Theatre duo Two Juliets first caught my attention at this year’s Hamilton Fringe Festival with their piece, “XOXO: The Relationship Show.” It was one of my favourite productions of the fest and I was happy to see it again when they brought it back to town in October at Yuk Yuk’s.
I chatted with the talented duo (Meghan Chalmers & Franny McCabe-Bennett) on a recent episode on 93.3 CFMU . It was such a fun time, I had to follow up with some more burning questions before they come back to town to perform the show this Thursday!
This performance is recommended for ages 16 and older.
Show info: We’ve all heard nice guys finish last, but what about nice girls? “XOXO: The Relationship Show” is a comedy cabaret exploring the highs and lows of dating in the modern world, from first kiss to first dis, break-ups to make-ups and everything in between. Two Juliets (Meghan Chalmers & Franny McCabe-Bennett) in association with Yuk Yuk’s proudly present this high-energy hybrid of sketch comedy, theatre and music featuring a new special guest at each show!
I Heart Hamilton: Can you give a quick recap of how you two met and formed Two Juliets?
Two Juliets: We met in the Theatre Performance program at Humber College, and worked together on a 15-minute partner performance based on the subject word “Merge.” We discovered we had a really great working relationship and found we shared similar senses of humour and were interested in similar topics and themes. After working together at school, we decided we wanted to work together in the future, and in the winter of 2012 formed Two Juliets.
You call “XOXO: The Relationship Show” a comedy cabaret – it’s part sketch comedy, theatre, music. I love the format; it’s so unique. What was the process like when putting it together? Do you improvise together or do you ever work on ideas on your own and bring it to the table?
TJ: We did both! It’s a really fun, creative process. For “XOXO: The Relationship Show,” we started by brainstorming all the different aspects of dating and relationships that we could try to tackle, like first dates, breaking up, generalized things like that. From there, we got more specific and started looking at actual things that have happened to us personally that we wanted to be in the show or thought an audience might be interested in, then wrote monologues about those topics. After writing on our own, we would have meetings where we would come together, read each other what we’d written and get the other person’s reaction and opinion. For ideas that we want in the show, but that may be too close to us or too uncomfortable to write about, we would give the idea to the other person and they would write what their interpretation of that subject is.
Once we had some material created that way, we also started using improvisation as a creation method and now a lot of our work is 100% co-written through pure improvisation. We have similar creative minds, and if we get on a topic that we really connect with, like dating and relationships, and come up with a fun idea, like the Shakespearean curse for example, it’s easy for us to bounce ideas off of each other and see what works best. Our writing sessions jump around a lot, similar to the structure of the show.
We work best when we let ourselves riff and improvise about something and then when we get tired of that idea, we move onto something else for a while, then if we get a new spark for that previous idea we will go back and work on it again. A good example of that is with some of the music in the show. Franny wanted to write something that sounded like an Irish folk song, so we started working on that idea, just throwing out melodies and possible lyrics, writing down the ones that made us laugh and while we were working on that, an idea for an American folk/country song came up, so we switched gears and started working on that song, and we’d bounce back and forth as the mood and ideas would strike us. We basically wrote those two songs (“Isle of Starbuck” and “Where Did You Go”) literally at the same time, put them away for a few days to settle then looked at them again as separate entities to fine tune them and figure out where they could go in the show.
We like to laugh A LOT and many of our writing meetings are also inspiration meetings to find more things that we think are funny that we want to draw inspiration from or write about. We have quite a few ideas for future shows, and when a funny idea comes up that doesn’t fit into “XOXO: The Relationship Show,” we file it away to be used for something else in the future.
When you created the initial half-hour version of “XOXO,” did you see the potential to develop it further into a longer show or did that idea come later?
Meghan: We knew when we started creating “XOXO” that we were going to want to expand the show. It’s such a relevant and fun topic that is modern and relatable, and virtually everyone has their own exciting, funny, crazy dating stories. Even between just the two of us, there were things we hadn’t had enough time to cover in the half-hour version that we were able to cover in the full version. We also were able to add a lot more music to the hour-long show which gave us freedom in how we wanted to present certain topics, deciding what would best work in song and what would work best through a monologue or scene. There are so many things to talk about, or sing about, when it comes to dating and relationships, and we are continually discovering new topics that we want to incorporate into the hour-long show.
Franny: To be honest, when we decided to write the shorter show, I had no idea where it would lead! Once we started performing it and got such great feedback from the audience, that they wanted more and it was a topic many people were connecting to, it was very obvious right away that it should be expanded and we were very happy to do so! As Meghan said, we had (and still have!) tons of stories and ideas to keep the show going.
