Mylène Chicoine is no stranger to horror. She founded Festival de la Bête Noire as a way to share what helps her to de-stress.

While some turn to comedy and laughter, for Chicoine and those like her, it’s horror and horror-themed art that allow them a form of catharsis, freeing themselves from their demons by confronting them head on.

Festival de la Bête Noire is a horror theatre festival that normally has hosted shows that audiences take in on site and in-person since 2018. But the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a great toll on the arts.

Theaters are closed, and gatherings that would allow for live shows are banned for now. For those needing to keep art and culture alive, the pandemic and the ensuing public health measures have presented a lot of challenges and the name of the game has been adapt or die.

Festival de la Bête Noire has decided to go online this year and I spoke with Mylène Chicoine about what that means.

“We’re not doing in it an actual physical space,” she said. “It’s a multimedia online event from people’s living rooms. We’ve removed the physical aspect completely.”

In order to keep the authenticity of live theater consistent with the spirit of past festivals, Chicoine and her team decided to have as little postproduction as possible, meaning that recorded shows should try to minimize editing and video effects after recording.

“We are NOT a movie festival, we are a THEATRE festival. We still want to see theatre, and performance, and live art even though it’s technically not live.”

When asked about the response to the change in format this year, she said most of the responses have been extremely positive, admitting that Bête Noire almost didn’t happen this year due to the pandemic. The festival happened because of the outpouring of support from the theatre community and its fans.

“We had a lot of demand from the community: Are we doing it this year? Are we doing it? Is it going to happen? We need it. The biggest motivation for the team was the community wants it so we’re going to give it to them.”

Festival de la Bête Noire has 16 shows this year. Two of the shows are mixed shows featuring separate performances within a single show.

The virtual festival has a few alumni, including the The Malicious Basement, Quagmire Productions, and Marissa Blair. In the name of transparency, I myself am acting and handling design for Quagmire’s Poe in the Snow.

Chicoine says that festival alumni were given an extra week to apply knowing that they are faithful participants who have provided good content in the past.

“We like to have repeat performers because it gives them a name and a platform that they need.”

The virtual format has not been without its challenges. Many artists expressed concerns about the ban on post-production, claiming that the festival was trying to restrict their art.

“We don’t want to restrict their art, we want to restrict their technology, that’s the big difference. If you’re in a venue, you’re not using a green screen, you wouldn’t use one in your living room either. We don’t want to make it look like a movie, but of course we’ve had to be a bit more flexible, especially with the new lockdown.”

Chicoine says the festival’s limits on technology this year were among some of the biggest challenges for performers. It forced performers to stretch their creative muscles and think outside the box.

Other challenges for the Festival de la Bête Noire were unfortunate realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. People involved with the companies and performers or their loved ones were exposed to the virus and either got sick and/or were forced to self-isolate. The pandemic itself resulted in some theatre companies dropping out of the festival entirely.

“We understand completely that these things are going to happen and we have had production meetings with every company that has required one to formulate a different kind of plan, whether it’s an extension, being more flexible on technology, but unfortunately we did lose a couple of companies to COVID.”

Most of the companies that dropped out were outside of Montreal and could not participate due to the pandemic, while some participants even got sick and died. It has been really upsetting for everyone involved with Bête Noire, but Chicoine and her team anticipated this happening.

Festival de la Bête Noire 2021 is fulfilling its mandate by giving artists and performers a platform to explore the horror genre by performing, creating and watching, and being a part of something, bringing people together in a socially distant way.

When I asked Chicoine if there were any advantages to going virtual, she pointed to fact that it allowed for more international entries, speaking of participating companies in the US and as far away as Japan. Chicoine mentioned The Peony Lantern by The Yokohama Group, a multimedia performance that takes place in the World Peace Theatre in Kawasaki, Japan.

Given the unpredictability of the pandemic, Mylène Chicoine is preparing for disaster, but it has not dampened her excitement for the shows on offer this year. When asked if there were any shows she was particularly excited about, she mentioned Pento by Mad Paradox, a show about mental health issues.

