ATHABASCA — Ever heard a song about the adverse side effects of a candy diet? What about spooky stories on the horror that is almost dropping your laptop? Have you had a chance to check out the new Alberta music sensation Pickleback, or local singer Karly Bilsky?
For guests who attended the Girl Brain sketch comedy show at the Nancy Appleby Theatre Nov. 10, the answer to all four questions is yes. Those who didn’t make it to the show, put on by Theatre Athabasca, missed out on a really ‘big dill.’
The comedy trio, made up of Alyson Dicey, Ellie Heath, and Caley Suliak, calls Edmonton home, and has been performing across the province — and continent — for the last five years.
Dicey described Edmonton’s comedy scene as “really great, and really blossoming. We got our start when the Grindstone Theatre opened, our friend Byron Martin started that in 2018,” she said.
“We heard that this place was opening, and it was a great opportunity to try some new things. There’s been so many new sketch comedy troupes that have come out of the Grindstone,” she added.
Since then, the troupe of actors/comedians have travelled to Toronto to perform in the Toronto SketchFest, as well as the Central Florida SketchFest and Philly SketchFest in Philadelphia, Pa. One of the groups favourite collective memories, though, was performing in Edmonton with Baroness Von Sketch Show actress and Canadian comic Carolyn Taylor.
“I still can’t believe that it happened,” said Health. “She spent the afternoon workshopping our script a little, and then learning what bits she performed,” added Suliak. “She just came in like so, ‘yes, let’s do it,’ even though they were so silly,” Dicey chimed in.
The trio also cited several Edmonton-based acts who’ve inspired their point of view. “We’ve had an opportunity to work with Belinda Cornish, a super-duper talented writer and comedian in Edmonton,” said Heath.
“We approached her to be our director on a special show that we were doing at the Citadel … which was such a dream,” said Heath.
The ladies of Girl Brain also gave a nod to emerging artists in the city, much like themselves. “The comedy scene has taken off a lot in the last six years, said Heath. “It’s really exciting, there’s improv, there’s sketch comedy, there’s stand up.”
“The people in Edmonton are learning different types of comedy, and they’re learning that improv isn’t the be-all, end-all to all the funnies,” said Suliak.
Despite performing sketch comedy, all three performers said they wouldn’t describe themselves as comedians.
“We would get asked on the radio and they would introduce us as comedians, and we were like, ‘Uh, oh, okay, sure!’” said Heath. “We all come from a theatre background, working in sketch comedy, so we’re always thinking ‘what do we bring to the table that’s a little bit different.’”
“When we go to festivals, it’s very apparent that most sketch comedians come from an improv background,” said Dicey. “We’ve met maybe a handful of other troupes around the festival circuit who are like us, who are just actors who want to write their own stuff, and sketch comedy is such a great format for that.”
Over the last five years, the group has had their fair share of setbacks. “In 2019, 2020, we were really taking off in that direction of doing it full-time,” said Heath. “Then, obviously, things changed during the pandemic. People’s values have shifted, people’s desires have shifted, but we’re heading back in that direction.”
And the group has a few lofty goals for their art in the upcoming year. “The mics we were wearing, we rent. We want to buy our own mics, so that’s one of our goals,” said Heath. Dicey said the group is also working on starting up a TikTok account, with “bite-sized funnies” from previous shows.
Girl Brain performs at the Roxy Theatre in Edmonton, and their content can be found on their website. Information on Theatre Athabasca’s upcoming events can be found on their webpage and social media pages.