 

Most notorious about The Drowning Girls, however, is the use of water in the physical staging of the play. The water takes on a mind of its own, and its unpredictability has provided a host of challenges for the actors involved. Classics major Phoebe Rex plays Alice Burnham, Smith’s second known victim. Fresh off their first run with full water, she expressed how it feels working with the volatile medium. “I have never in my life done a show that includes this much water. It’s a scene partner in itself, and a fantastical and magical element to add to the show.” 

For Maya Noëlle—a drama studies major playing Margaret Lofty—the sheer scale of the characters each actor plays provides a welcome challenge. “We all play at least nine characters. At some points, you are inhabiting the role of someone who is the epitome of darkness, and then you are an entirely different person without even saying anything verbally to show that.” Noëlle explained that each actor plays more than just their respective “bathing bride,” but also their mothers, the people close to them, and even Smith himself. 

Sociology major Emma Etheridge is taking on the role of Bessie Mundy, Smith’s first wife and first known victim. She discussed the sheer emotional strength it takes to play a character who was murdered in history. “We’re all playing women who actually existed. I exist now, Bessie existed and was killed in 1912. I feel a lot more weight and responsibility with every word I say because this is her truth too.” For Etheridge, the responsibility of embodying a historical figure has been essential to the rehearsal process thus far. 

The excitement and challenges of producing The Drowning Girls are also felt by those who work on the creative and technical aspects of the show. Kayla Trites, an English and drama student is acting as the show’s stage manager. “Alongside working with these amazing actresses and having a wonderful management and production crew, safety is one of my biggest concerns. I have never been a part of a show that has used water, but I’ve been so happy to dip my toes into this production!” In addition to stage management, director Valmai Goggin, an instructor on the drama studies faculty, has greatly enjoyed the process of bringing this production to life. “It’s this really incredible grassroots Canadian success story. It’s a play that centers on female voices, female bodies, and female perspectives. The work that the students have been doing on and off stage is incredible, and I’m just really proud of my team.”


The Drowning Girls runs at the Motyer-Fancy Theatre from November 29 until December 2. A “pay what you can” performance will be held on November 30, with a talk-back Q&A to follow. Take an evening to come and visit the drowning girls, they’ve been dying to meet you.

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