Mylène Chicoine is no stranger to horror. She founded Festival de la Bête Noire as a way to share what helps her to de-stress.

While some turn to comedy and laughter, for Chicoine and those like her, it’s horror and horror-themed art that allow them a form of catharsis, freeing themselves from their demons by confronting them head on.

Festival de la Bête Noire is a horror theatre festival that normally has hosted shows that audiences take in on site and in-person since 2018. But the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a great toll on the arts.

Theaters are closed, and gatherings that would allow for live shows are banned for now. For those needing to keep art and culture alive, the pandemic and the ensuing public health measures have presented a lot of challenges and the name of the game has been adapt or die.

Festival de la Bête Noire has decided to go online this year and I spoke with Mylène Chicoine about what that means.

“We’re not doing in it an actual physical space,” she said. “It’s a multimedia online event from people’s living rooms. We’ve removed the physical aspect completely.”

In order to keep the authenticity of live theater consistent with the spirit of past festivals, Chicoine and her team decided to have as little postproduction as possible, meaning that recorded shows should try to minimize editing and video effects after recording.

“We are NOT a movie festival, we are a THEATRE festival. We still want to see theatre, and performance, and live art even though it’s technically not live.”

When asked about the response to the change in format this year, she said most of the responses have been extremely positive, admitting that Bête Noire almost didn’t happen this year due to the pandemic. The festival happened because of the outpouring of support from the theatre community and its fans.

“We had a lot of demand from the community: Are we doing it this year? Are we doing it? Is it going to happen? We need it. The biggest motivation for the team was the community wants it so we’re going to give it to them.”

Festival de la Bête Noire has 16 shows this year. Two of the shows are mixed shows featuring separate performances within a single show.

The virtual festival has a few alumni, including the The Malicious Basement, Quagmire Productions, and Marissa Blair. In the name of transparency, I myself am acting and handling design for Quagmire’s Poe in the Snow.

Chicoine says that festival alumni were given an extra week to apply knowing that they are faithful participants who have provided good content in the past.

“We like to have repeat performers because it gives them a name and a platform that they need.”

The virtual format has not been without its challenges. Many artists expressed concerns about the ban on post-production, claiming that the festival was trying to restrict their art.

“We don’t want to restrict their art, we want to restrict their technology, that’s the big difference. If you’re in a venue, you’re not using a green screen, you wouldn’t use one in your living room either. We don’t want to make it look like a movie, but of course we’ve had to be a bit more flexible, especially with the new lockdown.”

Chicoine says the festival’s limits on technology this year were among some of the biggest challenges for performers. It forced performers to stretch their creative muscles and think outside the box.

Other challenges for the Festival de la Bête Noire were unfortunate realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. People involved with the companies and performers or their loved ones were exposed to the virus and either got sick and/or were forced to self-isolate. The pandemic itself resulted in some theatre companies dropping out of the festival entirely.

“We understand completely that these things are going to happen and we have had production meetings with every company that has required one to formulate a different kind of plan, whether it’s an extension, being more flexible on technology, but unfortunately we did lose a couple of companies to COVID.”

Most of the companies that dropped out were outside of Montreal and could not participate due to the pandemic, while some participants even got sick and died. It has been really upsetting for everyone involved with Bête Noire, but Chicoine and her team anticipated this happening.

Festival de la Bête Noire 2021 is fulfilling its mandate by giving artists and performers a platform to explore the horror genre by performing, creating and watching, and being a part of something, bringing people together in a socially distant way.

When I asked Chicoine if there were any advantages to going virtual, she pointed to fact that it allowed for more international entries, speaking of participating companies in the US and as far away as Japan. Chicoine mentioned The Peony Lantern by The Yokohama Group, a multimedia performance that takes place in the World Peace Theatre in Kawasaki, Japan.

Given the unpredictability of the pandemic, Mylène Chicoine is preparing for disaster, but it has not dampened her excitement for the shows on offer this year. When asked if there were any shows she was particularly excited about, she mentioned Pento by Mad Paradox, a show about mental health issues.

As for the technicalities regarding the accessing the shows, Chicoine and her team demurred from using sites like YouTube and TikTok because they’re too restrictive. In order to avoid the censorship that comes with those sites, all ticket holders will be sent a Google Drive link to their show which gives them one week to watch it at their convenience. Viewers don’t need a Gmail account to access the link.

Festival de la Bête Noire is running virtually from February 17, 2021 to March 15, 2021. For more info check out LaBeteNoirFest.com

The snowstorm seems to be done and the weather for the next few days promises to be nicer, but we still can’t go outside at night or hang out in groups during the day. Fortunately there are Montreal shows you can check out this week from the comfort of your home.

Let’s get started:

Geordie Theatre’s The Little Mighty Superhero & Celestial Bodies

2021 marks Geordie Theatre’s 40th year of performing plays in schools as well as original youth-oriented works for the general public. And they’re not about to let the pandemic cancel their birthday party.

The Geordie Theatre Fest is back! It started yesterday with staged readings exclusively for schools, but this weekend, everyone can enjoy some virtual theatre that is good for the whole family.

On Saturday, they will be streaming live performances of two original plays:

  • The Little Mighty Superhero, written by Marie Barlizo and directed by Liz Valdez is “a heartwarming journey of a young boy’s quest in rediscovering imagination and memory in the face of fear and the unknown.”
  • Celestial Bodies, written by Jacob Margaret Archer and directed by Geordie Artistic Director Mike Payett, is “one girl’s cosmic journey to truly owning, literally and metaphorically, the space she occupies.”

The 2021 Geordie Theatre Fest runs Saturday, February 6th with The Little Mighty Superhero at noon and Celestial Bodies at 3pm and 5pm. For more info or tickets, please visit geordie.ca

Virtually Visit the Wheel Club with A Devil’s Din

Montreal-based psychedelic rockers A Devil’s Din will be playing The Wheel Club in NDG this Friday. More specifically, the band will be performing at The Wheel Club, but the audience will attend virtually via Facebook Live.

This isn’t just a chance to see a band playing in 2021 in a traditional real-world venue instead of from their homes, it’s also helping to keep the venue afloat so they can re-open to the public when the pandemic subsides. It’s free to watch, but the audience are encouraged to donate to the venue and the band.

Think of it like going to a show with no cover, then putting something in the hat when they pass it around between sets. Also, you can use the money you save by buying your drinks at the dep to give a little more to the venue.

A Devil’s Din Live Webcast at the Wheel Club starts Friday, February 5th at 8pm. To watch free and for info on how to donate, please visit the Facebook Event Page

Featured Image from Celestial Bodies courtesy of Geordie Theatre

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

So we’re now under curfew, but the Montreal arts scene continues online. It’s kind of like they’re offering a way to go out at night without being fined or having to put on a jacket, or even nice clothes. (No music this time, but there will be next time) Let’s get started:

Art and Haircuts for Mental Health

During the pandemic, we can’t forget about people suffering from mental health issues. Sometimes the simple dignity of a haircut can really help.

