This article is part of an ongoing expose on “Mistakes Were Made” premiering August 20th at Mainline. Buy tickets here.
(Original Journal Entry from January 23rd, 2014)
Yes, it’s shocking – maybe even offensive…and that’s just the tagline. I mean, when you say “Man’s answer to the Vagina Monologues” you’re inviting scorn from theatre lovers who adore that piece, especially when your ‘answer’ is straight-up stand-up comedy littered with dick jokes- but then again, to us the show has been so much more.
When we decided to bring Richard Herring’s “Talking Cock” to Montreal we knew there would be some amount of controversy. That wasn’t the reason we picked the show. Actually, in the 11 years I’ve run Brave New Productions I’ve never picked a show for the sake of controversy – but Brave New Comedy is a different adventure. Brave New Comedy is an exploration of laughter and joy, taking the convention of traditional stand-up and infusing elements rarely seen in the standard open mic night. I’ve never picked a script I didn’t believe in – and that is also true of “Talking Cock”. Originally a monologue, I felt the text had the opportunity to offer perspective, voice and heart – as well as a plethora of dick jokes and pseudonyms.
What some might be surprised to know is that the show is nearly entirely run by women behind the scenes.
“Taking a one man show and dissecting it into four different voices was something that had to be done very carefully while at the same time we had to keep an eye on not letting the show become overworked.” says Tracy Allan, the woman who went from assistant director to co-director of the project. She was immediately faced with the challenge of casting this unique presentation that faced theater-like rehearsals but stand-up style performances, “Taking two different kinds of performers (actors and comedians) and asking them to completely smash open their comfort zones was tough at times. Actors understand having a director but some aren’t use to losing the fourth wall. Comedians have the amazing ability to read an audience but they aren’t used to working with a script . How do you change years of learned behavior in three months while still letting them have room to explore and bring there own talents to the process? It was interesting and lucky for us that our boys are great and trusted us. In the end, I really had to learn how to walk the line of giving too much freedom and over directing.”
It doesn’t stop with Tracy. The show’s event & fundraiser planner, Claudia Laprise, worked tirelessly to secure sponsors such as Fugues Magazine and Priape as well as promote fundraising events and advertising. Her efforts helped Talking Cock quickly rise to be one of the Montreal Gazette’s Top 12 shows to see at the Festival.
Behind the scenes, producer Laura Vizbara juggled the challenge of satisfying both the Fringe Festival requirements as well as the shows unique burlesque lounge venue (The Wiggle Room), “Donald sent me a message asking for my help in finding a venue for Richard Herring’s Talking Cock, the show BNP’s daughter company Brave New Comedy was bringing to North America for the first time. I had my reservations about producing the show, due to the nature of the material, but a favor made creates a favor to be returned at a later date, so I made some calls and found a home for it at The Wiggle Room. I couldn’t be happier with the result.” Luckily for Laura, all her reservations appeared unnecessary and opening night was an unexpected surprise, “I suspected our audience would consist of rowdy 18-21 year olds out to heckle and be heckled, but I was wrong. We had a lot of couples come in, groups of friends on a night out, and a fair number of men and women in the golden age, several of whom mentioned to me on their way out how much they enjoyed the format!”
Isabelle Tremblay, the technical director for Brave New Productions shares in that feeling of surprise, “I expected more men would come to see the show because I didn’t think women would connect to the play. But to my surprise, lots of women show up every night and seem to want to participate even more than men. I think maybe they finally have that insight into the man’s “brain” that they’ve always wanted!”
The joy (and heartache) of the Fringe is found in the time a show has to prepare in their space before performing in front of an audience, a burden that seems to fall more heavily on comedy based shows that often need time to feel out their beats and rhythms. Talking Cock never had that chance and stumbled before becoming the show it is today. “As far as the media goes, I haven’t read many reviews because I don’t care.” Tracy responds, “I understand the role a critic plays in the equation that is art but its does not value or devalue the experience for me as a director.”
Following that opening night chaos, word of mouth quickly spread through the festival praising Talking Cock’s content as well as the strong performances and the piece now proceeds to sell out nightly. “The show has been extremely well received and I know that just by the audiences reaction every night.” Tracy says, “The most important part of this show is the heart of the message, not the dick jokes and every show, every night, we have to take the audience there. That is the pay off of doing this show, knowing we succeeded in making them laugh and making them feel something.”
The huge success of Talking Cock has humbled Laura as well, “I think the show has enjoyed such a great reception because it has been put together and performed with such good nature. We’re not trying to change anyone’s mind or lambast what we feel are today’s misguided social taboos. We just want everyone who comes to spend an hour of their time with us to enjoy that hour. Should we succeed in helping lower a few inhibitions here and there would just be the cherry on the sundae of this wonderful adventure.”
In one fell swoop, Brave New Comedy has landed prominently on the Montreal events page with a show that is both hilarious and unconventional and though Talking Cock may feature four (mostly) straight men on stage, the magic of the piece is that it became a huge success due to the hard work of a strong team of women.