As for the technicalities regarding the accessing the shows, Chicoine and her team demurred from using sites like YouTube and TikTok because they’re too restrictive. In order to avoid the censorship that comes with those sites, all ticket holders will be sent a Google Drive link to their show which gives them one week to watch it at their convenience. Viewers don’t need a Gmail account to access the link.

Festival de la Bête Noire is running virtually from February 17, 2021 to March 15, 2021. For more info check out LaBeteNoirFest.com

The snowstorm seems to be done and the weather for the next few days promises to be nicer, but we still can’t go outside at night or hang out in groups during the day. Fortunately there are Montreal shows you can check out this week from the comfort of your home.

Let’s get started:

Geordie Theatre’s The Little Mighty Superhero & Celestial Bodies

2021 marks Geordie Theatre’s 40th year of performing plays in schools as well as original youth-oriented works for the general public. And they’re not about to let the pandemic cancel their birthday party.

The Geordie Theatre Fest is back! It started yesterday with staged readings exclusively for schools, but this weekend, everyone can enjoy some virtual theatre that is good for the whole family.

On Saturday, they will be streaming live performances of two original plays:

  • The Little Mighty Superhero, written by Marie Barlizo and directed by Liz Valdez is “a heartwarming journey of a young boy’s quest in rediscovering imagination and memory in the face of fear and the unknown.”
  • Celestial Bodies, written by Jacob Margaret Archer and directed by Geordie Artistic Director Mike Payett, is “one girl’s cosmic journey to truly owning, literally and metaphorically, the space she occupies.”

The 2021 Geordie Theatre Fest runs Saturday, February 6th with The Little Mighty Superhero at noon and Celestial Bodies at 3pm and 5pm. For more info or tickets, please visit geordie.ca

Virtually Visit the Wheel Club with A Devil’s Din

Montreal-based psychedelic rockers A Devil’s Din will be playing The Wheel Club in NDG this Friday. More specifically, the band will be performing at The Wheel Club, but the audience will attend virtually via Facebook Live.

This isn’t just a chance to see a band playing in 2021 in a traditional real-world venue instead of from their homes, it’s also helping to keep the venue afloat so they can re-open to the public when the pandemic subsides. It’s free to watch, but the audience are encouraged to donate to the venue and the band.

Think of it like going to a show with no cover, then putting something in the hat when they pass it around between sets. Also, you can use the money you save by buying your drinks at the dep to give a little more to the venue.

A Devil’s Din Live Webcast at the Wheel Club starts Friday, February 5th at 8pm. To watch free and for info on how to donate, please visit the Facebook Event Page

Featured Image from Celestial Bodies courtesy of Geordie Theatre

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

Now that we’re a few weeks into this new column, it’s probably a good idea to mention just what we’re featuring here.

Our previous column Shows This Week featured concerts, live performances and in-person arts events happening in and around Montreal. Since those aren’t happening for the foreseeable near future, Montreal Arts & Music This Week will showcase the work of local artists and musicians as well as performers from out of town that have a special relationship with our city and/or see Montreal as a second home.

Sometimes it will just be music, sometimes just stuff like visual arts, theatre and comedy. Most times, though, it will be a mix.

If there is an actual event you can go to in person, we very well may include it. If there are many, it means the pandemic is probably over, so we should go back to Shows This Week.

One final note before we jump into this week’s entries: we’ll do our best to always publish on Thursdays. This week, though, we’re publishing on Friday, because the two releases we’re covering only come out today.

So let’s get started:

What if Elephants and Maya Malkin’s New Single Sugar Daddy

What If Elephants hope to offer listeners “the perfect pop escape for the winter blues” with the release of their latest single Sugar Daddy. The Montreal-based indie pop four-piece is joined on the track by long-time collaborators Maya Malkin and Tokyo Speirs (Walk Off the Earth).

