Saskatoon

'I didn't realize the silly person that was hiding inside of me': Women's comedy growing in Saskatoon

The creation of the Lady Bits comedy trio appears to have opened the door for a growing women’s comedy scene in the city.

Comedy collective sees growing number of women in standup, improv

Madison Rurak says the nerves of being silly on stage have melted away thanks to the support of her womens' improv classmates. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

"The weirder the better!"

Marley Duckett calls out to her class, and they abide. Flocks of wild chickens attack, pickled pigs feet turn up in Starbucks cups and a woman is possessed by a dog.

Duckett is the leader of an improv comedy class of about 12 women in Saskatoon.

Until roughly four years ago, the total number of women doing improv in the city might have been smaller than Duckett's class, but the creation of the Lady Bits comedy trio, of which Duckett is one-third, appears to have paved the way for a growing scene in the city.  

"Being an all-female cast has opened a lot of doors in what we are allowed to perform or what we feel like we're allowed to perform on stage," said Duckett.

The interest in the group suggests the trio were not alone in wanting a space to perform.

Duckett says Lady Bits improv has grown from a hole-in-the-wall show with a crowd of about 10 people to running a regular standup night and an eight-week improv class.

Both are open to beginners. The latter gives students a chance to perform at Amigos Cantina halfway through their term, and then again at the end.

CBC attended a class in May, the fourth in the eight-week term.

Kalyna Livingstone acts as the "boss" in the exercise involving a worker who is late. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

Duckett led the group in a series of games that practice impulse and help the group get familiar with "being silly on stage."

"I was yelling at them to be things like flowers and pirate ships," said Duckett as she left the workshop room. The sound of raucous laughter and silliness emanated from the class.

There was a diversity of age, experience and background in the class, and a sense of camaraderie that makes sense  when the challenge is often to step outside what's comfortable.

A 3 a.m. decision ends well

The more experienced performers support the beginners, whether they are pushing past nerves or trying to think faster on their feet.

Madison Rurak, one of the newcomers in the class, signed up for the workshop after a nightshift in her job as a nurse.

She said it was a 3 a.m. decision she does not regret.

Everyone in the class makes a different sound to the same beat in in the noise machine activity. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

"Oh my God, I didn't realize the silly person that was hiding inside of me just waiting to be released," said Rurak.

"At first I was a little bit shy, I kind of had this front of confidence but I wasn't confident inside, but every week I get more and more comfortable with these girls and I can let loose just a little bit more and feel that I can be as goofy as I need to be or want to be without any judgment."

All-woman cast

Rurak said she's not sure she would have signed up if it wasn't an all-female group, or whether she would have been as unreserved.

Zoe Harris, another member of the group, said she would have joined either way, but finding new female friendships is something she sees as a bonus on top of the fun of performing.

"I thought it would be a good way to meet some really fun ladies," she said.

Harris had always been interested in acting and describes herself as "kind of an extrovert."

A youngster starts acting up as a parent tries to give them their medicine in the "switch" exercise. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

She said the class is a rush, as well as a mental and physical workout.  

"I feel my heart, you know, is kind of beating fast because there's a little bit of anxiety there because you're putting yourself on the spot," said Harris.

"So it's just good mentally and physically and in a lot of ways emotionally, I feel pumped all day that I have this class to go to and it's just, it's just really fun."

Skits and pieces

One of the games in the class is to build a noise machine, starting with one person making a sound of their choice on repeat.

As others join, they form a cluster of stomping, clapping, buzzing and mewing, all following the same beat.

Like all the improv games and exercises, the result is completely unpredictable.

The "late for work" skit sends one person out of the room while the rest of the class decides the reasons why that person is late for work.

When she returns, it's her job to guess the reason why she's late based on the silent actions of her "colleague", who is standing behind the "boss" and miming.

Kalyna Livingstone has been doing improv for years but says she still finds way to challenge herself. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

Duckett said having an all-female cast removes the limitations that can come with a mixed group.

"In mixed casts sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, you get typecasted into stereotypical gendered roles, so women are often playing the girlfriend or the uptight boss or the grandmother or the child or the teacher," said Duckett.

"Which is not a bad thing, but it should be that women can play all characters and that men can play all characters."

Overcoming initial nerves

Kalyna Livingstone is one of the more experienced performers in the group. She started doing improv when she was at university, partly because she wanted to "put herself out there" to improve her public speaking skills.

She's more comfortable now but remembers being nervous the first time she stepped into a scene.

"I had to do a monologue and I got to a point where I'm like, 'OK I'm done now' and took a step back," said Livingstone.

"So that's just something I found I had to work on — not taking that step back and keeping myself to the front of the stage."

Now Livingstone said she enjoys being up on stage, and finds the skills she has learned through improv translate into her daily life.

Lady Bits founder and class coach Marley Duckett explains the next game to the class. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

She's now more comfortable thinking on her feet in a work meeting, or phrasing a question or a response in a certain way.

Although she said she is always challenging herself to try new things, Livingstone sees the performance itself as a chance to loosen up.

"It's my chance to be ridiculous, to blow off some steam, and to try out some creative ideas, and I also like making people laugh," she said.

The new students' first show

The format for a Lady Bits show consists of a performance by the main trio of Duckett, Jenny Ryan and Courtney Lato, followed by a second half where the students get a chance to perform.

Members of Duckett's class were experiencing varying degrees of nerves in the lead up to their first time on stage with the Lady Bits collective on May 6.

Classmates help each other hauling in a fish. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

"I think once I get there everything else is going to disappear and I'm just gonna be in the moment and enjoying it and just putting my all in," said Rurak, one of the newer improvisors.

Harris, another one of the new students, said she was in a good mood the day of the performance.

Her friends and family were among the crowd of between 50 and 60 people who crammed into a cosy room at Amigos Cantina for the show.

Hilarity ensues

When it came time for the students to stand up, Harris volunteered to be the "colleague" doing the physical part of the "late to work" skit.

The audience chose the reasons she had to act out for her fellow performer to guess: She had a cougar in her trunk, she was in a dance show and a dingo ate her baby.

Harris said everyone was laughing.

"I was holding the baby and then I put the baby down and then all of a sudden I was the dingo," laughed Harris the day after the show.

"And then I started making too many sound effects and my teacher was shushing me reminding me this is mime. I definitely got carried away with the physical part of it."

Madison Rurak says signing up for the improv class was a 3 a.m. decision she does not regret. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

Harris said the camaraderie of the group is so strong that they plan to continue to meet after the class ends.

"We actually got together before class here and switched numbers and we talked about other workshop opportunities that there are and perhaps practising in each others' basements," said Harris.

"I think I've definitely got the bug."

It seems she's not alone.

About the Author

Alicia Bridges is a digital and broadcast journalist at CBC Saskatoon. Email her at alicia.bridges@cbc.ca.

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