Skip to main content

A Man, a Rope, a Cowboy

iPhoto caption: Frank Cox-O'Connell and Eion Bailey in Fool for Love. Photo by Daniel Malavasi.
/By / Jul 4, 2019

Fool for Love marks Eion Bailey’s Soulpepper debut and his return to the stage after decades of film and television work, during which he appeared in such movies as Fight Club, Center Stage, and Mindhunters. His television appearances include Dawson’s Creek, Law & Order, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

When Bailey learned that he’d been cast as Eddie in Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, he knew the role might prove just a bit more challenging than usual.

Indeed, the stage directions state:

“Eddie ropes every bedpost, never missing.”

Soulpepper invited us to watch a rehearsal of Fool for Love, and we spoke with Eion and others about the process of learning this unique skill.


Far below the cavernous ceiling of the company rehearsal hall, the actor stands, sliding the rope’s end through the loop, lifting it up, up, revolving it slowly – faster! faster!– wrist axeling, arm extended now, palm unfurling, loop releasing, soaring over the set: a chair, a bed.

In Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, we witness the ruined abyss of the Wild West embodied by Eddie (Eion Bailey), a tequila-swilling, broken-down rodeo cowboy turned stuntman, and May (Cara Gee), his high school sweetheart.

Set in a run-down motel room on the outskirts of the Mojave Desert, Eddie, absent for some time, has travelled 2,480 miles to offer May his latest dream – a trailer in Wyoming.

Seeking to erase her past, May is getting ready for a date with Martin (Alex McCooeye). Watching it all is Shepard’s unnamed Old Man (Stuart Hughes), a grizzled old cowboy who sips his Wild Turkey and spins his yarns.

And so begins a battleground of love and rancor and lust and fury erupting in equal measure.

“Gotta stay in practice these days,” Eddie says.” There’s kids out there ropin’ calves in six seconds dead. Can you believe that?”

The cowboy’s trade lies in the particulars, in the rope, the lariat, that most singular tool of the American cowboy.

Eion Bailey and Stuart Hughes in Fool for Love. Photo by Daniel Malavasi.

Upstage left, Eion Bailey releases the lasso, the rope sweeping the air before coming to rest in a messy coil, falling just shy of the bedpost, its intended target.

The rope reflects Eddie’s state of mind,” he explains. “He’s challenging, preparing for a potential intruder.”

Somersaulting across the bed, he gathers up the rope.

“The rope is a thing of control in the play – shepherding, marching, letting May know that the threat is there,”  Stuart Hughes adds.

Downstage right, Bailey begins again: throwing, gathering, throwing, gathering.

“I grew up with horses,” Bailey explains. “But I haven’t done any roping … I’ve done cutting horse, but zero roping. My sister is a professional polo player, so I asked if she could find a trainer to help with the rope stuff. I met him at his ranch and he gave me a lesson.”

Ropes are endowed with both grain and will; cast a rope one way and it alights on its object, cast it another and it shimmies and backfires.

“I started rehearsing with a friend,” Bailey says. “You have to walk before you run. Sometimes I think, will we ever get there? Throwing it, hitting something, landing.”

Fight Director Simon Fon adds, “We break it down bit by and then run it like a dance … you keep repeating it. My biggest thing is breathing, finding your balance.”

Bailey slides his hand along the length of the rope until he reaches the knot.

“It’s a Honda knot,” Fon explains.“It allows the rope to create a feed it can slide through in that new shape, catch what it needs to catch, gain momentum and speed. You cinch it and it tightens. You can even use it to pull people out of rivers.”

Bailey ensnares the chair with a rope around its base, pulling it toward him, the chair finally toppling over.

Fon puts one foot on the chair. “It’ll fall over no matter what – from the momentum.” He rights the chair. “Safety is key,” he adds. “The ceiling in the theatre is only eight feet. That’s the challenge.”

Eion Bailey and Stuart Hughes in Fool for Love. Photo by Daniel Malavasi.