This is a rhythmically-driven tune that features quite a few harmonies. The band is currently putting the final touches on their latest EP.

Kareem’s New Video Mea Culpa Raises Awareness About Suicide Prevention

Montreal rapper Kareem already had a name for himself in the French hip hop scene and two albums under his belt when the first confinement affected everyone last March. With the new video for his latest single Mea Culpa, he deals with the isolation it brought and how it affected his creative process.

The song also deals with his at times difficult upbringing. Kareem hopes to open a dialogue about how people deal with moments of weakness and encourage people to seek help when needed.

It also deals with suicide and the video ends with the number for the suicide prevention hotline.

Featured image of What If Elephants by Claudine Chausse, courtesy of Strut Entertainment

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

Igloofest, literally Montreal’s coolest festival (temperature-wise) is back this winter, running every Saturday from February 13th to March 13th. They just announced a partial lineup, and it promises to still be a huge dance party.

Of course, Montreal is still very much in the COVID Red Zone and there’s a very real chance Quebec’s 8pm to 5am curfew will be extended beyond February 10th. So this year, the festival will be streaming on Facebook, Twitch and YouTube, meaning the party will be at home for festivalgoers.

The performers, though, will be all across the city, at iconic spots that we will hopefully all be able to visit again in person soon. So far:

  • CRi, Jesse Mac Cormack and Sophia Bel will kick things off February 13th at La Ronde
  • Jacques Greene will be in the Old Port February 20th
  • Young rapper Lou Phelps will be part of a lineup at the Stewart Museum on February 27th
  • March 6th will see Mistress Barbara on the roof of Videotron headquarters
  • On March 13th, the S.A.T. will host a noon to midnight marathon with various artists

The rest of these lineups will, of course, be announced soon. The 15th anniversary of the fest, though, has been pushed to 2022, when we can all, once again, party together in person.

As for keeping it cool, or cold, well, organizers do suggest your backyard or balcony. If you don’t have one of those, though, you could always open a window, but you might want to check with your roommates first.

Featured image from Igloofest 2012 by Chris Zacchia

Igloofest 2021 runs February 13 – March 13. For details and the full lineup (when it is available), check out igloofest.ca

This week, the curfew continues and so do the Montreal arts and music. We’ve got a music video and an actual outdoor event. Let’s get started!

Venus Furs’ New Inspiration Music Video

Before COVID hit and everything changed, you could find Montreal’s Venus Furs (aka Paul Kasner) playing POP Montreal and opening for acts like The Horrors and The Twilight Sad. Last year, though, the Montreal-based shoegaze (also know as dream pop) artist launched his own record label called Silk Screaming and released a self-titled debut album.

Then, this past Tuesday, he released a music video for the single New Inspiration. Justis Krar directed the video and Kasner plays all instruments on the track except for bass and drums.

Here it is:

Venus Furs’ self-titled debut album is available through SilkScreaming.com

Luminothérapie & Coeur Battant

This one’s actually something you can’t attend from the comfort of behind your computer screen. It’s two outdoor events that started over the holidays and continue until March 14th.

The first (Luminothérapie) is a circuit in Quartier des Spectacles comprised of five installations and activities that are accessible to everyone and COVID-safe, according to organizers. They feature light, sound, and interactivity.

The second, Coeur Battant, is designed to showcase downtown as the beating heart of the city. Each night, a different building will be lit up in red as the sounds of a heart beating play.

Of course, the night part of “every night” as well as the overall experience of both events had to be drawn back a bit due to the curfew. They end at 6:30pm as long as the curfew lasts.

