By Max Mehran
I am going to start this article on a personal note. I have been a fan of the works by House of Laureen since the first time I saw their production at Fringe. Since then, I have been following their productions on social media and going to see them live whenever I got the chance. This explains my excitement about House of Laureen’s new show presented at this year’s St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival and the excitement of having the chance to talk to Ryan Sauvé, the man behind Uma Gahd, and Mathieu Flageole, the manager and director of the company. Here is all you want and need to know about House of Laureen’s Are You There Margaret? It’s Me, Gahd.
Are You There Margaret? It’s Me, Gahd is Uma Gahd’s first one-woman show, which combines cabaret-style performance intertwined with stand-up comedy, which is a first for Ryan, and Uma. “We decided to do [the Fringe festival] this way,” Ryan explains, “because a couple of the members of House of Laureen were trying different things at the festival this year, and I felt House of Laureen should be represented at the Fringe.” Ryan explains that after participating in the Fringe for the last two years, the audience responded excitedly to the productions and House of Laureen felt it was important to maintain their presence, so they would produce a show this year as well, which birthed Uma’s one-woman show.
The show discusses, as per usual with House of Laureen’s productions, political themes. In the past, the company discussed on stage themes such as gender identity, Canadian identity, social politics, drag, and sex very openly. This year, as Ryan highlights, the company decided to put a focus on feminism, age, family, and show business. The goal with House of Laureen is for their audience to have fun and to be entertained while transmitting an important message in their show that incites reflection for their audience.
I now turn to Mathieu, the manager of the company and also director of Are You There Margaret? It’s Me, Gahd. He tells me how much he appreciates the openness of the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival to all kinds of walks of life. “Drag is the art form of the queer community,” he tells me, “I think it’s really important to take part in such a festival; be there, and be a voice.” He strongly believes it is important to have access to a platform such as the Fringe festival to share their art while preserving their mission of providing entertaining shows with a strong message. “We can approach heavy subjects,” he adds, “and have it light and fun so that people can be interested in them.” They aim to make important issues seem accessible and less scary. To make small talk or big issues.
Ryan adds to this idea of the openness of the Fringe festival to their art form by saying that “since the majority of House of Laureen is Anglophone and since we are considered weirdo ‘out –of-village’ queens, we don’t necessarily have the same venue to express the kind of drag that we want to.” While House of Laureen performs their monthly show at Café Cléopatre, as well as other bookings all over the city, venues are still limited for the company to produce meaningful shows and to have their activism heard. Fringe has offered them a venue and platform to perform, for which they are extremely grateful. “[The Fringe team] basically opened up to us and said ‘you can say what you need to, say it however you want to say it, and we are happy to help you put people in those seats to hear it,’” Ryan tells me.
Mathieu adds to this comment that the audience at the Fringe is not your typical theatre audience either. Indeed, an audience at the Fringe is willing to see things outside of their comfort zone most of the time, and when House of Laureen brings political and personal issues to the forefront, this type of audience responds very well to their art form. “They want to listen to us and explore what we have to present,” Mathieu adds. He shares that after their first show, the audience members showed interest about the individual members of House of Laureen, which brought their second show to life. And this year, Ryan and Mathieu created Are You There Margaret? It’s Me, Gahd. again by consulting their fans after some of their monthly shows and finding out what they love about Uma Gahd as a character.
“Uma as a character has been very important to me” Ryan confesses, “Uma is not a man in a dress because Uma doesn’t know that she is a drag queen.” He explains that people became very interested in this aspect of Uma, which motivated Ryan to put her story out there and let people know who she is. “While a lot of the stories are about me, Uma has her own point of view on them and I thought it was really fun to explore and find out what people are interested in,” he continues.
“What was really different this time,” Mathieu adds, “is the creative process. We usually create a piece between five to seven people but this year, it is just the two of us working together.” Mathieu and Ryan, who have been in a relationship for nearly 15 years, found it different but just as organic working as a pair as in a group. While this isn’t their first creative project together, their intimate relationship fosters a great working relationship as Mathieu “can understand what Ryan wants to do – what he’s trying to get across – better than anybody else.” Mathieu knows being able to get inside Ryan’s head works to their advantage. “He pushes me forward a lot and is very supportive, which comes up in the show,” Ryan adds.
Their intimate working relationship allowed Ryan to write with ease as he knows he can rely on his director and partner to support him, and still be consistently honest, which allowed for a very personal show, but, to my surprise, less vulnerable than the previous ones. I asked Ryan to emphasize on this and he explains that “the parts that were vulnerable [in the last shows] were the parts that came from, or were about, Ryan” such as personal struggles he went through in his past. “With this show,” he continues, “I feel a lot less vulnerable in the sense that I am not exposing myself as Ryan, I am exposing Uma.” The show is set in the actual venue’s restaurant, wherein Uma is stood-up by a long-lost best friend, Margaret. While she waits, the audience is treated to an impromptu tell-all show about Uma’s life and show-business career. She talks about her son, her failed marriage, and how society treats women. Mathieu also tells me that this is Uma’s first try at stand-up comedy. “Every year,” he continues, “we challenge ourselves with something completely new,” and applauds Ryan for taking such a risk at doing something new and on his own, showing once more how their intimate and supportive relationship work to their advantage.
Mathieu and Ryan are extremely excited to start to perform the piece. “I am excited to do something on my own, something I’ve never done before,” Ryan tells us. They are also excited to see how their fans respond to the works of the individual members of House of Laureen. This year, two other members are working on different projects. Dot Dot Dot will be part of Glam Glam’s Peter Pansexual and Connie Lingua, as Antonio Bavaro, will be performing in Nonna’s Story produced by vi.Va?VOOM! productions.
You can see Uma Gahd around the fringe this year as she will be participating at the Drag Races, the 13th hour, and will be hanging out at the Fringe Park!
As we wrap the interview, I can see the excitement in Mathieu and Ryan’s eyes. As I leave, they are still talking about the upcoming show and all the details that need sorting out. They insist that the hard work is definitely going to pay off, for everyone!
Are You There Margaret? It’s Me, Gahd opens June 2nd and runs until the 17th at Pompette (4128 St-Laurent). Make sure to catch this incredible one-woman show that promises to be fun, entertaining, and enlightening. Find out more here!