Thursday, June 28, a hungry audience filled the John Candy Box Theatre for “a night worth bingeing on”. The were treated to Alma Matters Productions’ Comedy Calorie hosted by Sarah Marchand.

Before I get into the event, I feel it is crucial to talk about Sheena’s Place. In 1993, Lynn Carpenter lost her daughter Sheena to an eating disorder. Sheena was 22 years old. Lynn, with the help of friends and colleagues, created Sheena’s Place, a multifaceted charity organization “committed to inspiring hope, reducing stigma, raising awareness and offering meaningful help and information at all stages of recovery.” Sheena’s Place provides advocacy for individuals suffering with eating disorders as well as individuals who are part of a sufferer’s support structure. Approximately one million Canadians currently meet the full criteria for an eating disorder diagnosis; countless others go undiagnosed. If you are reading this, you know people who are currently suffering with an eating disorder. If you’re not sure about your own health or the health of someone you care about, please contact Sheena’s Place or check out the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC).

$2 from every ticket sold was donated to Sheena’s Place.

Comedy Calorie offered performers an opportunity to share their interpretations and experiences with food, body image, weight, perceptions of sexiness, and social pressures in a variety show format. Many of the performers took advantage of this opportunity to be both genuinely vulnerable and truly inspiring. Others did not, but, after a couple conversations and a good sleep, I decided that it didn’t matter that some performances fell short. The environment that Sarah Marchand created wasn’t about presenting a polished, finished product. Ms. Marchand created a show for performers to feel safe about their creative process, their bodies onstage, and many of them took at least some advantage of this.

Unfortunately, one performer in particular said that they understood the theme of the night and had a great story to tell related to it but stated that they’d rather do something else. That “something else” had some potential as a bit but was completely out of place. It struck me as kind of a shitty thing to do so I won’t talk about it more than that.

I’m generally not a big fan of improv because, as anyone who has been to theatre school, taken workshops or classes, or played improv in other environments can attest, it’s not an easy thing to do well. Amongst other common pitfalls, folks tend to play for laughs instead of letting a scene develop organically, or they can get caught up in the scene and start performing for each other instead of the audience. The first improv group of the night, HotFace, seemed to make these mistakes, they also didn’t communicate their intentions, or even which improv games they were playing, to the audience. As a result, I was left feeling like I was watching a bunch of theatre kids hanging out together. Like I said above, the next morning I decided that I liked HotFace even though the product wasn’t that good. I liked them because they’re kids trying to do improv, trying to do theatre. It takes a long time to be good at anything and it makes me feel good to know that the members of HotFace are working at it. I hope they keep growing and developing together.

“Aaron Ranger + Special Guest” was the other improv group of the night. These two performers are obviously more experienced than HotFace and they got some good laughs. Near the end of the scene the momentum was starting to wane so the performers forced a kiss that had no discernible motivation beyond the perceived expectation of a cheap laugh. The idea that two men kissing on stage would be used as a device for eliciting laughter is offensive. That, I assume, the offense was unintentional, is embarrassing.

Now, onto the great stuff!

Clare McConnell, Jonathan Shaboo, and Krystle Meixner performed stand up comedy sets and they were great. Some of the bits need a bit of work but there is so much to love about each of these performers that it’s hardly worth mentioning. After the show, I added all of them on social media so that I can keep seeing them perform. If you care about Canadian stand-up, you should do the same.

Sad Zumba, comprised of Cassie Barradas & Patricia Tab, were the absolute standout performance of the night. They danced while Spanish club music filled the theatre. The music would occasionally cut out and each performer would tell different parts of their character’s story. One story was about a person growing up bi-sexual in a staunchly conservative Christian household, the other about growing up overweight and told they were unattractive as a result. Both characters shared their traumas and the damage the culture of their respective childhoods had on their growth and development. The juxtaposition between the fluffy pop music and the hard truths shared by victims of the stigmas of traditional femininity was affective and impactful. Sad Zumba and performance groups like them are integral to changing the culture of abuse and privilege that continues enabling people to literally choke so many female artists into submission and silence. Please support their work.

The night ended with an extra special guest, Sarah Marchand’s burlesque alter ego. Her performance was fun and funny. She gradually revealed Fruit Roll-Ups stuck to her, which she peeled away like skin and then ate. I took this to be an analogy about how the vulnerability inherent to performance can necessitate allowing the audience to “consume” the performer. It could also just be funny but I’m happy thinking it’s a bit of both.

In the end, I saw some stuff I loved and I saw some stuff that bothered me. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what going to live theatre is all about.