Here is the promo video:

Luminothérapie & Coeur Battant run until March 14th. General info can be found on the Quartier des Spectacles website, but updates regarding curfew hours are on their Facebook Page

Featured Image of Venus Furs by Sean Mundy, courtesy of raison d’être Media

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

So we’re now under curfew, but the Montreal arts scene continues online. It’s kind of like they’re offering a way to go out at night without being fined or having to put on a jacket, or even nice clothes. (No music this time, but there will be next time) Let’s get started:

Art and Haircuts for Mental Health

During the pandemic, we can’t forget about people suffering from mental health issues. Sometimes the simple dignity of a haircut can really help.

The non-profit organization Coups de pinceaux, Coups de ciseaux plans to offer just that. They have teamed with hair salon Cam & Roro and 100 visual artists to help remove the stigma surrounding mental health and offer free haircuts to those with mental health issues.

The project is called 100 artistes pour une santé mentale sans tabou and from January 15th to March 15th, they will be selling works by 100 different artists for $150 apiece. $100 goes to the artist and $50 goes to the organization so they can provide these free haircuts.

The works will be available online as of January 15th at midnight and the launch will start the 15th at noon on their Facebook Event Page.

Black Theatre Workshop Launches Its 50th Season with Sanctuary

The pandemic won’t stop Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop from celebrating its 50th season. In fact, they’re launching it online Friday, January 15th at 3pm with Sanctuary, a reading of a new work in development by newly appointed Artistic Associate, Lydie Dubuisson.

Sanctuary is “a feminist conversation between a teenage girl and her sister, her godmother, her best friend, her pastor and God, as she takes refuge in the sanctuary of her church while searching for answers about her destiny.”

Directed by Tamara Brown and part of the Discovery Series, it features Vlad Alexis, Chadia Kikondjo, Mireille Métellus and Espoir Segbeaya. The stage manager is Danielle Skene.

You can watch the premier of Sanctuary Friday, January 15th at 3pm (eastern) on YouTube or Facebook Video. It will also be available on demand for four weeks after the premier. For the rest of Black Theatre Workshop’s 50th season, please visit blacktheatreworkshop.ca

Haunted Montreal’s Winter Ghost Stories: A Québécois Tradition

You may have seen our reviews of Haunted Montreal’s Virtual Halloween Ghost Tour or their online Christmas Ghost Stories. Or you may have attended one of their in-person haunted walks, paranormal investigations or pub crawls.

Throughout January, February and March, the company will be hosting a virtual tour called Winter Ghost Stories: A Québécois Tradition via Zoom. This is a highly theatricalized, though historically accurate, telling of some of the real local winter ghost stories as well as some Quebec legends.

In January, there will be a show every Friday both in English and French, then in February and March, French shows will be on Fridays and English shows on Saturdays.

For more info on Winter Ghost Stories: A Québécois Tradition or to reserve your spot, please visit hauntedmontreal.com

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

Of all the industries hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the arts and tourism were among the hardest. For those that wanted to stay in the public eye, the name of the game has been “adapt or die”, and Haunted Montreal is no exception.

In the past they’ve conducted Ghost Walks and Haunted Pub Crawls led by an experienced actor and storyteller, who reveals the spookier aspects of Montreal history to crowds of eager attendees. Sadly, COVID restrictions and the COVIDiots driving up case numbers have put a temporary stop to in-person events, but thankfully Haunted Montreal didn’t give up, offering their latest virtual event, Christmas Ghost Stories: A Victorian Era Tradition during the holiday season and into January. I caught the December 27th show.

I should say right off the bat that I’m not going to go into too much detail re: the technical issues related to the event, simply because the host/actor/experienced storyteller hosting it was none other than FTB’s Editor-in-Chief, Jason C. McLean, MY editor. In short, there were technical issues re: shifting from the virtual slide show to the storytelling itself and his costume and delivery, but these will likely be ironed out for future events, and I’d prefer to start the New Year on my editor’s good side.

The stories themselves were great, a delightful and insightful look into not just Montreal’s haunted history, but the history of Quebec itself. I did not know prior to the event, for example, that telling ghost stories over the holidays is very much a Victorian tradition, nor did I know that there are so many spooky tales to be had around me. Even better was that the stories told were a delightful mix of French Canadian myth and legend, and tales with direct links to Montreal’s growth and development.