The non-profit organization Coups de pinceaux, Coups de ciseaux plans to offer just that. They have teamed with hair salon Cam & Roro and 100 visual artists to help remove the stigma surrounding mental health and offer free haircuts to those with mental health issues.

The project is called 100 artistes pour une santé mentale sans tabou and from January 15th to March 15th, they will be selling works by 100 different artists for $150 apiece. $100 goes to the artist and $50 goes to the organization so they can provide these free haircuts.

The works will be available online as of January 15th at midnight and the launch will start the 15th at noon on their Facebook Event Page.

Black Theatre Workshop Launches Its 50th Season with Sanctuary

The pandemic won’t stop Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop from celebrating its 50th season. In fact, they’re launching it online Friday, January 15th at 3pm with Sanctuary, a reading of a new work in development by newly appointed Artistic Associate, Lydie Dubuisson.

Sanctuary is “a feminist conversation between a teenage girl and her sister, her godmother, her best friend, her pastor and God, as she takes refuge in the sanctuary of her church while searching for answers about her destiny.”

Directed by Tamara Brown and part of the Discovery Series, it features Vlad Alexis, Chadia Kikondjo, Mireille Métellus and Espoir Segbeaya. The stage manager is Danielle Skene.

You can watch the premier of Sanctuary Friday, January 15th at 3pm (eastern) on YouTube or Facebook Video. It will also be available on demand for four weeks after the premier. For the rest of Black Theatre Workshop’s 50th season, please visit blacktheatreworkshop.ca

Haunted Montreal’s Winter Ghost Stories: A Québécois Tradition

You may have seen our reviews of Haunted Montreal’s Virtual Halloween Ghost Tour or their online Christmas Ghost Stories. Or you may have attended one of their in-person haunted walks, paranormal investigations or pub crawls.

Throughout January, February and March, the company will be hosting a virtual tour called Winter Ghost Stories: A Québécois Tradition via Zoom. This is a highly theatricalized, though historically accurate, telling of some of the real local winter ghost stories as well as some Quebec legends.

In January, there will be a show every Friday both in English and French, then in February and March, French shows will be on Fridays and English shows on Saturdays.

For more info on Winter Ghost Stories: A Québécois Tradition or to reserve your spot, please visit hauntedmontreal.com

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

Montreal is a city of ghosts. Usually when I tell people this, I’m bitterly referring to the fact that while I was living abroad for over a decade, most of my Montreal friends went and moved away  — or, even worse — grew up. After recently participating in the online version of the Haunted Montreal tour, I learned that Montreal is indeed a city of ghosts, but in the more literal sense.

Due to the latest round of COVID-19 red zone lockdown measures (Tabarnak!), the always-popular Haunted Montreal ghost tours have been, like much of our 2020 lives, relegated to purgatory of Zoom video-conferencing.

The tour started with Donovan King, founder of Haunted Montreal, standing in front of a green screen that at first cycled through campy Halloween backdrops.

As the presentation got rolling, King presented an introduction of Montreal’s early founding and colonial history, and why that has perhaps led to our humble island home being such a haunted place.

The bulk of the hour-long presentation involved King recounting four vignettes about Montreal’s haunted past, illustrated by historical images on the green screen behind him. The four tales were drawn from a mixture of the various in-person tours usually offered by Haunted Montreal: Haunted Downtown, Haunted Mountain, Haunted Griffintown, paranormal investigations of local haunted sites, and the always-popular Haunted Pub Crawl.

Being a history nerd, I appreciated learning about these macabre Montreal legends, most of which I had not heard before. These stories were in steady hands with Donovan King, who is a seasoned storyteller.

King’s background in both acting and history makes him the ideal vessel to disseminate these creepy snippets of Montreal lore. His delivery was part authoritative history professor and part P.T. Barnum, complete with makeshift sound effects and even a minor jump scare or two.

The tales included that of the ill-fated tale of Simon McTavish, and how his death led to sightings of cadavers tobogganing down the slopes of 1820’s Mount Royal. King went on to detail how much of Montreal’s shiny downtown was built on burial sites — both Native American and early European, as well as mass burial pits from Cholera outbreaks in the 1800s. A thumbnail sketch of Montreal’s cemeteries was also full of welcome factoids.

The climax of the presentation came with a recounting of the tragic story of Headless Mary Gallagher. The murdered prostitute is said to still haunt a certain intersection in Griffintown on the anniversary of her grisly death, every seven years.

The online Haunted Montreal Ghost tours will be running all winter long, with a special presentation being held on Halloween night at 7pm. Regularly updated stories about Montreal’s creepy past can also be found on the Haunted Montreal blog. I look forward to participating in tours led by some of the other talented Haunted Montreal presenters.

Oh…an odd thing happened just after the tour (Insert X-files theme whistle here). I closed my laptop and sat on a couch in the basement of a 100-year-old NDG house, listening to the radio and taking notes on the tour.

Suddenly, I heard static, and an old rock song from the 1960s replaced the newscast I had been listening to — the radio changed channels all on its own — which is something it has never done before. I experienced full-body goosebumps, turned off the radio, and ran upstairs like a terrified five-year-old.

So if you do take the tour…turn on your radio afterwards and see what happens. Warning: results may vary (insert Vincent Price’s Thriller laughter here)

Full disclosure: Jason C. McLean, Editor-in-Chief of Forget the Box, is a tour guide at Haunted Montreal. Matt Poll, this post’s author, is not.

The Haunted Montreal Virtual Ghost Tour is currently running in English and French. Visit hauntedmontreal.com for more

Featured Image: Haunted Montreal

If you are a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, then Just for Laughs had show for you! As part of the Just for Laughs 2020 free virtual festival, they presented Canada’s Drag Race panel, a Crave original, moderated by Sabrina Jalees.

In the wake of the finale of Canada’s Drag Race, the Canadian version of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the panel consisted of the four finalists, Rita Baga, Jimbo, Scarlett Bobo, and the winner, Priyanka. Also on the panel was Canada’s Drag Race judge, Stacey McKenzie, who was streaming from her home in Jamaica.

I love Canada’s Drag Race and I saw every single episode. It’s one of the many shows that has helped keep me sane through the stay at home recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, this panel did not disappoint, and I was riveted from start to finish.

The show was moderated by stand-up comedian, producer, and host Sabrina Jalees, who was a guest judge on Canada’s Drag Race. She was a competent moderator who clearly has a lot of affection for the queens.

The queens, for their part, did not disappoint. They appeared on screen in full drag.

