I catch Tessa J. Brown and Marianne Trenka as they are running up and down sets of stairs after kittening for The Bagel Burlesque Expo as their alter egos, Florence Emily and Emily Florence. Rock music. Some of the performers are “carrying their coffin out.” Some friendly good-byes to other people. At last I have their full attention. It reminds me of the phrase, “If you want something done, give it to the busy person.” No wonder the two of them are involved in so many different areas of Montreal’s performing community from stand-up comedy to sketch comedy to burlesque.
Today, I’m eager to talk to the two of them because they’ve just launched their Indiegogo campaign to help fund their Fringe Festival show, an “extravagant extravaganza” called Ladies’ Advice for Ladies. “This is actually a show that we took to Australia’s Adelaide Fringe,” explains Brown. “This is a two woman cabaret show. Marianne is a circus artist and I’m a writer and comedian. We end up doing a combination of circus, burlesque, dance, poetry, and comedy. We play very silly older British women.”
At the mere mention of their show, the two of them launch into character. “We’re older British ladies who want everything to be lady like,” Brown says. “All people are laaaaay-dees. Aaaaaaaaaaalll lay-dees. We give ladies’ advice to ladies because we are proper ladies and want to help all ladies become proper.”
Trenka pops in, “We give terrible advice. Terrible, terrible advice.”
When I ask what kind, Brown says, “A lady must always wear a hat at all times. A lady should be agreeable at all times and say yaaaaaahhhh.”
The two of them call their BBC yeeeaaaaaahs to each other before composing themselves.
“It’s important to realize it is satire,” says Trenka. “We’re making fun of female stereotypes.”
“It’s feminist satire,” adds Brown.
The show developed out of a recurring characters who appeared in their other shows (Extravagante Extravaganza, LadyCab, and the Cafe O’Lait Cabaret). The two of them were playing around with the voices and trying out different bits. Finally, with the help of director Kendal Savage, they transformed the pieces into a one hour, two-woman show with a proper story arc.
“Taking the show to Australia was…” as Brown affirms, “Amazing. We threw ourselves into it head first. We thought the only way to do an international festival was to do one. We had a lot of learning to do. The Adelaide Fringe is very different from the Montreal one. It’s huge. It’s the second biggest Fringe in the world and the number of shows is incredible.”
Going international had its challenges for them. Trenka explains that because they were responsible entirely for their show and knew nothing about the venue, they had to do a lot of work to make it happen. “You have to communicate with your venue, with the flyer people. We had to make lots of international phonecalls. From A to Z you make it happen. We even brought our own tech person because we have a multimedia show.”
“We had to find our own housing, rent our own venue space,” says Brown. “In comparison, the Montreal Fringe takes a lot of pressure off artists, especially out-of-towners.”
Fortunately, they knew a few people. Shane Adamczak and Gillian English were there. “There were a few people from Canada, but not a ton. That is something that would change with time if we did a bunch of these, where we’d get to know everybody,” says Brown.
Trenka says, “Australians help you out too. People are super accommodating. It was a question of a first time overseas Fringe. The more you do the Fringe, the more people you know, the more who help you out. Artists help other artists and are good at promoting each other’s shows. There’s lots of cross promotions and it’s a friendly environment.”
Since this isn’t the first time the two of them have done the Montreal Fringe, I want to know what it’s like to have the benefit of being Fringe veterans.
“The more Fringes you do, the more people recognize your name and when they see you in the program, they want to see you. There’s a learning curve to promoting yourself,” says Brown.
“It’s like producer boot camp. There’s a built in audience and people are going, but why should they see your show?” says Trenka. “The Montreal Fringe has a great platform. It tells you when to put out your press release, feature your flyers. There’s a workshop on social media. They give you workshops how to make a press release. They guide you through it. You’re still responsible for it, but you’re given a map of how to get it done.”
Trenka continues to explain that the production skills learned can be brought to other ventures, including their brunch events. “Tessa and I produce our Brunch and now we know what we need to do and when to do it. You get valuable skills for future productions, like what attracts people on a flyers.”
Right now, the two have launched an Indiegogo campaign to help fund the Fringe show. “Basically, doing any sort of festival is expensive,” says Trenka.
“It’s a self funded endeavor. We looked into grants. There isn’t much available for a Fringe. Most grants are written to exclude Fringe artists,” says Brown. “It’s all on us.”
“We’ve done fund raiser shows,” says Trenka. “We were pretty involved this year in other shows and afeter awhile it became difficult to put on show after show after show. So this is our first time trying a crowdfund. We set ourselves a reasonable goal. We’ve done enough shows and our funders know we’ll do a quality production. Also, we’ve just done an international festival. It seemed like a good time to try a crowdfund.”
The Indiegogo Campaign for Ladies’ Advice For Ladies started eleven days ago and runs for 30 days, ending May 16. Funders can pick up tickets to the show for $25, or two tickets for $45. A custom poem is just $10. Other packages are available including a secret perk. Click HERE for info. They are also hosting a fundraiser dance party on April 29, at Mademoiselle (5171 Parc) at 10 p.m. $5. You can also catch their next Cafe O’Lait event at Mademoiselle (5171 Parc) on May 8. Brunch at 11, cabaret at noon. $25/35. Click HERE. Details for the Montreal Fringe Festival will be HERE.