McLean started with a tale of a Repentigny man, a quintessential French Canadian ghost story blending aspects of rural Quebecois life with Catholic notions of sin and redemption.

The next was about a wealthy industrialist whose ghost allegedly haunts Mount Royal. Though the telling of this story could have been more succinct, the link between the story and actual monuments that can be visited drew many viewers in, with one asking where they could find it in the Q&A session that followed the event.

There was one tale that sounded more like a Darwin Award than a ghost story, but enjoyable nonetheless. McLean followed with another French Canadian tale, by far the scariest of all the ones told that night. Last but not least, he spoke of a building that continues to be haunted to this day despite thousands of annual visitors.

Though McLean could have left out a few “woo” sounds that nearly crossed the line from spooky into silly, the event was enjoyable over all.

If you enjoy quality storytelling with a little history thrown in, you need to check out more of Haunted Montreal’s virtual events. They are fun, fascinating, and different.

Christmas Ghost Stories: A Victorian Era Tradition runs in English and French with various storytellers until January 29. For tickets or more info, please visit hauntedmontreal.com

While our Shows This Week column, both for music and arts, is clearly on hiatus until we can, you know, go to shows again, we thought we’d highlight some of the Montreal and Montreal-friendly music, art, theatre, comedy, film etc. that you can partake in.

Let’s get started…

The image + nation Launches Canada’s First-Ever Queer Short Film Festival

image + nation, Canada’s first LGBTQ+ film festival just concluded its 33rd edition, albeit in a totally online form. While you can still see the films that won awards at the festival until December 12th, image+nation has something else to offer.

From December 9th until the 31st they are running the first-ever pan-Canadian Queer Short Film Festival. This new event is focusing on a few key areas including growing up and growing older as an LGBTQ person, films from countries and perspectives that see little representation in the queer cinema canon and outreach to Francophone communities outside of Quebec.

I+N Courts Queer Short Film Fest runs December 9-31. The full program is available in an online catalogue and you can watch the short films until the end of 2020

Wooden Drone’s Never Ending Loops

Montrealer Emmanuel Lauzon, aka electronic music producer Wooden Drone released his debut album this past November 14th. Titled Never Ending Loops, it is a 14-tracks of electronic ambient music meticulously produced over a decade.

That’s right, this is the product of ten years’ worth of work. During that time, Lauzon was also developing the video game We Happy Few as a senior 3D artist. Both projects were released simultaneously.

Wooden Drone will be releasing a single in the new year, but for now (in addition to the full album) we have this teaser video:

Never Ending Loops by Wooden Drone is available for download on Bandcamp

Igloofest Will Return and Has An Online Shop for a Good Cause

Igloofest, the annual outdoor-in-winter music fest has the distinction of being literally the coolest festival in Montreal, but also, due to its timing, one of the few big annual events that actually got to hold an in-person 2020 edition.

This year, with a COVID vaccine’s potential widespread distribution still months away, there won’t be an in-person Igloofest this winter. Organizers are working on a digital version in its place and promise surprises and video capsules starting in January and leading up to the 15th edition scheduled for 2022.

Right now, though, you can buy festival merch. Their online shop, the Iglooboutique, launched this past Thursday, offers items like the classic toque sold at the event each year, hockey jerseys and socks.

If you buy a pair of socks, another pair will be donated to people suffering from homelessness. This is due to Igloofest‘s partnership with Montreal-based Robin des Bas.

You can find updates on the online festival at igloofest.ca and shop at boutique.igloofest.ca

Featured Image from Mother Bunker (2020) playing at the I+N Queer Short Film Festival

If you’re involved in a project or know of one that you think should get coverage here, please let us know at arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net We’ll do our best, but no promises

In what has got to be their earliest partial lineup announcement ever, or at least in a while, Osheaga has given us the headliners for its 15th Edition. It will be Foo Fighters on Friday, Cardi B on Saturday and Post Malone on Sunday.