Montreal’s Rita Baga was resplendent in a red wig, sharp nails, and a pleather outfit reminiscent of a vampy superhero. Jimbo wore a black wig and enormous fake boobs — which he routinely played with during the show — and had makeup more elegant and beautiful than I had ever seen on him during Canada’s Drag Race.

Scarlett Bobo was dressed in a lovely dress made up of black straps, with hair and makeup reminiscent of glam rockers like Debbie Harry and Courtney Love. Priyanka was in full glam makeup and hair, with a leopard print outfit.

While Baga and Jimbo were perfectly poised throughout the show, Priyanka and Scarlett Bobo’s excitement and enthusiasm were infectious.

The panel discussed everything from the popularity of Canada’s Drag Race, to individual challenges both on and off the show, to how everyone’s lives have changed since the show ended. There was some cattiness, mostly from Priyanka, who, despite winning the show, regularly interrupted people to scream and throw shade.

In spite of this, you can tell there is genuine affection between the queens and Stacey McKenzie, who shied away from being brutally honest about some of the queens’ poorer performances.

One of the highlights of the panel was Stacie McKenzie’s impression of the late fortune teller Ms. Cleo, an impression which Priyanka bombed during the show’s Snatch Game.

If the show had one flaw, it’s that there were moments where Jalees or McKenzie disappeared, and you could not tell if they were still in the panel participating. My guess is this was due to a tech issue.

If you’re a fan of Canada’s Drag Race, you would have loved this show. It had all the glitz, glam, lipstick, and witty repartee one would expect from a panel of drag queens. Here’s hoping Just for Laughs does this again.

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge effect on the arts. The Montreal Fringe Festival was postponed, the Jazz Festival was cancelled, and theatre productions everywhere have been put on hold. The name of the game seems to be “Adapt or Die,” and while Just for Laughs could not have in-person shows, they had something else to offer in its stead.

The 2020 Just for Laughs Festival was a scaled down digital event that took place from October 9 to 11, 2020. While there were fewer offerings, the shows streamed free of charge on the Just for Laughs website, and were available until midnight the day after the performances. Among the offerings was Conversations with Funny People featuring Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel.

For those of you unfamiliar with the pair, Amber Ruffin is a comedian and writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers. She also has a new eponymous show on NBC’s free streaming service, Peacock. Jenny Hagel is also a comedian and writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers, and she is the executive producer and head writer for The Amber Ruffin Show.

This show was not for everyone. If you were expecting straight-up comedy, you will have been disappointed. There were laughs, as the show was unscripted and the chemistry and shared past between Hagel and Ruffin was adorable.

However, if you’re not a fan of Hagel or Ruffin, the show was not for you. The talk focused the technicalities of performance, of writing, of comedy, and of the general creative process.

While I am a huge fan of both Jenny Hagel and Amber Ruffin and I did laugh myself silly on a few occasions, I generally felt the show in its format needed tweaking. I am interested in performance, writing, and the creative process and I love comedy, but I felt the show dragged a bit about two-thirds of the way in.

Perhaps this format of show works better in person, but watching in the comfort of my own home, I felt it would have been better had the show packed a bit more punch — a few more clips of past shows they could tease other about, or even an exchange of embarrassing stories just to keep up the enthusiasm when another show is just a click away.

Conversations with Funny People with Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel had a lot of potential, but I feel the format needs more fine tuning for a digital audience. It’s a decent start, but it could have been a lot better.

Standup comedy is an art form that particularly relies on live audience interaction. Comics frequently tour the world and perform in front of as many crowds as possible. That’s exactly what DeAnne Smith was doing until COVID-19 hit.

“I had just moved to LA in January,” Smith told me in a phone interview, “and spent the first few months travelling back and forth to Canada and around the US as per usual. Luckily I had already decided I wouldn’t go back to Australia this year in 2020 and that is part of my usual routine as well.

Everything halted for me in March and my whole touring calendar just got completely cleared out. I’ve been stationary in LA since March, which is truly the first time in about 14 years of doing comedy that I’ve been in the same place for so long. So it’s really different.”

After a few months of appearing in other comedians’ remote shows, Smith decided to try something new: hosting a monthly comedy shows on Zoom. It’s called DeAnne Smith and Acquaintances and you can access it through Smith’s Instagram or Twitter (which are also worth following in general).

“It’s at least a way to feel connected to people,” Smith said, “and to feel a little bit of a sense of community like it would have been if we were all in person.”

While still missing the large in-person group experience, Smith is able to re-create the live show feeling somewhat by performing to a visible audience that have the option of unmuting themselves and laughing and interacting for all to hear.

“In some ways it’s more intimate because I’m literally seeing people’s names on the screen and their faces and they’re all very well lit up,” Smith observed, “in a comedy room a lot of times you can see the first one or two rows and that’s it, but you don’t know people’s name or see their living room or their cat. I’m trying to focus on the ways in which online performances can be more intimate and more interesting than the live performances we’re all used to.”

At Just for Laughs this year, Smith will be part of a different type of live online performance with Hannah Gadsby. The pair will appear as part of the festival’s Conversations with Funny People series.

While they were initially offered a moderator, the two comics who have been friends for well over a decade (Gadsby even sublets her place in LA to Smith when she’s in Australia) opted for a different approach to the show.

Smith gave me the scoop:

“I had this goofy idea that I’m really surprised she went for. I have these little cards that I picked up at a sex shop once and they’re called Speed Dating Questions and they’re just like little get-to-know-you questions. We’ve been friends for so long and there’s still a lot of stuff we don’t know about each other, so we’re going to be reading these goofy speed-dating questions back and forth and answering them for each other.

I think it will be a really fun thing for us to do as friends and she has such a huge fanbase that I don’t think has probably seen her in this way before, so I think it will be really interesting for people.”

Smith lived in Montreal before moving to LA and hasn’t ruled out returning for more than a JFL visit:

“There is a chance I might come and live there. Everything is very uncertain at the moment, so I don’t really know where I’m going to land.

What I miss about Montreal is really hard to articulate. There’s a special quality to the city…Let me try and explain it through an anecdote:

When I lived in Montreal, I had these two friends who knew each other through me and they had known each other for at least five years. They had Thanksgiving dinners together. I mean they knew each other. About five years into them knowing each other, one of them flipped and said something about their career and the other one said ‘Oh, I never knew what you did!’

And I thought that is so special that in Montreal, it’s just not so career driven. It’s focused on everything else. These people who had known each other for five years never once started a conversation with ‘What do you do?'”

Conversations with Funny People Featuring Hannah Gadsby and DeAnne Smith streams live on Saturday, October 10th at 10pm for FREE and will be available through Video on Demand through October 11th at midnight

Comedian and writer Jenny Hagel has good advice for aspiring writers: just write….but also…fake it ‘til you make it. I chatted with Jenny Hagel recently about the writing process, as well as her upcoming appearance at this year’s Just for Laughs comedy festival, which, like most live entertainment events in 2020, will be held online.

