She’s No Damsel – A Talk With Sword Wielding, Thoroughly-Modern Lolita – Stephanie LaVardera

Stephanie LaVardera

We got a chance to sit with Stephanie LaVardera, the gal that gets to the heart of the hero, as Lolita in Constellation Theatre Company’s World Premiere of Zorro.

Lolita is an iconic figure in the story of Zorro. Were you a fan of the story growing up, or did you have a favorite Zorro, a favorite Lolita?

Actually no, I didn’t really know the story of Zorro at all until I started working on this show! I hadn’t even seen the Antonio Banderas films (I’m so bad at seeing movies! So many classics I need to catch up on- Star Wars?…Admission: never seen any of them!). Anyway, I think Zorro is a very familiar character, very ingrained in pop culture, but a lot of people, like me before this show, don’t know the actual story of Zorro. And what’s so fantastic about this show is that Eleanor and Janet tell the story of how Zorro came to be, from the beginning.

Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in The Legend of Zorro 2

Anyway, I did watch the Antonio Banderas version before we started rehearsals just to get the feeling of the world we were going to be in. And I guess Catherine Zeta-Jones is the Lolita-like figure in that story, but she’s not the same character. She is pretty fierce though, and knows how to swing a sword, so I really appreciated those elements of her character. Other than that, like Danny, I think, the only other Zorro film I’ve seen is the original silent film with Douglas Fairbanks, which is an incredibly well-made movie! If you haven’t seen it, I would definitely recommend checking it out! Probably one of the best silent films I’ve ever seen (but then again, I’m admittedly no movie-buff, so….hahaha). The Lolita in that film is a great character, but she’s definitely more the Lolita from the original pulp fiction, which is the stock-type, girl-who-needs-to-be-saved-by-the-man


The Mark of Zorro with Douglas Fairbanks

sort of deal. She does get frustrated with the passive, wimpy Diego mask that he creates for himself, though, and longs for someone with the courage to do what’s right, like Zorro. So that part of the character comes right from the original pulp.

But the great thing about Eleanor and Janet’s script was that they gave Lolita a voice of her own. She’s not just that stock damsel in distress, but a person with her own insight and feelings, and she exercises her own free will. And not only does she long for someone to do right, she learns that she can take action herself and stand up for what she believes in. So I guess if I had to pick a favorite Lolita, it would be the Eleanor Holdridge/Janet Allard Lolita!! J

How do you go about developing a character? Where do you find your inspiration?


Stephanie LaVardera as Lolita

Well, most of the time I start with the more general research and then work at getting more specific. So, for instance, for this show, like I said, I
watched the Antonio Banderas movie before rehearsals started to just get a feel of the world of the play. I’ll also usually do some reading about the time period/place the play is set, which I did for this show. It’s also fantastic when you have a fabulous dramaturge like Taylor Hitaffer who gives you so much awesome info to work with! She even created a Pinterest page with Zorro-inspired images for us, which was particularly helpful. Once I’ve done that sort of preliminary stuff, which happens mostly before rehearsals start and at the beginning of the rehearsal period, then I guess for me the inspiration is really all in the text. I had an acting teacher say once, “Where your truth intersects with the text, that’s where the character is,” and I’ve always held on to that as a sort of touchstone. I think it’s very important to identify yourself in the text, let it have what affect it has on you, and the work from there….Wow, that sounds very esoteric and weird, hahaha, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that my inspiration really comes from within- how the text affects me.

Oh, and then I also really like to listen to music that I think speaks to something in the character, a part of their journey, and make a playlist of songs. But I don’t usually do that until later in the process.

Lolita is a swashbuckler! Was this typical of women in that time? And you do such a fantastic, acrobatic job onstage. Did you have some prior experience with swordplay?

Photo: Andrew Propp

Zorro and Lolita

Wow, thank you! It’s so much fun and definitely one of my favorite moments in the play! And you know, I don’t know how “typical” it would have been for a woman to know how to use a sword at this time. I didn’t come across anything specifically about women using swords, so actually, I do know that it probably was not typical. But Alta California was a rough, dangerous place, and there was such a military presence and influence that I’m sure there were some women who maybe took it upon themselves to learn, to be able to protect themselves. And yes, I do have some experience. Stage combat was a huge part of the training for my MFA, at the Academy for Classical Acting at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. I actually became certified in several weapons by the Society of American Fight Directors. But women in theatre don’t have many opportunities to use those skills, especially the sword work, so getting to use that training in this show has been amazing!

How does it feel to be the love interest of a super hero?! But seriously, how do you think Lolita squares that in her mind – is Zorro an impossibility or do you think she dreams there might be a way to be together?

Hahahaha, that’s not really something I think about as Lolita. I don’t think she thinks of him as a “superhero.” He’s definitely a hero in her mind because he’s doing what she has believed someone needs to stand up and do, but there’s an element of fear there for her, because he starts to teeter on the line between defending the poor and turning into a bully himself. And she also knows that as long as he hides his true identity, there’s no way they can be together- so in that way, he is an impossibility. But she does also dream that they could one day really be together, and that’s why she keeps reminding him not to become too violent, and pushing him to unmask. She recognizes these things, so I think it’s particularly poignant at the end when he says to her, Lolita, you have freed me from my mask.”

This is your first performance with Constellation (congratulations!) Tell us a bit about your experience working with [Director] Eleanor Holdridge and at Constellation.

Thank you! I’m so excited to have had the opportunity to work at Constellation and on this show! The experience has been absolutely wonderful! It is a very welcoming, warm company! And working with Eleanor has been a dream! She is so smart, and supportive and encouraging- exactly the kind of director an actor wishes for. She created a wonderful, playful rehearsal environment, and was so generous in allowing us to have so much creative input on her play!

What’s next for you?

Lot’s of auditioning! Hahaha….I don’t know what my next project is right now, but I am also really interested in teaching drama to kids, so that’s what I’m working on next!

Thanks Stephanie!


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