The event is scheduled to take place July 30, 31 and August 1 in Parc Jean-Drapeau, so it might still be a bit of time before we get the full lineup. Those are usually released in March, anyways.

This early announcement, while sparse, is quite welcome. After a summer devoid of in-person festivals and a spring and fall devoid of live in-person shows of any kind, it’s good to know that what is arguably Montreal’s largest music festival will be roaring back next year, and with some huge names, no less.

It’s also a reminder that while Montreal is pretty much locked down now, there are some things on the horizon like a vaccine, a return to semi-normal and, by the end of the summer, Osheaga.

Montreal is a city of ghosts. Usually when I tell people this, I’m bitterly referring to the fact that while I was living abroad for over a decade, most of my Montreal friends went and moved away  — or, even worse — grew up. After recently participating in the online version of the Haunted Montreal tour, I learned that Montreal is indeed a city of ghosts, but in the more literal sense.

Due to the latest round of COVID-19 red zone lockdown measures (Tabarnak!), the always-popular Haunted Montreal ghost tours have been, like much of our 2020 lives, relegated to purgatory of Zoom video-conferencing.

The tour started with Donovan King, founder of Haunted Montreal, standing in front of a green screen that at first cycled through campy Halloween backdrops.

As the presentation got rolling, King presented an introduction of Montreal’s early founding and colonial history, and why that has perhaps led to our humble island home being such a haunted place.

The bulk of the hour-long presentation involved King recounting four vignettes about Montreal’s haunted past, illustrated by historical images on the green screen behind him. The four tales were drawn from a mixture of the various in-person tours usually offered by Haunted Montreal: Haunted Downtown, Haunted Mountain, Haunted Griffintown, paranormal investigations of local haunted sites, and the always-popular Haunted Pub Crawl.

Being a history nerd, I appreciated learning about these macabre Montreal legends, most of which I had not heard before. These stories were in steady hands with Donovan King, who is a seasoned storyteller.

King’s background in both acting and history makes him the ideal vessel to disseminate these creepy snippets of Montreal lore. His delivery was part authoritative history professor and part P.T. Barnum, complete with makeshift sound effects and even a minor jump scare or two.

The tales included that of the ill-fated tale of Simon McTavish, and how his death led to sightings of cadavers tobogganing down the slopes of 1820’s Mount Royal. King went on to detail how much of Montreal’s shiny downtown was built on burial sites — both Native American and early European, as well as mass burial pits from Cholera outbreaks in the 1800s. A thumbnail sketch of Montreal’s cemeteries was also full of welcome factoids.

The climax of the presentation came with a recounting of the tragic story of Headless Mary Gallagher. The murdered prostitute is said to still haunt a certain intersection in Griffintown on the anniversary of her grisly death, every seven years.

The online Haunted Montreal Ghost tours will be running all winter long, with a special presentation being held on Halloween night at 7pm. Regularly updated stories about Montreal’s creepy past can also be found on the Haunted Montreal blog. I look forward to participating in tours led by some of the other talented Haunted Montreal presenters.

Oh…an odd thing happened just after the tour (Insert X-files theme whistle here). I closed my laptop and sat on a couch in the basement of a 100-year-old NDG house, listening to the radio and taking notes on the tour.

Suddenly, I heard static, and an old rock song from the 1960s replaced the newscast I had been listening to — the radio changed channels all on its own — which is something it has never done before. I experienced full-body goosebumps, turned off the radio, and ran upstairs like a terrified five-year-old.

So if you do take the tour…turn on your radio afterwards and see what happens. Warning: results may vary (insert Vincent Price’s Thriller laughter here)

Full disclosure: Jason C. McLean, Editor-in-Chief of Forget the Box, is a tour guide at Haunted Montreal. Matt Poll, this post’s author, is not.

