Or, rather, they were always in town, but now it's official: the fab comedy foursome that has been delighting audiences at the Company House twice a year since 2010, at Christmas and Pride festivals, is here to stay.
Informally known as “the Coho girls,” the group includes filmmaker Krista Davis, comedian Megan McDowell, musician Ria Mae and designer Margot Durling. Their collaboration has evolved out of a community of artists and audiences that has grown up around the Company House on Gottingen Street.
“Mary Ann and the Company House have been so supportive,” says Davis, who also bartends at the venue. “They hire people who work in the arts and they support queer events.”
With a steady influx of musicians and fans coming in the front doors, it was only a matter of time before the four joined forces to present an eclectic brand of multimedia sketch comedy to the public.
As artists who live, work and play in Halifax, the troupe offers entertainment that is high calibre and homegrown. McDowell has toured with The Second City (a comedy hothouse that has cultivated everyone from John Candy to Tina Fey). Mae is riding a wave of success as an independent musician: she opened for Melissa Ferrick in 2011 and her debut album won ECMA Pop Recording of the Year in 2012. Durling, the co-founder of Halifax's Fogo Creative, is as Davis puts it, “a multi-talented woman with many characters inside her that need to come out.” Davis' own work spans animation and live performance and appears everywhere from Halifax’s Nocturne to Youtube.
They integrate the talents of their members, writing original songs and building comic sketches around video elements. “Our working style is collaborative, and we are learning from each other all the time,” says Davis. One person will pitch and the group will brainstorm and start building a scene. These are loosely scripted but they retain a spontaneous feel. “There is a unique chemistry that comes from putting two people on stage together to see what happens between them,” Davis says.
During this summer's Pride Week, the troupe presented Dreamboat Annie and her Little Ship of Dreams. Dressed in everything from pink wigs and press-on nails to double-breasted suits, they offered a tongue-in-cheek look at the “forgotten women of song,” bringing to life characters like Eleanor Rigby, Cecelia and Roxanne. Other skits reimagined songs, as in The True Story of Dolly and Jolene, or Billie Jean and her Lovers.
“There are so many examples of these women who don't tell their own stories: the muses, the woman in red, the lady with diamonds on her shoes,” says Davis. “There is such a power in the role of the musician or writer, especially in our culture, to have the final say. I’ve been fascinated with these figures since I was a child, so it was fun to develop our own ideas about them.”
There is a political edge to this concept – giving voice to those who are voiceless and turning representations of women in their ear. But there's plenty of room for laughs as well: “It's important to me that the art that I do has a strong theoretical base, but that someone like my mom, who doesn't care about theoretical structures or identity politics, can come and see it. It should be entertaining,” says Davis.
There were plenty of laughs on July 24 during the Company House's Annual Pride Variety Show. Eleanor Rigby (given comic treatment by McDowell) became a fame-hungry octogenarian who faked her own death for the sake of attention. Jolene and Dolly (played by Davis and Durling) finally escaped their unrequited subtext and dove headlong into romance. The sketches were interspersed with music by Mae, and other artists who helped to put the variety in variety show.
“We've had a lot of support from people in the music community like Tanya Davis, Amelia Curran, Heather Green, Don Brownrigg and Stewart Legere,” says Davis.
What does the future hold? Davis says that the group would like to tour to Pride festivals in other cities. Equally important, though, is building opportunities for local performers and fostering creative outlets for Halifax residents.
But first, of course, they must deal with more pressing issues, like what to name the group. “We have so many ideas,” says Davis. “We’d like to tip our hats to the Company House, which has been important to all of us. We might name ourselves after Penny Fairchild, the mannequin who lives in the basement of the bar. She has been a Pride ambassador of sorts.” Whatever they settle on, it will no doubt bear the mark of the big personalities and big ideas behind the group itself.
Find our what they decide by catching the foursome live on stage in December 2012, at their Annual Christmas Variety Show at the Company House.