LadyFest: A celebration of female and non-binary voices in Montreal

An interview with festival producers Sara Meleika and Kadi Diop


From September 3rd to the 9th, 2018, LadyFest will be highlighting and uplifting femme and non-binary performers in a one-week event of storytelling, stand up, sketch, improv and short film shows across venues in Montreal. These include Montreal’s premier sketch showcase The Sketch Republic, Independent short film festival Video Island, new storytelling show Woke Tales, and diversity-focused improv show Colour Outside the Lines.

In preparation for the upcoming 4th edition of the festival, Montreal Theatre Hub’s Alex Gauthier spoke to festival organizers and show producers Sara Meleika and Kadi Diop. Kadi will be at the helm of Woke Tales, and Sara will be bringing back Colour Outside the Lines after its phenomenal success last year.


DIVERSITY, IDENTITY, & INCLUSIVITY

“Comedy has a rich history of speaking truth to power, of ‘punching up’, of providing platforms for subversive opinions to have a shared cathartic release through the joy of collective laughter. It makes challenging ideas accessible to a wide array of audiences by finding the fun, the profound, the exaggerated bizarre in complex personal and political experiences. LadyFest showcases the power of self-representation, the expansive depth of people having a platform to tell their own stories, and the unstoppable force of love and respect that can grow comedic talent and audiences.” – LadyFest Montreal

Sara Meleika begins by underlining this significance of LadyFest and its ability in “demonstrating to producers that there is demand for inclusive spaces in comedy.” Kadi Diop adds that, through the festival, she sees a desire “to create a truly inclusive platform with performers of different ages, body shape, race and everything else.”

With its dynamic programming of femme and non-binary talent, LadyFest is most triumphantly filling that gap and serving that mandate.



WOKE TALES

One of the most anticipated new shows in this year’s eclectic lineup, Woke Tales looks to be a venue for diverse audiences to relate to diverse performers. In this unique encounter of narrative intimacy, host Diop aspires to create a space where “people will snap their fingers in recognition and relation to what they are hearing”. She hopes to include people of different ages, backgrounds, gender expressions and their experiences centered around femininity.

Diop also states that one her goals with the production is to “showcase performers that don’t get as much stage time as I think they should.” The objective, furthermore, is not to sensationalize queerness and sexuality, but “to create some buzz around marginalized artists and give them a safe place to be authentic.” She wishes to “remind people [she’s] not just a person of colour, [she’s] a foodie, a student, an annoying aunty and those are also things we can relate to” – and hopes this extends to all of the performers of Woke Tales.



COLOUR OUTSIDE THE LINES

Festival producer-performer Meleika examines her own trajectory on LadyFest stages, beginning at a Yarn storytelling event that took place at Dawson College several years ago to the selling out of her diversity-centric Improv show, Colour Outside the Lines, in 2017. Stating she feels that being under the banner of the festival “helped give [Colour Outside the Lines] legitimacy and people have treated the show differently since”.

When asked about changes over the last four years of LadyFest, she calls back to the beginning, observing a shift in representation, and proceeding to point out that there are more queer performers and performers of colour than ever before – referring to shows like Sketch Republic that has two teams of women of colour this year, and how across the festival every show features women of colour. Colour Outside the Lines itself will be presenting a diverse cast of fifteen. The traditional Colour Outside the Lines cast will be joined by Yas Kween, a Toronto based team that creates a space for women of colour.



ON THE HORIZON

Bringing together comedians, improvisers, sketch artists, burlesque performers and storytellers from Montreal, Toronto and beyond – this year’s edition of the festival promises to be the most riveting to date.

“It’s exciting to invest in new producers like Kadi and this year we are collaborating with Taking What We Need, a non-profit group helping low-income trans women. I felt like last year they took a chance on Colour Outside the Lines and I hope to carry that forward,” says Meleika.

Diop further points to the support the community provides: “there is a kindness and warmth and a possibility to screw up and mistakes, people will be very open to hearing you and helping you workshop your ideas”. Meleika adds that “producing is a great way to have agency if you feel that nobody is representing your voice, it’s an opportunity to bring your voice forward and chances are audiences will want to go see it”.

In reaching the apex of the conversation on insisting on a warm, welcoming environment, they encouraged aspiring producers to reach out to other producers. For performers, the emphasis is on asking for help as well as going out to see and support shows. “People will be more open to you if they see you around and will come up and talk to you”.

For those looking for “their people” or for a fresh new perspective, LadyFest is your week-long comedy love-in in Montreal this fall season.

Hint: For first time performers, walk up to the Ajar mic on Monday, September 3rd at 9pm as part of TSFGO (there’s something funny going on) at the Blue Dog Motel. Try your hand at stand up and have your voice heard.


The 4th Annual LadyFest runs from September 3rd to the 9th in Montreal. To reserve tickets, check out the full lineup, and get more information, visit www.LadyFest.ca

Alex Gauthier

Contributor at Montreal Theatre Hub
Alex Gauthier is an improvisor at Montreal improv Theatre. He can also be found helping behind the scenes of local and community productions. Having completed his Bachelor’s in English Literature, he hopes to be able to enjoy local theatre and help whenever he is needed.

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