The Haunted Montreal Virtual Ghost Tour is currently running in English and French. Visit hauntedmontreal.com for more

Featured Image: Haunted Montreal

If you are a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, then Just for Laughs had show for you! As part of the Just for Laughs 2020 free virtual festival, they presented Canada’s Drag Race panel, a Crave original, moderated by Sabrina Jalees.

In the wake of the finale of Canada’s Drag Race, the Canadian version of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the panel consisted of the four finalists, Rita Baga, Jimbo, Scarlett Bobo, and the winner, Priyanka. Also on the panel was Canada’s Drag Race judge, Stacey McKenzie, who was streaming from her home in Jamaica.

I love Canada’s Drag Race and I saw every single episode. It’s one of the many shows that has helped keep me sane through the stay at home recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, this panel did not disappoint, and I was riveted from start to finish.

The show was moderated by stand-up comedian, producer, and host Sabrina Jalees, who was a guest judge on Canada’s Drag Race. She was a competent moderator who clearly has a lot of affection for the queens.

The queens, for their part, did not disappoint. They appeared on screen in full drag.

Montreal’s Rita Baga was resplendent in a red wig, sharp nails, and a pleather outfit reminiscent of a vampy superhero. Jimbo wore a black wig and enormous fake boobs — which he routinely played with during the show — and had makeup more elegant and beautiful than I had ever seen on him during Canada’s Drag Race.

Scarlett Bobo was dressed in a lovely dress made up of black straps, with hair and makeup reminiscent of glam rockers like Debbie Harry and Courtney Love. Priyanka was in full glam makeup and hair, with a leopard print outfit.

While Baga and Jimbo were perfectly poised throughout the show, Priyanka and Scarlett Bobo’s excitement and enthusiasm were infectious.

The panel discussed everything from the popularity of Canada’s Drag Race, to individual challenges both on and off the show, to how everyone’s lives have changed since the show ended. There was some cattiness, mostly from Priyanka, who, despite winning the show, regularly interrupted people to scream and throw shade.

In spite of this, you can tell there is genuine affection between the queens and Stacey McKenzie, who shied away from being brutally honest about some of the queens’ poorer performances.

One of the highlights of the panel was Stacie McKenzie’s impression of the late fortune teller Ms. Cleo, an impression which Priyanka bombed during the show’s Snatch Game.

If the show had one flaw, it’s that there were moments where Jalees or McKenzie disappeared, and you could not tell if they were still in the panel participating. My guess is this was due to a tech issue.

If you’re a fan of Canada’s Drag Race, you would have loved this show. It had all the glitz, glam, lipstick, and witty repartee one would expect from a panel of drag queens. Here’s hoping Just for Laughs does this again.

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge effect on the arts. The Montreal Fringe Festival was postponed, the Jazz Festival was cancelled, and theatre productions everywhere have been put on hold. The name of the game seems to be “Adapt or Die,” and while Just for Laughs could not have in-person shows, they had something else to offer in its stead.

The 2020 Just for Laughs Festival was a scaled down digital event that took place from October 9 to 11, 2020. While there were fewer offerings, the shows streamed free of charge on the Just for Laughs website, and were available until midnight the day after the performances. Among the offerings was Conversations with Funny People featuring Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel.

For those of you unfamiliar with the pair, Amber Ruffin is a comedian and writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers. She also has a new eponymous show on NBC’s free streaming service, Peacock. Jenny Hagel is also a comedian and writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers, and she is the executive producer and head writer for The Amber Ruffin Show.

This show was not for everyone. If you were expecting straight-up comedy, you will have been disappointed. There were laughs, as the show was unscripted and the chemistry and shared past between Hagel and Ruffin was adorable.

However, if you’re not a fan of Hagel or Ruffin, the show was not for you. The talk focused the technicalities of performance, of writing, of comedy, and of the general creative process.

