There’s Nowhere to Hide in Stand-Up Comedy

Associate Producer Angie St. Mars Profiles Her Stand-Up Colleagues

I understand why we fixate on the things we’re tired of – it’s because we want them to go away already. Amidst so many articles and discussions of women in comedy I hear the same thing. I’m not even going to say it. I’ll give you a hint: it’s something someone said in Vanity Fair nine years ago which still gets brought up in interviews as if someone more important said it yesterday.  I understand that we want to grind those stale notions out of existence, but when we constantly acknowledge those tired ideas, when we consistently give them centre stage, we can sometimes inadvertently contribute to their entrenchment and reproduction and what’s more, we are passing up the opportunity to talk about what we LOVE about women in comedy.  And there is a LOT to love. I had the pleasure of talking to two of the comedians who will be featured in the Women’s Comedy Night about what gets them jazzed about comedy, and let me tell you, it felt great.

I like that I can think about something no one is talking about, or that I wish people were talking about, and I can write something to say about it”, said Melanie Dahling, who has been doing stand-up comedy for six years. Dahling is a writer at The Uniter as well as an actor and sketch comic. “I spent a lot of time in my 20’s being defined by others based on what they see when they look at me. I love acting, but I struggled with that a lot when I was focused solely on it” said Dahling. “Comedy is exciting to me because I can choose who I want to be on stage and how I want to be seen.”

“Okay, I hate to give the really typical answer but it’s the rush you get when you hear them roar”, said Cathy Herbert,  sketch comic, and stand-up comedian who regularly mixes it up by using puppetry and music to tell jokes.

“I find it’s better than getting laughs from a play or improv or whatever because stand-up is my own previously conceived thoughts. It’s me, saying what I think, and people are then responding by getting it and agreeing that it is interesting.

I’ve only recently ventured into stand-up (thanks to the prodding of a few women on the scene) but I have to agree. It’s terrifying to me, I mean absolutely terrifying to share your private thoughts with a room full of strangers—and there’s nowhere to hide in stand-up comedy.  But when I share my truth with a crowd and they respond as if they get it I feel connected to the human race again. I feel like I’m not so alone in the universe. That is the reward for being bold, honest, and funny all at once. But can you achieve that every time? Goodness no.

“Of course this is also why I hate doing comedy”, Herbert continued. “When they don’t laugh, when they don’t agree, when they don’t ‘get it’, it can feel really isolating. And not isolating in the good way.”

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Cathy Herbert performing . Photo by April Plett.

Doing comedy can be empowering, yes, most definitely, but it can also be vexing, lonely, scary, and painful.

“Sometimes it’s frustrating to be a woman in comedy mainly because of the things women still feel they need to say”, said Dahling. “I don’t find it funny to be fixated on my weight, or hate men, or begrudgingly perform sex acts, but I see a lot of women assuming that this is what they have to offer. So I like going up there and having something else to talk about. I could cut those women down all I want but it’s much more positive to write what I do want to see.

I started doing stand-up for the same reason I started writing plays; it feels good to take an active role in the change you want to see.  For me, that is the most rewarding part.

“The other reason I love doing comedy is when you see joy on the audience’s faces, when you pull laughs out of them that they didn’t even know were there”, said Herbert. It feels good to know that I’m the reason that joy is happening…  But mostly the first thing I said.”

Catch Melanie Dahling and Cathy Herbert at the Women’s Comedy Night on November 16th at the Kings Head Pub. Doors open at 8pm and line-up starts at 8:30pm. Tickets are just $10 and the money raised goes to support Sarasvàti Productions season of theatre and workshops for artists. Call 204-586-2236 for tickets!

Love, Money & the Invention of Duct Tape

Duct tape, unbridled passion and class – these are the magic ingredients of the FemFest 2016 Bake-Off.

The annual fan-favourite challenge put five brave playwrights in a race against their own creativity and the clock. With three “must-have” ingredients and eight hours, these playwrights cooked up their own ten-minute theatrical treat!

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“…You want to dress for comfort so you can focus on writing, but also dress to impress in case a writing agent or an oil tycoon from Saudi Arabia walks by!” – Frances Koncan, #LiveAtTheBakeOff

On August 19th, the five selected playwrights met with director Cairn Moore for the official unveiling of the Bake-Off 2016 ingredients and began their Bake-Off challenge. Throughout the day the playwrights kept followers posted on Facebook and Twitter with #LiveAtTheBakeOff. These posts included hilarious tips and updates on their process.

Now the writing is done and audiences can enjoy staged readings of these scenes on September 19 at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film.

Even more exciting, viewers cast their vote for the Bake-Off Audience Choice. The winning playwright receives the Janet Taylor Bake-Off Award of $500 and the highly coveted opportunity to have a reading of their full script at FemFest 2017! How’s that for a prize?

