Thursday, February 22, 2024

‘Expect a tornado’: Victoria-based improv duo shine spotlight on local queer artists


Two improv artists are breaking the mold of the artform by putting together a conceptual show which highlights queer artists of any discipline. 

COWBOY is a two-human, Victoria-based improv troupe comprised of Islay McKechnie and Ciaran Volke. Their newest show, Secret Saloon, was a complete success and a sell-out to boot at its debut in Calgary’s Stage It Festival.

“Secret Saloon is this show that is very free form,” McKechnie told Victoria Buzz. “Basically we invite a different local, queer artist each evening and we interview them onstage.”

“We ask them about their life, their experiences, their artistic practice. Then from the threads of that conversation, we fully improvise a musical on the spot,” they added.

Volke added that the pair are also their own musical accompaniment, although in shows past, they’ve had guest musicians perform alongside them.  

“We sing, we play piano and guitar and throughout the course of the evening create a story,” he chimed.

When asked to describe the show in one word, McKechnie responded “eclectic’” while Volke said “mysterious.”

The show has inspired a range of emotions in its viewers, including but not limited to crying and hysterical laughter.

“What should people expect to feel,” asked Volke. “A tornado.”

Volke and McKechnie were inspired to create the show because they had both experienced the improv structure of call-and-response from the audience to form a plot, but as queer artists themselves, they wanted to be able to form narratives that could help elevate other queer artists in a fun and exciting way. 

“We’ve tried asking audience members for a word or a location, but that wasn’t necessarily sparking what we wanted,” McKechnie told Victoria Buzz. 

“Both of us, we love having big, intimate conversations with people, especially other artists so we thought, what if we had a conversation [inspired by podcasts] with somebody and made a story from that.”

“That way we can give them the gift of having their story reflected back to them,” she added.

Although their conversations can get deep and they may talk about serious topics with their guest, the duo say that they are still easily able to inject a healthy dose of comedy into the musical that comes from their chat.

“Islay and I have been doing improv for years and at this point we can trust each other enough that any mistake that happens onstage is very much a gift for us — we can turn that moment into anything,” Volke explained.

The show went exceedingly well in Calgary, and now that the two improv artists are bringing the Secret Saloon home, they are excited to share it with the community. 

“This feels more like a rallying of the community I think in a way that feels different from Calgary,” McKechnie said. 

“It’s almost like we’re bringing back the stories that we got to tell and got to hear in Calgary, even though we aren’t doing that technically, it does kind of feel like we are in a way,” Volke added. 

“We’re connecting the queer community here at large and putting them up on the spotlight and honouring them through our musical.”

Starting next Friday, from June 16th to 18th, the duo is bringing their crowd-tested show to their home right here in Victoria. 

The queer artists to be involved in their hometown shows are: Dana Johnson, a visual artist and activist; Lee Ingram, a multi-disciplinary artist and dancer; and for their finale, they are bringing a crowd-favourite in the local drag scene, Peaches N Screams.

For the Victoria shows, Secret Saloon will be performed at the SKAM Satelite Studio located at 849 Fort Street and for the first time, Volke and McKechnie are utilizing a pay-what-you can ticket fee so that everyone can have a chance to see the show if they want to. 

Next up, after their three Victoria shows, McKechnie and Volke are taking the show to the Saskatoon Fringe Festival this August.

COWBOY Presents: Secret Saloon

  • Where: SKAM Sateluet Studio, 849 Fort Street
  • When: June 16th to 18th, at 7:30 p.m.
  • Tickets: Pay-what-you-can with a suggested price of $15, available online
Curtis Blandy

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