Jenny Hagel has a graduate degree in Writing for the Screen and Stage, and cut her comedy teeth while performing for five years with Chicago’s legendary improv troupe, The Second City. Hagel has written for many comedy TV shows over the years, and currently performs and writes for Late Night with Seth Meyers.

While she won’t get the chance to perform in Montreal for this year’s (online) Just for Laughs Festival, she has visited before, and the town left her feeling all warm and fuzzy. Tired of people kissing Montreal’s ‘Charming European’ ass, I worried that Montreal was getting smug, and asked Hagel if there was anything that miffed her about Montreal.

“My brother lived there for a little while, I used to visit him and man, what a beautiful, beautiful place. No, I probably have a different baseline for miffed, because I’ve lived in New York, so when I go to any other city, I go ‘These people’s manners are amazing!’”

My French is terrible though…I speak Spanish, I don’t speak any French. The one time I drove to Montreal, I listened to a French CD in the car the whole way up there, trying to learn phrases, to be a polite traveller, to be able to have some phrases when I got there. I’ll be honest, it was years ago, so those phrases have all left my mind. I tried at least, although I’m sure people in Montreal, when they heard my French accent for one second were like ‘No no, this does not help.’

But when I travel, I always feel the weight of the stereotype of the terrible American tourist, so I try very hard to be a one-person goodwill ambassador. I’ve tried really hard to reset that balance.”

Jenny Hagel’s upcoming Just for Laughs show with Amber Ruffin (Drunk History, The Second City, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Amber Ruffin Show), Conversations with funny people featuring Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel will be live and unscripted. I asked Hagel if she had any memorable improv calamities she wanted to share.

“Oh absolutely. One time when I was touring with The Second City we were doing a show, and the whole audience was a convention of economists, and I’m sure are very interested in economics, but they were not interested in laughing. At least they were not interested in the jokes we were providing, and it was truly, truly, a gruelling and silent 90 minutes, I’ll never forget it.

I think about 45 minutes in, I thought ‘Well I took two semesters of economics in college, I’m sure I can pull out some fun economic references,’ and I really tried, and they were also not interested in those. I think I tried to pull out something about a PPF curve or something, I really was digging deep. Nothing worked. It was really a rough hour and a half of my life.”

Hagel went on to describe the format of this weekend’s Just for Laughs show, where she and Amber Ruffin ‘will be asking each other questions that they have not seen before.’

Basically we’re going to be interviewing each other. We’ve done a lot of panels in our lives where the moderators ask the two of us questions, but this one, we don’t have a moderator, so I’m going to interview Amber, she’s going to interview me, we’re going to go back and forth, so we each have a list of questions the other hasn’t seen.

We each dug up a clip of the other one performing — I don’t know if it will be embarrassing, but it will be something that the other person doesn’t know is going to be shown, so it’ll be fun. When you do a certain number of panels, over time you start to get the same questions over and over, so I think it will be fun to answer questions that we weren’t expecting.

Oh, and I’d love for people to check out The Amber Ruffin Show on Peacock if they’re able to.”

Jenny Hagel and Amber Ruffin also plan on discussing their approach to writing, and will be giving advice for aspiring writers. I asked Hagel if she could give us an overview of her advice for writers.

“I think I would just say write. I mean nobody wants to hear that, it’s not sexy advice, but it is the most real advice. The best thing you can do if you want to write is just write.

The best thing you can do when an opportunity comes along is to be prepared and have a bunch of writing to show someone. Like (if they say) ‘Hey, I saw you before, you’re great, do have any writing samples?’ If you haven’t written them it is too late, because they want them then.

Or they’ll be like ‘Hey can I see them tomorrow?’ You can’t go home and stay up all night and write a body of work, so the best thing you can do is be writing all the time.

“If you have one particular writing form you are trying to succeed in, write that as much as you can. If you are interested in a bunch of different writing forms, try them all out, and do them over and over again.

“At Late Night with Seth Meyers, I write monologue jokes, and I did not know how to do that originally. I learned how to do it by applying to late night jobs.

One time I had to do an application, I watched several monologues by the host of the show I was applying to and I transcribed them. Then I looked at them on paper and said ‘OK how do these feel?’ and then I wrote a bunch of stuff. I’m sure they were very terrible at the beginning, and a little bit less terrible later on, and slightly less terrible after that.

And over time, it’s just truly like going to the gym and doing reps. I think the best thing you can do as a writer is just keep writing, and it may not feel like it’s getting better, but it is.”

I expressed my admiration for Hagel’s old school ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ attitude, and meekly mentioned the growing pile of Idiot’s Guides I have piled on my coffee table.

“But that’s OK, as long as you’re doing it. It sounds silly, but I like to run, and I am not a world-class athlete at all, but I know that every time I run, I go a little bit farther, and my legs are a little bit stronger. You don’t want to strive to wake up one morning and be a genius, you want to be just a little bit better each time.

You also want to know that every once in a while, no matter how good you get, you’re going to write something that stinks. That happens to me every week — I turn in so many things each week that inevitably, many of them, I would say most of them, are rejected.

And your job is just to keep coming up with new things, and it’s OK — some will be great, some will stink, a lot will be somewhere in the middle, and all of that is OK.”

Hagel and I discussed how writers have to learn how to be prepared to deal with endless rejection…

“But I don’t even think of it as rejection, I think of it like…if you watch someone play baseball, you watch somebody take a bunch of swings, right? Every time a batter misses a ball, it’s not rejection, it’s just ‘OK, well that one didn’t connect. So let’s hope the next one connects.’”

On comedians/late night comedy in the COVID-19 era:

“You know that’s a great question. I think ‘comedians’ is such a big category, and there are so many different forms comedy can take, that I don’t think that there can be one answer to that.

I know for television, during the spring and summer, a lot of late night shows found ways to tape from home — do safe, remote work, and I think that’s what helped late night shows survive. Now some of those shows are starting to bring it back — like the host is in the studio, and SNL had a small audience last week.

So I think that the way comedy is surviving is the way that we are all surviving, in general in the world, which is to continue to adapt to each new phase of the pandemic, to each new challenge that the pandemic brings.”

On the challenges of doing comedy without a live audience:

“I think you just have to go more on gut, like when you’re writing a late night show that has an audience, then the audience tells you what works and what doesn’t, right? And I think without the audience, you have to go with your gut.

One thing I have really liked about that, and not to say that the pandemic is good, but I feel that an interesting outcome of it, is that I think that shows have started to gravitate a little more to their own weird, quirky personalities, because then it becomes less about writing and choosing jokes by committee.