We are excited to present this year’s Bake-Off playwrights and their imaginative scenes:

Angie St. Mars, She’s All Dead – An emerging playwright, director, comedian, performer and Apprentice Dramaturge at the Manitoba Association of Playwrights, Angie received her B.A with a Double Major in Politics and Theatre and Film at the University of Winnipeg. She has recently emerged on the Winnipeg comedy scene as a core member of Winnipeg Sketch Comedy groups Free Snacks and President Bear. You bet her Bake-Off piece about the struggles of a female ghost will exude a slice of her humour.

Frances Koncan, Duct Tape Terrace – The Anishinaabe writer, director, and producer studied at the University of Manitoba with a BA Psychology and the City University of New York Brooklyn College with a MFA in Playwriting. The 2016 Harry Rintoul Award recipient for Best New Play at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival and shortlisted for the 2016 Tarragon Emerging Playwrights Award, Frances is definitely making waves in Canadian Theatre. Her Bake-Off scene takes hilarious elements of current pop-culture and peppers it into this piece about haunted love.

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Bake-Off 2016 Playwrights: Wren Brian, Gislina Patterson, Angie St. Mars & Frances Koncan

Gislina Patterson, Coffee – A theatre performer and producer for the past ten years, Gislina has recently begun work as a writer, director, and performance artist. With a diverse set of training in clown, devised theatre, physical theatre, and performance art, she melds these elements into her Bake-Off drama, Coffee.

Jessy Ardern, Kit & Joe – Jessy is an actor, playwright, co-Artistic Director of The Struts and Frets Players and two-time winner of the Harry S. Rintoul Award for best new Manitoba play at the Winnipeg Fringe. She recently completed her BFA in acting at the University of Alberta, and has now brought her talents to the Bake-Off challenge with Kit & Joe.

wrenbake-off-tweet-2016Wren Brian, From The Depths – A graduate of the University of Winnipeg’s Theatre & Film Honours Program, Wren began her theatre career as an actor and stage manager. She has now transitioned into playwriting, directing, and producing. Her work is focused on contributing to equity in theatre by creating unique characters that can be played by any gender, ethnicity, and age. She continues this mission with her thought-provoking scene, From The Depths.

Catch the staged-readings of FemFest 2016 Bake-Off on September 19th, at 7 pm. Scenes will be performed by the talented Bake-Off cast: Ian Bastin, Jane Burpee, Andres Collantes, Nan Fewchuk and Spenser Payne. For tickets visit, femfest.ca or call 204-586-2236.

Why We Do What We Do

A Pitch From Our Artistic Director, Hope McIntyre

It is time to brag, boast, crow and show some swagger! I’ll admit it, I don’t always do the best job of tooting the company’s horn. When I was a kid it was a bad thing to be a show off. So, I keep my head down and do the work. The work gets done but not everyone knows about it and not everyone knows how amazing what we do is.

GeNie and kids

Why is Sarasvàti Productions unique? This year alone we opened the eyes to almost 4,500 youth and teachers to the reality of what youth in care experience. To have a young person stand up and say “thank you for helping my peers understand what I have been through” means the world to us. We have had dozens of emerging artists attend our workshop series and access important information to launch their careers as artists. I’ve gotten to see a child who was too shy to say his name become a potato on stage. I’ve sat in a room with 15 women, all but one was sexually abused as a child, and listened to them share their stories. Then being able to laugh with them as we play theatre games. We’ve brought to the stage dozens of stories that would not otherwise be told. What makes us unique is that we are using the arts in a very important, powerful and special way. We believe that the arts have the ability to empower, to teach, to inspire and to allow everyone to have a voice.

SNA BB session 8 (3)Over the last 17 years there have been lots of sacrifices because of the belief that the work we are doing is important. This has been proven to me time and time again when I see the direct impact. However, the reality is that for 17 years we’ve struggled for funding. Our unique position as a theatre company working in the community and dedicated to social change sometimes puts us at a disadvantage when competing for funding that is awarded based on artistic excellence. We combine professional artists with emerging artists and even with community members. On average only about 30% of our revenue comes from public sources and only 5% is for operating costs with multi-year stability. This reality is not the norm for a theatre company operating a full season and having done so for so many years. It may not be sustainable forever, but we have never posted a debt, we stretch every dollar and we now have an endowment fund to work towards long-term stability.

MNM buttonOkay, enough of the reality check – back to bragging! Miss N Me is our next production and it is a crazy, wonderful and empowering journey. The playwright is one of a few two-time Governor General Award winners. We have a fabulous team of local artists including our amazing cast of Colin Connor, Kevin P. Gabel, Alissa Watson and Melanie Whyte. Our design team of Brenda McLean, James Jansen and Dean Cowieson have an awesome challenge with a complex show and a tight budget. They are all miracle workers. Our Assistant Director Angie St. Mars is a powerhouse and Missy Elliott’s biggest fan! The show is worth seeing and it is worth supporting. We’ve just launched our donation campaign for this world premiere and it is a chance for the community to show that they do want this type of wonderful theatre to exist in Winnipeg!