Closing one eye, Bailey raises one arm, his fingers closing around a fictitious pistol.

“Aiming the rope is like shooting a gun, knowing you’ll see it all the way through,” Bailey says. “Your arm, your body … you’re already setting it up, the bullet’s already left.”

He lifts the rope, begins again: lifting, twirling, releasing, the lariat seizing hold of its object: swift, silent, sure.

I’d record my lines and then listen to it while I did the rope work, adding in the rope throws. I practise in Withrow Park. Sometimes kids ask, ‘Are you a real cowboy?’”

A cowboy’s rope is imbued with adventure, joy, romance – a harkening back to those cowboy heroes, to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, to Gary Cooper and Kirk Douglas, to bucking broncos and flying lariats.

“It’s slow … baby steps,” Bailey says. “It’s a process… choreography, really. And then all of sudden you think, wait, I’ve got this!”

He sets the rope spinning, whoosh, whoosh, whooshing overhead.

Man, rope, cowboy.

Annie Rosenberg

Annie Rosenberg

Annie is a writer, editor and playwright who likes to wear many hats, both literally and figuratively. She likes to test her dialogue on her dog, Charlie, and would dearly love to use the word antediluvian in a sentence. There. Like that.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


According to director-dramaturg Karin Randoja, Cliff Cardinal’s darkly funny new solo show is ‘a big leap forward’

“There’s a lot of emotion in this one,” says Randoja of Cardinal's newest work. “You have to track and direct the emotional states throughout the play, and how they rise and fall. I call it a solo show, but in my head, it’s sort of like a movie, where all the other actors are invisible."

By Aisling Murphy

Inspired by ‘80s rom-coms, The Waltz explores young love and the intimacy of sharing stories

“Authenticity may include trauma or suffering, but it doesn't have to end in sadness,” says playwright Marie Beath Badian. “It isn't the end of the story and it isn't the point of the story.”

By Mira Miller
Black and white images of Joelle Peters (left) and Tara Sky (right) set over an image of the Stratford Festival Theatre. Sky wears a long dress, while Peters wears layers of scarves and furs. Peters holds a teacup in her right hand, and hand emerging from the left side of the photo pours coffee into the cup from above. Original images of Peters and Sky by Ted Belton. iPhoto caption: Joelle Peters (left) and Tara Sky (right). Original images of Peters and Sky by Ted Belton.

Change for the Better: On Indigeneity at the Stratford Festival

Both [Sky and Peters] want to honour the Indigenous artists who have worked with the [Stratford] festival for years, quietly carving out space for public and visual representation.

By Robyn Grant-Moran

Looking In to Reach Out: In Conversation with Sergio Blanco

Sergio Blanco brings reality and fiction into one with The Rage of Narcissus, combining self-reflection, queerness, and murder.

By Hélène Crowley
(left to right) Jamie Robinson in a black t-shirt (photographed by John Bregar) and Walter Borden in a velvet jacket, lilac shirt and dotted cravat (photographed by Michael Meehan) smile towards the camera. The two men's headshots are superimposed over a poster for (Re)Casting Shakespeare in Canada: A Symposium. An image of Shakespeare's face is partially obscured by strips of red and yellow paper, as well as strands of white paper bearing classical text. iPhoto caption: (left to right) Jamie Robinson (original photo by John Bregar) and Walter Borden (original photo by Michael Meehan)

(Re)Casting the Shakespearean Mold: In Conversation with Jamie Robinson and Walter Borden

This is the heart of what (Re)Casting Shakespeare is about: examining how casting can influence the audience’s interpretation of the story.

By Jessica Watson

Making Theatrical Ghee: In Conversation with Philip Akin and Aldrin Bundoc

“[Directing Maanomaa, My Brother] was about putting a magnifying glass on what the story was…like making ghee, or butter without all the solids that could go bad.”

By Aisling Murphy