Then it becomes more like, ‘OK, what is the culture, what is the belief set, the comedic taste of this show?’ It emerges a little bit more specifically, which is interesting to see. But I certainly wouldn’t take this over a normal world, where we all get to be together.”

I asked Hagel if she ever wrote jokes that were so outrageous or ridiculous that she never expected them to get on the air at Late Night with Seth Meyers.

“I think that happens all the time, like if you write enough jokes in a row, you stop being able to tell what’s funny to other people. It probably happens at least once a week where I’m like ‘Oh really? OK!’ and then meanwhile, there are other jokes that I think are a complete slam-dunk and my boss will be like ‘Pass,’ and I’m like ‘Really…OK.’”

“That’s absolutely one (Hagel’s ‘How to Properly Wash your hands’ skit) where I pitched it and was like ‘Well obviously this is not gonna get approved,’ and boy, to my surprise, the next thing I knew, the props department was building a bunch of different skeleton hands for me.”

On the 2020 COVID-19 “everything on Zoom” reality:

“I don’t know, I think it’s a mixed bag, I think everybody thinks it’s a mixed bag. There are some days when I think it really helps, like one day recently where I had a crummy day, and it just happened that a group of women that I’m friends with, one of them texted ‘Hey should we all Zoom tonight?’ Fifteen minutes later we were all on Zoom with a glass of wine, and it really helped.

And then there are some days where I feel like if I have to look at one more human face on a screen I’ll die. So I think it’s probably like a weird blessing and a curse to me, and to everybody — I think we’re getting both a little bit of solace and a little bit of loneliness from it at the same time.”

Conversations with funny people featuring Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel will be online on October 9-10, and like all of the Just For Laughs 2020 shows, it will be streamed for free.

Stand-up comic Andy Kindler loves Montreal. He loves it so much that he’s even (half?) joking about moving here one day. He loves the rest of Canada too, for that matter. Well, most of the rest of Canada.

During my recent chat with him, I got the impression that he was a low-key Canada-phile — he knew quite a bit about our geography, culture, politics, hockey, official languages, and he even had a shocking position on The Great Bagel Debate.

Andy Kindler is a stalwart comedy veteran from Queens, New York, known not just for his well-honed stand-up routine (with appearances at the Just For Laughs Nasty Show), but also for his recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond, and his many appearances on Late Show with David Letterman. He is also a contributor to the Daily Show, and is the voice of Mort on Bob’s Burgers.

Local comedy fans may know Kindler from his legendary State of the Industry Addresses at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival. Andy Kindler has given the speech, which has become a cult institution among comedy fans and industry insiders alike, every year since 1996.

Of course, this year’s address, his 25th, will be a little different, given 2020’s quote-unquote “uncertain times.” To be read in that gravelly voice that radiates grim empathy…you know, the voice that now narrates every commercial…

I asked Kindler how stand-up comedians were faring during 2020’s COVID-19 lockdown, especially when a live audience is the lifeblood of the industry.

“I mean everyone is scrambling. I started doing Cameo…do you have Cameo up there? Like if you want a comedian or celebrity to wish you happy birthday or give you a pep talk, you go on Cameo. So what I’ve learned from that is that people will not pay $45 to hear me say happy birthday…but they will pay $35! So if I needed the cold slap of reality in my face, I know what I’m worth now.

The other thing is that I’m doing this speech for the first time virtually from home, and I actually think I’m the only person who looks forward to not having an audience. I mean I know it’s gonna be weird, but so many times I spent in the past castigating the people who aren’t laughing.

And I won’t be sitting down for the speech, I’m gonna put a little effort into it, I’ll be standing. And I’ll be dressed nicely from the waist up. I always dress nice, my mother used to say ‘You mean you wouldn’t wanna wear a dress shirt, open-necked?’ You always gotta have a nice shirt.”

While on the topic of virtual comedy, I asked Kindler about how he has taken to the whole ‘everything online’ zeitgeist of 2020.

“Well in some ways I feel like there’s a green, eco-friendly side to this, and a lazy side to it where I would love to, in the future, not go back to going in for every interview. I actually like going in the studio, but I do think that in some ways, that having Zoom, you can do a lot of things that you had to be in person for, but you can do them remotely now, so I think we’ve learned things that way. It also makes you really focus on what you’re doing because you have so much time on your hands. But obviously I think we’re all hoping it (COVID-19) lifts.”

This being Andy Kindler’s 25th State of the Industry Address, I asked him to comment on the most notable changes in the industry since he gave his first address.

“Yeah, it’s an unbelievable anniversary, unbelievable that I keep the streak going. I think in 1996 it started. So what happened is the first time I came to the festival (Just For Laughs) was ’93, and I had written an article for National Lampoon called The Hack Comic’s Handbook, you can find it on my website.

Then I did a live demonstration of hack comedy in 1995, and Bruce Hills (President, Just For Laughs) said ‘Why don’t you do another speech?’ and then my manager came up with the idea to roast the industry, and it just became a thing, like a summer camp kind of tradition where I would just give the speech.

I think that what’s changed for sure, is that when I first started coming to the festival in ‘93, it was right when a lot of comics were getting sitcom deals from comedy festivals — you had Raymond (Romano), Tim Allen — all these people got deals from the festival, so you had a lot of presidents of the networks there, so there was more of a charged atmosphere. Everybody knew what sitcoms were coming out and all that kind of thing, so it was…not easier, but I knew how to focus it better.

Now, it’s to the point where there’s no fall TV season. I mean yeah, there are fall TV shows, but it’s all changed. But I kind of like it now, because I like the festival now, not the virtual version, but I’ve liked the festivals in the past few years because it feels like people were up there to have fun. And there are actually really great fans in Montreal.”

The most pressing issue Kindler addressed was whether he would bring up Louis C.K.’s penis, which he has discussed at his previous two addresses. We also discussed who else in the industry deserves to be blasted in this year’s address.

“Nah…you know, I think at this point I will get off of his penis (chuckles), but I probably will bring him in at some point. But you know what, there are so many other people to talk about. Like Joe Rogan. And it used to be I would make fun of Jay Leno, but I kind of want to apologize to him because I used to make fun of him just for having bad comedy…but now, with Adam Corolla, he’s not just a horrible comedian, he’s also saying that COVID-19 is fake.

And everybody is going after Chris D’Elia as a person, but let’s not forget that he was also a horrible comedian. What he was doing on stage, it was also a crime.

So I don’t know exactly how I’m going to tackle this thing, but I am totally going to tackle this idea of these people who weren’t very good at stand-up comedy who have gone into things like…Adam Corolla does shows with Dennis Prager and all this right-wing media about how there are no safe spaces on campus, it is a very odd and disturbing trend, so I’m gonna analyse that a little bit.”