While I am a huge fan of both Jenny Hagel and Amber Ruffin and I did laugh myself silly on a few occasions, I generally felt the show in its format needed tweaking. I am interested in performance, writing, and the creative process and I love comedy, but I felt the show dragged a bit about two-thirds of the way in.

Perhaps this format of show works better in person, but watching in the comfort of my own home, I felt it would have been better had the show packed a bit more punch — a few more clips of past shows they could tease other about, or even an exchange of embarrassing stories just to keep up the enthusiasm when another show is just a click away.

Conversations with Funny People with Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel had a lot of potential, but I feel the format needs more fine tuning for a digital audience. It’s a decent start, but it could have been a lot better.

Standup comedy is an art form that particularly relies on live audience interaction. Comics frequently tour the world and perform in front of as many crowds as possible. That’s exactly what DeAnne Smith was doing until COVID-19 hit.

“I had just moved to LA in January,” Smith told me in a phone interview, “and spent the first few months travelling back and forth to Canada and around the US as per usual. Luckily I had already decided I wouldn’t go back to Australia this year in 2020 and that is part of my usual routine as well.

Everything halted for me in March and my whole touring calendar just got completely cleared out. I’ve been stationary in LA since March, which is truly the first time in about 14 years of doing comedy that I’ve been in the same place for so long. So it’s really different.”

After a few months of appearing in other comedians’ remote shows, Smith decided to try something new: hosting a monthly comedy shows on Zoom. It’s called DeAnne Smith and Acquaintances and you can access it through Smith’s Instagram or Twitter (which are also worth following in general).

“It’s at least a way to feel connected to people,” Smith said, “and to feel a little bit of a sense of community like it would have been if we were all in person.”

While still missing the large in-person group experience, Smith is able to re-create the live show feeling somewhat by performing to a visible audience that have the option of unmuting themselves and laughing and interacting for all to hear.

“In some ways it’s more intimate because I’m literally seeing people’s names on the screen and their faces and they’re all very well lit up,” Smith observed, “in a comedy room a lot of times you can see the first one or two rows and that’s it, but you don’t know people’s name or see their living room or their cat. I’m trying to focus on the ways in which online performances can be more intimate and more interesting than the live performances we’re all used to.”

At Just for Laughs this year, Smith will be part of a different type of live online performance with Hannah Gadsby. The pair will appear as part of the festival’s Conversations with Funny People series.

While they were initially offered a moderator, the two comics who have been friends for well over a decade (Gadsby even sublets her place in LA to Smith when she’s in Australia) opted for a different approach to the show.

Smith gave me the scoop:

“I had this goofy idea that I’m really surprised she went for. I have these little cards that I picked up at a sex shop once and they’re called Speed Dating Questions and they’re just like little get-to-know-you questions. We’ve been friends for so long and there’s still a lot of stuff we don’t know about each other, so we’re going to be reading these goofy speed-dating questions back and forth and answering them for each other.

I think it will be a really fun thing for us to do as friends and she has such a huge fanbase that I don’t think has probably seen her in this way before, so I think it will be really interesting for people.”

Smith lived in Montreal before moving to LA and hasn’t ruled out returning for more than a JFL visit:

“There is a chance I might come and live there. Everything is very uncertain at the moment, so I don’t really know where I’m going to land.

What I miss about Montreal is really hard to articulate. There’s a special quality to the city…Let me try and explain it through an anecdote:

When I lived in Montreal, I had these two friends who knew each other through me and they had known each other for at least five years. They had Thanksgiving dinners together. I mean they knew each other. About five years into them knowing each other, one of them flipped and said something about their career and the other one said ‘Oh, I never knew what you did!’

And I thought that is so special that in Montreal, it’s just not so career driven. It’s focused on everything else. These people who had known each other for five years never once started a conversation with ‘What do you do?'”

Conversations with Funny People Featuring Hannah Gadsby and DeAnne Smith streams live on Saturday, October 10th at 10pm for FREE and will be available through Video on Demand through October 11th at midnight