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Queer sketch comedy Gender? I Hardly Know Them on stage with Downstage this week

The raucously funny duo of Elena Eli Belyea and Sydney Campbell are bringing their highly regarded sketch comedy back to Alberta, after their national tour of Gender? I Hardly Know Them.

The show is coming to the Motel Theatre at Arts Commons from Oct. 12 through 16, as part of this season’s Downstage Theatre performances. The performance is the last stop in the national tour for the show.

“Elena Eli Belyea and Sydney Campbell are full of audacious charm, sly humour and quick wit,” said Clare Preuss, Downstage’s Artistic Director.

Campbell said that Calgary audiences were going to really connect with the show, given the prairies is the backdrop for the lived experiences that is the heart of the duo’s comedy.

“I think that [Gender] will really resonate with the audiences in Calgary, in the way that it resonated the first time when we premiered it in Edmonton,” Campbell said.

The duo has been widely praised for their performances of their sketch comedy play since it opened during the Edmonton Fringe Festival in 2019.

Campbell said that the responses from critics and audiences has been really awesome, “especially because we are talking about our honest, true lived experiences.”

The troupe has previously described their show as Nanette meets the Baroness von Sketch Show.

“We were inspired by Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette… and one of the things that she does in comedy, she find ways of sharing parts of her life that that are really vulnerable and that makes the whole piece resonates on a different deeper level,” said Belyea.

“So similarly, it’s largely sketch, but we also have some monologue in it that are about me and Syd’s lived experience going queer in Alberta.”

As for what Calgary audiences will be getting, Belyea said that the show would have some fresh jokes and tweaks from previous stops on the tour. Among those is a whole brand new monologue, along with lots of small changes to make the show funnier for a Calgary audience.

“I’ll speak for myself, but like, one of my bad habits is I want to keep editing until I’m dead, so sometimes that keeps happening, and sometimes I get a slap on the wrist and we say no more,” Belyea said.

Belyea said the goal here to make the audience laugh and think.

“If we’re doing our jobs well, you’re going to be laughing the whole time.”

Web series pilot of Gender coming soon

The show is also getting a three-episode pilot web series thanks to funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Edmonton Arts Council.

Campbell said that there would be some overlap between characters in the live show and the web series, but that the sketches would be different.

“The web series is gonna go into post production now, so it’s going to be doing it’s it’s tinkering for a while,” Campbell said.

They said that individual sketches could be released onto Instagram and TikTok, but that viewers would have to wait for the full shows.

The web production has been in the works for more than two-and-a-half years, between fundraising, doing writing rooms, and then editing sketches.

“The actual process of going to camera was outstandingly fun and really humbling,” said Belyea.

“Anna, let us see the monitor for the first time, and like I let out this like scream that I could not have made up if I wanted to—it was just joy and awe shooting out of my body, because our team was basically doing so much to engineer this really, really beautiful shot.”

Anna Cooley, a Calgary based filmmaker, is the production director for the series.

For more information on the show at the Motel Theatre, and how to purchase tickets through Downstage Theatre, see their website at www.downstage.ca/gender.

And for more information on the web series, see www.instagram.com/genderihardlyknowthem.