No interview with a New Yorker is complete without getting their take on the great Montreal vs. New York Bagel Debate, and Andy Kindler’s response genuinely surprised me. Poutine, and other Montreal and Canada-related topics were touched upon in this exchange, and his proficiency in French also came up.

“Well certain things about Montreal are always going to be great. The bagels will always be the greatest in the world. I decided to try Montreal bagels one year, and they’re lighter and they’re sweeter (than New York bagels). I took a bunch of them to my family in Long Island, and they didn’t travel well, and they made fun of me for years. But overall I much prefer, right out of the oven, a Montreal bagel.

I don’t know what it’s called…oh yeah, the smoked meat. When I first tried it, it was ‘Oh my God it’s the greatest thing in the world,’ but that did wear off. And let me say something…not that anyone cares about poutine, but there’s nothing charming about it. It’s a national joke, right?

But what am I complaining about? It’s really hard, coming from LA or New York to complain about Montreal, I mean when I first went there in the 1990s, I was single at the time, women’s legs were taller than me, I couldn’t even believe it. And the French, everything French, I just love it. And the food, the French food…it’s really hard to get tired of it. But I will say this — Montreal is very touristy.”

When the topic of politics was sideswiped, Kindler brought up a Canadian political figure I was not expecting.

“You know what, I like that Chrystia Freeland. I don’t like Bill Maher, I can’t watch him anymore, but I used to like her when she’d go on Bill Maher. You know, Canadians are better people than Americans. I know you have prejudice up there, and I know you have First Nations issues, but anything bad you’ve got, down here, it’s dwarfed — we’ve done it worse and with less taste.”

On performing in Canada’s Western provinces:

“I remember going out west, it was the late ‘80s early ‘90s, that’s how old I am, I used to play the Western part, and I remember I used to bomb a lot. I was bombing in Edmonton…these crowds were not for me, and the bartender was like ‘Yeah it’s hard to impress us because we have everything here.’ Y’know, they’d just won all those Stanley Cups, so they were very smug in Edmonton. But it’s pretty amazing how diverse the crowds in Canada are, from Halifax and Vancouver, to Montreal.”

On speaking French:

“I speak French very poorly. I took French in grade school, it was terrible, it was in New York and Queens: ‘Bone-jouar class…ou est le porte, ou est le fenêtre?’…so when I go into a room (in Montreal) now, it’s ‘Where is the window, where is the door?’”

On Donald Trump:

“At least you have a regular government there. I’m gonna get in trouble, but (Trudeau isn’t bad) compared to a fascistic madman running around. Well you know the thing is, there’s a Comedy Central clip…there used to be a show on Comedy Central called The Root of all Evil, Louis Black hosted it, and I actually argued that Donald Trump was the root of all evil, and I was making fun of Trump University. So I don’t want to say I’m a seer, but I pride myself on being the first person to compare Trump to Hitler. At least Hitler was a veteran. So that’s basically my take on it.

So you know I’m holding on by my elbows, or whatever you hold onto when you’re trying to keep yourself suspended over a vat of hot oil. I just can’t think past November, I think America is going to be sunk as a country if Trump gets re-elected. We’re in such a deep hole, because it literally is like Orwellian times a million.

Everybody he puts in every department knows nothing about the department, and just wants to undo that department. There are so many parallels (to Hitler), I mean people in the conservative Weimar government, they thought they could play ball with Hitler, people made fun of him. He obviously was smarter than Trump, there are so many parallels — he looked like a crazy man with the way he talked and everything. Actually Trump looks a lot like Mussolini, you know how he shakes his head up and down, self-satisfied.

I don’t think he’s gonna win. I think he might implode before, he’s going nuts I think now, it’s really crazy. That Mary Trump book, I got it and I love it. You really see how he is a sociopath. That will never change (Trump’s support from his base), it will always be about that 40%, but I don’t think he’s gonna get people coming onto him like he did four years ago, I think people are scared of him.”

(Ed’s Note: This interview was conducted prior to the news that Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19)

What else Andy Kindler is working on:

“I do a podcast called Thought Spiral, and my co-host is Josh Elvis Weinstein, he used to be on Mystery Science Theater 3000. We advertise it as ‘Two jews, two microphones, two hours,’ so it’s basically us just bantering, I really love it. It took me a long time to love it, because it’s a different kind of skill, but we’ve been doing it for three years, so if you need more of me, that’s where I would go to. And I do have an album that’s still available in digital download anytime you want, it couldn’t be any less COVID dangerous.

You know what? You want an answering machine message? I’ll do it for you for $25.”

Andy Kindler’s 25th State of the Industry Address will be online on October 9-10, and like all of the Just For Laughs 2020 shows, it will be streamed for free.

This time of year, the world’s largest comedy festival Just for Laughs is normally in full swing in Montreal (and we’re generally knee-deep in coverage). We knew a few months ago that 2020 would be different, with the festival officially pushed back to the fall.

Today JFL announced that the entire event will take place over two days, October 9th and 10th, and be entirely online. This is due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the surrounding uncertainty over what type of event they would be able to run, given the heavy presence of international talent usually relies on.

“With no precise indication of when borders will reopen, and faced with soaring demand for high-quality digital comedy content, we’ve made the decision to move our festival online,” JFL President Bruce Hills said in a press release, “while always maintaining our focus on the excellence of our offerings – an excellence that is recognized and appreciated throughout the world.”

Just for Laughs is still sorting out the details, but so far we know that this year’s festival will consist of comedy performances, panels, conversations, gatherings and events. They promise to do their best to recapture the feel of the in-person festival as much as possible and that most of the festival will be free to virtually attend.

While the English event will be 100% virtual, its sister festival Juste pour rire will offer a combination of in-person, pre-recorded and virtual performances. According to Charles Décarie, President and CEO of the Just For Laughs Group:

“More than ever, we want to maintain our position as an industry leader by creating innovative comedy events that allow our artists to work and to make the highest-quality comedy available to the public. Despite all the changes our industry has been going through, the most important thing for us is to satisfy our festival-goers. We’re sparing no effort to present the best festival possible, while respecting the health measures that are in force.”

For more information: hahaha.com

We are in the midst of a global pandemic. With death rates on the rise and public gatherings of more than ten people banned to prevent the spread of COVID-19, performance artists and festival organizers are trying to make the best of a bad situation despite cancellations of their events.

One of the artists trying to make the best of things is Amy Blackmore, the Executive and Artistic Director of the Festival St-Ambroise FRINGE de Montréal, The MainLine Theatre, and Ceci N’est Pas un Fringe…This Is Not a Fringe Festival, an alternative, socially distanced theatre festival developed when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the annual Montreal Fringe Festival.