Click here to give and get great donor benefits! We know not everyone can support us in this way so show your support by purchasing tickets here. If money is not an option then contact us to volunteer. If we’ve really won you over we are also recruiting for our Board of Directors and committees.

Meet the Miss N Me Team!

They’ve all appeared in past shows with us, but you’ve never seen them like this before! We are super excited about the team that will be bringing our spring show to life. Catherine Banks (amazing two time Governor General Award winning playwright) has put the final touches on her newest play, Miss N Me, and entrusted us with the premiere . With the group of artists we have on board she will not be disappointed when the show opens on May 21st! Miss N Me is about Dawna, a hairdresser, who goes on a road trip to New York to meet her idol Missy Elliott and along the way she picks up a bunch of whacky hitch-hiking characters.

Melanie Whyte in Impromtu of Outremont

Melanie Whyte in The Impromtu of Outremont

We are thrilled to have Melanie Whyte taking the lead as Dawna! It has been far too long since we’ve worked together, ten years in fact! Melanie was in our TremblayFest production of The Impromptu of Outremont. Since then she’s been busy mostly using her singing talents in musicals such as Mary Poppins, Light on the Piazza and A Man of No Importance. She’s going to get to do a different type of singing in this play though. For her role as Dawna she’s going to have to channel her inner Missy Elliott and try out some rapping!

Kevin Gabel in EDEN

Kevin Gabel in EDEN

Playing Dawna’s teenage son, Justin, is Kevin Gabel. Kevin most recently partnered with Rana Bokhari in this year’s So You Think You Can Act competition, but three years before that he played another teenager in our production of Hope McIntyre’s EDEN. He is truly ageless and we’re happy he can still pull it off! But more recently Kevin has been playing older characters like the son in Theatre Project Manitoba’s production of Proud and Fred in Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels with Tara Players Theatre Company. Hopefully he’ll easily get back in touch with his inner teenager for Miss N Me!

Colin Connor & Alissa Watson in Harold and Vivan Entertain Guests

Colin Connor & Alissa Watson in Harold and Vivan Entertain Guests

Now here is where it gets crazy. The hysterical and talented Colin Connor and Alissa Watson will be teaming up again to play over eight crazy characters. Colin and Alissa have worked together on multiple occasions and make a great team. They just finished performing together in Theatre Incarnate’s Whitechapel Redemption, but before that they starred as the title characters in Jessy Ardern’s Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests as part of FemFest 2013! And before that they, again, played the title characters in The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine! Every time they appear onstage together they leave the audience in stitches and we’re sure it will be the same in Miss N Me. Among other characters Colin will be playing Fat Man, Clown Father, Adonis and Demetrius, while Alissa will be playing Clown Mother, Ms Excess Baggage, Mermaid and Fortune Terrorist.

Rounding out the creative team is Hope McIntyre directing with assistance from Angie St.Mars, set and costume designer Brenda McLean, lighting designer Dean Cowieson and sound designer James Jansen! All of the cast and crew have their work cut out for them in this whacky, imaginative play. Come see it May 21 to 31 at the UW Asper Centre for Theatre and Film. Tickets are available online, just click here or phone 204-586-2236!

Bake-Off Playwrights Announced!

What do you get when you mix talented playwrights, a carefully chosen list of script-writing ingredients and a healthy dose of friendly FemFest competition? For the fifth year in a row selected playwrights will be given a list of tasty ingredients and eight hours to stir up a script. The playwrights will then be required to share their creations with audiences who are eagerly anticipating a large helping of talent and laughter.

Janet

Janet Taylor

This year’s Bake-Off is honour of the late Sarasvàti board member, Janet Taylor, who was an invaluable member of our team right up until her passing in March. Janet’s favourite FemFest event was the Bake-Off and so we’ve decided to choose ingredients that reflect Janet’s interests and personality.To get a sense of what this deliciously decadent event will entail, read some fun facts of the participating playwrights below!

Carolyn Hoople Creed is an Associate Professor of English Literature at Manitoba’s University College of the North. Her poetry and prose have appeared in renowned publications across the country.

Terrie Todd has published seven stories with Chicken Soup for the Soul, two plays with Eldridge Plays and Musicals and writes a weekly faith and humour column for the Central Plains Herald Leader.

Angie St Mars co-hosts CKUW’s only feminist news and current events program—Femisphere. She is a relatively new playwright who graduated from the University of Winnipeg with a 3-year B.A double majoring in Politics and Theatre and Film.

Karen Clavelle teaches English Lit. and Prairie Lit to students at the University of Manitoba and is a poet writer and emerging playwright. She has recently progressed from writing voices in long poems to writing voices for theatre.

Frances Koncan is an Aboriginal playwright, director, producer, musician, composer, photographer, stage manager originally from Couchiching First Nations. She earned her MFA in playwriting at the City University of New York Brooklyn College and her BA in Psychology at the University of Manitoba.

You don’t want to miss what they come up with under the direction of Cairn Moore! You can get tickets to the Bake-Off by visiting our website, www.femfest.ca.

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