By: Max Mehran
With the Fringe kicking off, the international performers have landed in Montreal, and QDF met with one of them – Australian performer Telia Nevile – who is presenting her piece, Poet vs. Pageant at this year’s St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival. A great discussion naturally unfolded itself between the artist and myself as I got the chance to ask all the questions that came to my mind after seeing her performance at our Spring / Summer Calendar Launch.
Poet vs. Pageant is a 45 minute spoken word epic, depicting the journey of a socially awkward poet after she signs up for a beauty pageant contest. “It’s a hero/anti-hero’s journey,” Telia tells me, “and, as with most epics, there’s plenty of blood and death along the way.” The show includes all the traditional pageant segments – a swimsuit round, an evening gown round, and a talent round where she will be performing a cheerleading routine. “It’s designed to be a rip-roaring adventure that people can really sink their teeth into,” she continues.
I am instantly hooked and excited to learn more about Telia’s show and the character she has created. She admits that poetry makes Australians flinch a little bit, joking that “we’re more comfortable with football”. Telia, therefore, decided to build her character as an amalgamation of the most awkward poets she has seen at different open-mic nights. “The character is a love letter to the awkward in all of us.” For this particular piece, Telia wanted to challenge herself to try something different by writing an epic poem about an adventurous journey. “I wanted to put her somewhere uncomfortable” she tells me. The choice was between prison and a beauty pageant, so she chose the beauty pageant because it just sounded like more fun.
I am then curious about her inspiration for writing the piece and where she got her material from. “I watched a lot of beauty pageants on Youtube,” she answers, “which was both fascinating and horrifying.” We share a laugh as she continues telling me she watched a lot of videos on how to get ready for a pageant, question preparation, handy tips to keep the swimsuit from going up where they shouldn’t go… “It’s a really intense industry. It’s amazing and a little creepy, but each to their own,” she continues with a smile.
While this isn’t the first time she’s performed this piece, she’s very excited to be part of the Montreal Fringe. “The Canadian Fringe circuit is renowned in Australia,” she tells me, “it’s famous for being really fun and full of great audiences.” She is also very excited to be in Montreal as she’s always wanted to visit the city. “[Being part of the Fringe] seemed like a really great way to get to know the city on a deeper level,” she continues, “and I’ve heard you guys really like poetry and spoken word, so I’m excited.”
I ask her about being an international performer in a foreign city. “It can be a really good thing coming in cold but it’s also a little bit challenging,” Telia confesses. However, she highlights that it’s mostly fun because, so far she’s been welcomed with open arms by a great community. I can see how excited and pumped Telia is to get started and perform her work. She also wants to see as much of the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival as she can wrap her hands around.
Before finishing our conversation, I want to know if her piece has a message, and I couldn’t be happier with the answer she gives me. She honestly tells me the message of the piece is that “it’s okay to be an outsider; it’s okay to be awkward.” She adds that through her character’s journey, she wants to highlight how important it is to remain “open-minded because things aren’t always going to be what you expect.”
As we are wrapping up our interview, Telia expresses her hope that you’ll come along for this delightfully perilous adventure with her. She hopes to share her excitement for her show with Montreal’s word-nerds and lovers of poetry, language and the left of centre. She definitely shared it with me as our conversation confirmed my own excitement to see Telia’s Poet vs. Pageant. Thank you to Telia for taking the time to meet with me and share insights on her piece. Find out more here.