The Fringe was postponed rather than cancelled because this year would have been the festival’s thirtieth anniversary. Given that participants are chosen by lottery, the artists set to participate in the now-postponed festival were offered the option of formally withdrawing along with a refund of their participation fee or have their participation deferred to next year’s event.

I had the opportunity to speak to Blackmore about This Is Not a Fringe Festival on the phone earlier this week. As I suspected, it was developed as an alternative to the regular Fringe Festival.

“The Fringe just means so much to so many folks and we don’t want to abandon our community,” she said, adding that This Is Not a Fringe Festival is not meant to replace the St-Ambroise Fringe. “We’re not pretending to be the Fringe. You can’t Fringe without all the artists. It just doesn’t work,” she laughed.

In the spirit of Fringe, Blackmore and her team, which includes Kenny Streule, the event’s producer, put together a lineup to satisfy fans of the festival and “fill that Fringe need.” Unlike the regular Fringe, the lineup of This Is Not a Fringe Festival is smaller and a lot more curated, selecting artists based on their experiences running past St-Ambroise Fringe Festivals.

Where the Fringe often has over a five hundred artists participating, This Is Not a Fringe Festival only has about 150 artists involved. The festival was developed and curated paying close attention to what’s been happening online since the theatres have closed due to the pandemic.

The artists for the event were found via a couple of calls for submissions as well as through people Blackmore and other organizers met over the years of running Fringe, mainly festival alumni.

Like Fringe, This Is Not a Fringe Festival has a wide variety of programming. They divided it into a series of strains, with the main one being the Signature Series: a series of events in the evening running from June 11th to the 21st with one or two shows a night.

Performances include an opening concert with Paul Cargnello, Crowd Karaoke and Being Brown is my Superpower in partnership with Fringe Live Stream. Another exciting event is the Fringe fundraiser Lip Sync Bingo in collaboration with House of Laureen. Some of the events are free, others are pay-what-you-can.

“It’s very open this year in terms of money because everyone is in a slightly different situation, we’re finding, so we’re trying to be flexible with that.”

When I asked Blackmore how payments to the pay-what-you-can events would be facilitated. She explained that it would vary from event to event, and that in many cases, just like the now-postponed Fringe Festival, audiences will be able to buy tickets through the MainLine Theatre website.

“Every event has its own needs, so instead of having a blanket approach to everything, we’re trying to really honour that,” Blackmore said, explaining that because This Is Not a Fringe Festival is not as large as the regular Fringe, they are actually able to do that.

In addition to the Signature Series, This Is Not a Fringe Festival also has a strain of events called The Daily Dose in which every day at 11am audiences can get a daily dose of Fringe as the festival release a series of videos. Said videos include a contemporary dance video, a magic act, storytelling videos in collaboration with Confabulation, as well a series of online activities and challenges organized by the Festival Tout Tout Court. Blackmore affectionately refers to this strain as “art in small packages” that people can take in when it’s convenient for them.

As a recent participant in Festival de la Bete Noire’s last Sunday Night Live Scream before the summer, I was curious as to whether the event would be a series of videos submitted by artists or whether it would be live streamed events. Blackmore explained that it would be a combination of both, with, for example, The Daily Dose as a series of videos submitted to them, and some of the events are live streamed. The festival will be a combination of Facebook live streams, YouTube, and Zoom Hangouts depending on what they are.

“I think what people can expect is the spirit of the Fringe, the spirit of our event. I’m expecting folks to participate and have conversations with us,” Blackmore said, mentioning a series at This Is Not a Fringe Festival called The Transformation Series, five talks Blackmore is facilitating on the five current topics including what it’s like to make art during a pandemic, green theatre-making, and work-life balance.

When I asked Blackmore what she felt the overarching theme of the event is, she spoke of resilience and hope.

“It’s an ode to a festival that never was.”

Ceci N’est Pas un Fringe / This Is Not a Fringe Festival is running from June 11 to 2020 in participation with Fringe Live Stream, MainLine Theatre, and Festival St-Ambroise FRINGE. Tickets and info available through montrealfringe.ca

Even though the 30th Edition of the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival won’t happen until June 2021, MainLine Theatre hopes to remain engaged with the community during these difficult times. With that in mind, they are planning This Is Not a Fringe Festival.

“Just because we’re pressing the pause button on the Fringe doesn’t mean that we can’t gather. I’m looking forward to encouraging artists and audiences to connect in new and exciting ways,” said MainLine’s Executive and Artistic Director Amy Blackmore about the upcoming festival.

In the era of the Covid-19 pandemic, this online socially distanced art festival will take place from June 11-21, 2020. Full programming, which will include micro-dance videos, storytelling events, theatrical parties, community art projects, mail-in art and more – will be announced on June 1.

For more information, please visit montrealfringe.ca

This is the time of year where thoughts start to turn to summer and, in particular, all the shows the season usually brings to Montreal. At Forget the Box, this is when we start thinking about just how we’re going to cover all the festivals (music, theatre, comedy, etc) and what sort of ticket giveaways we may run.

This year, as everyone knows, will be quite different due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Even if some of the restrictions currently in place are loosened and things get back to some semblance of normal, the summer’s events won’t be coming back until next year, or in some cases this fall.

So there are no shows to cover, but that doesn’t mean we can’t run a contest to give away tickets. You’ll just have to wait a while to pick up your prize.

With everything upside down, what time better than the present to start thinking of the future. If we beat this thing with our social distancing, we’ll have reason to celebrate.

So without any further ado, here’s FTB’s Lockdown Contest:

The Prize

The Grand Prize is two tickets to the show of your choice with some restrictions. Given the huge financial hit the event industry is bound to take this year and the fact that they’re probably all too busy right now to coordinate a contest with us for the future, these won’t be promo passes.

Instead, we’ll be buying a pair of tickets like everyone else and then giving them to the winner free of charge. As such:

  • It can be any concert, play, comedy show, festival, etc, but it must happen in the Greater Montreal Region (if you can get there by bus and metro, it’s in the zone) before the end of 2022.
  • Tickets to the concert or show must be available for purchase to the general public. So if a show’s sold out for the public, it’s sold out for this contest, too.
  • We don’t guarantee your first pick, or preferred seating, but we’ll do our best.
  • Price of a single ticket can be no more than $200. Depending on what you pick, you might get access to an entire indie festival, a day’s worth of top-notch concerts or just one really great show.
  • You must be legally allowed to enter the venue where the show is taking place.

How to Enter the Contest

Normally with giveaways, we try to keep things simple. This time we’re asking a little more. Here are the details:

  • Send us your best Montreal on Lockdown Story by email to forgetthebox@forgetthebox.net with Lockdown Contest in the subject line before May 22nd 2020 at midnight.
  • We’re looking for uniquely Montreal stories – funny anecdotes, personal tales of how you’re dealing with our new reality, interesting accounts of how people are respecting social distancing in their own way, heartwarming tales of community solidarity, whatever you think might inspire, interest or amuse. They could be written, told through photos, or a combination of the two.
  • Share this post either on Facebook or Twitter and tag @forgetthebox also before May 22nd 2020 at midnight.
  • We reserve the right to publish the stories we receive and will definitely publish the winner (so please let us know how you would like to be credited – just one name, a name and an initial, your full name, a fake name, etc. – if not we’ll just use your name.

We know that these times are trying and that not everyone is in the right headspace to be positive right now. This contest isn’t designed to preach positivity, but rather to try and give everyone something to look forward to.

The shows will return. This summer will look and feel very different in Montreal, but if we all do our part, we’ll all be partying together at some point – and you can be the one who got in with free tickets!

Just for Laughs, a staple of Montreal’s summer festival season and the largest comedy festival in the world, will still take place in 2020, just a little later than  anticipated. Due to the developing COVID-19 pandemic, organizers have postponed the festival, until fall. Originally slated for July, JFL, which features a large slate of international acts along with local comics, will now take place September 29th through October 11th.

“We are energized by the ability of our teams to adapt to current conditions and present a festival redesigned in its form and content as early as the fall,” Just for Laughs Group President and CEO Charles Décarie said in a press release. “If the situation permits, we will resume work in the interim and thus be able to play an important role in reviving the cultural sector, but also in the social healing that we all need.”

Organizers are looking at several possible scenarios for staging the outdoor portions of the festival, but that will depend,of course, on social gathering restrictions. JFL will honour festival passports purchased for the summer event at shows in the fall.

This information comes two days after the Montreal Fringe Festival decided to postpone its 2020 edition to summer 2021. We also learned today that both the Montreal Jazz Festival and Les FrancoFolies are cancelled for this year.

This summer was supposed to be the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival’s 30th anniversary edition. Now, due to COVID-19, the celebration and theatrical performances by hundreds of groups and performers originally scheduled to run June 1-21 will have to wait until next summer.

“I sincerely feel that as leaders in the Montreal cultural landscape, it is our responsibility to temporarily close our spaces and to postpone the Fringe Festival in order to protect the health and of our artists and patrons,” the festival’s Executive and Artistic Director Amy Blackmore said in a press release. “The conditions for in-person art-making and consumption amid this crisis are significantly challenging since many are unable to rehearse, have been laid off from work and are trying to manage shifting priorities.”

MainLine Theatre, which produces the festival, will also keep its performance and rehearsal space on St-Laurent Boulevard closed until May 31st as per public health directives. The festival will offer alternate online programming this June in place of the public theatre shows.

The Fringe is generally the event that kicks off Montreal’s jam-packed festival season. This year it is the first major summer arts festival to postpone or cancel due to COVID-19.

We will update you if any other arts events follow suit.

When I think of galas, I typically think of old rich people trying to get money from other old rich people for a charity that will use most of the money on itself rather than the people they claim to help. This was not the case at Festival de la Bête Noire 2020’s opening night gala.

In the lobby of the Mainline Theatre on Saint Laurent, snacks were laid out, souvenirs on sale, and festival programs available. A group consisting of performers and fans gathered to celebrate theatre and horror.

Amidst the cheap chocolate of the aftermath of Valentine’s Day, Festival de la Bête Noire is a nugget of heaven for anyone waiting for next Halloween.

The festival is the brainchild of Mylène Chicoine, its Executive and Artistic director who founded it in 2018. She created it because she uses horror to de-stress the way others use comedy. In the months before the festival she and her team picked from among tons of submissions to ensure a variety of shows celebrating the many facets of horror and performance.

The opening night gala is a lot like Montreal Fringe Festival’s Fringe for All. Many people behind the festival’s participating shows have an opportunity to present a skit from their productions to entice audiences to buy tickets.

Unlike Fringe for All, there’s a little more to see. In addition to the skits by performers in the Festival, audiences were treated to storytellers and performances that weren’t part of a larger show.

The Professor, photo by Louis Jezsik courtesy of Festival de la Bête Noire

The Emcee for the evening was one John David Hickey, a professional storyteller. That night he was in the persona of The Professor, a kind of scruffy Steampunk Victorian wise man in top hat, long coat, and vest.

In addition to announcing the acts with all the gusto and humor his role required despite the poorly written list he was given, Hobbes also treated audiences to ghost stories. He told one at the beginning and a couple more in between.

His style is so compelling and fun and the stories were spooky but not over the top gory or violent. He was the perfect choice to emcee this event and I hope to see him do so at the festival next year.

Another compelling storyteller that night was Stéfan Cédilot, who was there to recite a snippet of his one-man show Slasher with Théatre Sans Fonds. Slasher is about Cédilot’s love of slasher movies. He’s funny, sincere, and such a treat to watch and listen to, I put down my pen so I could give him my full attention.

Triptych by Marissa Blaire, photo by Louis Jezsik courtesy of Festival de la Bête Noire

Some of the best comedy and horror for me is about contrast, and no one did this better than Marissa Blair and her co-star Jeroen Lindeman. Blair’s show Triptych is about BDSM, but instead of presenting a bit from it, Blair plugged the show dressed as a patient while her ‘surgeon’ worked on her.

When she dies on the operating table amidst Blair’s signature spurts of blood, her doctor began sobbing loudly. As Blair popped up and in an obnoxiously chipper voice began teaching the audience how she cleans up fake blood, Lindeman continued wailing in the background. It was hilarious.

Kay Komizara came on stage with a giant to promote her show Monstrologyka carrying a giant papier mâché goat. It seemed a little cute at first, but then you realized she was talking about how she planned to ‘kill it’ in her show. It was brief but fun and a sure sign of things to come.

One notable dance performance was by Calixta Starr, who’s show Hotel Purgatorio is a dance performance of part of Dante’s Divine Comedy. As she swirled and moved hypnotically to a cover of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire I was riveted.

Among the performers who did not have shows in the festival was Seeley Quest, a transgender disabled performance artist. He read some flash fiction and non-fiction on stage.

While the stories themselves were interesting, I wished he had projected and varied his tone a bit more. It was a bit lulling for me – a tad too soothing and soft for so late in the evening.

Another performer was Tommy Toxic who did a form Japanese dance called Puto. In zombie makeup to a recording that seemed more sound than music, his moves were dramatic and interesting but a little artsy. I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d seen by the time he walked off stage or if I even liked it, but it was certainly unique.

Festival de la Bête Noire 2020 is over but there’s another festival next year. Whether you’re into horror or not, it’s worth checking out. There is truly something for everyone.

Featured image of Trout Lily Theatre Collective by Louis Jezsik courtesy of Festival de la Bête Noire