I get more out of the show each time I see it, so it’s fun to see it more than once! With each time you perform “XOXO: The Relationship Show,” do you feel like you’re perfecting it more or do you learn more with each performance?
M: I think the show grows with each performance. Although “XOXO: The Relationship Show” is scripted, we have room for improvisation between ourselves and the audience, as well as room to improvise during scenes between the two of us. It depends on how we are feeling that show day as well. For instance, we could start whipping out one liners that we haven’t rehearsed, but seem to work and make people laugh that we will end up keeping. Sometimes this can work to our disadvantage, however, if the scene goes on for too long. We like having the script, but creating new ideas during performance keeps us on our toes, and is great for developing new material.
F: Yes, I totally agree. It’s always changing and it will always have that informal “we’re all in this together” vibe with the audience, but there are definitely moments and specific lines that we have really honed and each time we perform, I feel like we’re getting to know the show better and better and are continuing to figure out the best way to present the ideas that we want to share. As an actor, that freedom is so exciting because our goal is always to give our audience the best experience possible – we want everyone to have as much fun as we are having – and this lets us do that, by continually working the material. The fact that many of our audience members do come back multiple times (one of our fans has seen the show 8 times in 3 different cities!) shows that people do get something new each time they come and they like to see their favourite parts again and again.
The show isn’t just for women – anyone can get a lot out of it and relate to it. But I love the empowering and positive message for women, in particular. What do you hope to express with the art you create with Two Juliets?
M: Personally, I have been made, in previous relationships, to feel that I was too jealous, or not acting how I “should.” I hope that in a fun, feminist way our show can let everyone know that they don’t need to respond or react to things if they are uncomfortable, and that the feelings that they get in relationships are justified. Don’t let anyone tell you you shouldn’t feel a certain way.
F: I have always been a passionate and political person, I attribute a lot of that to a very progressive family and many of the people I met while I was at the University of Guelph. I always knew that if I was creating my own work, I would want it to both enlighten and entertain and that is my goal with Two Juliets. We happily identify ourselves as a feminist theatre company that writes comedy shows, and I am so happy to keep on that path. I want people to feel great about spending a night with us in the theatre, that they are empowered, supported and respected while they are laughing as hard as they can. If someone can go home and remember a line from the show during a nasty break up or remember our song about getting unsolicited naked pictures when they are shocked by an aggressive guy online and laugh a bit, then our work is done.
It’s such an incredible time for women in comedy right now. Who are some of your influences and inspirations?
TJ: We have been compared to so many amazingly talented comedic ladies, such as Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham. We are constantly inspired by all three of these women. We also love Mindy Kaling. One of our most prominent influences has also been Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld from CollegeHumor. We find them so hilarious, and are inspired by their comedic style.
It’s great to know you have this connection to Hamilton and that the city has been part of the “XOXO” journey. Did you know much about Hamilton’s theatre scene when you first took part in the Hamilton Fringe Festival in 2013? What was your impression of the theatre community here?
M: I didn’t know much about the theatre scene in Hamilton before we participated in the 2013 Hamilton Fringe Festival. I had heard about Hamilton’s theatre scene growing, and had also heard of a lot of fellow Toronto theatre performers I knew talking about performing in Hamilton. Once we were in the festival, it became such a community – going to The Baltimore House in the evening, making friends and finding out that people we’d met in Toronto were in the festival as well. The 2014 Hamilton Fringe Festival was that on a much bigger scale for us, because we were there for a longer stay. This year also there was comfort in knowing some people already, and having an idea of what to expect, as well as discovering many Humber and York friends that I’ve met at school that were participating in the festival, which was great.
F: I had been hearing rumblings about the Hamilton theatre scene for years and it was an exciting idea to get involved in a community that is growing and figuring out its identity. We had such a great time in 2013, we knew we wanted to come back for 2014 and were so worried when we ended up on the wait list! We got lucky and were able to join the festival when a few other shows had to leave for various reasons – we were more than happy to jump in! Our new relationship with Yuk Yuk’s is also very special and unique, we are essentially producing partners with them and it’s so lovely to feel that we have an artistic home in Hamilton.
You also have a great relationship with fellow performer Izad Etemadi. You both performed at Hamilton Fringe 2013 and 2014, and we saw his character Leila join you when you brought “XOXO: The Relationship Show” to Yuk Yuks Hamilton in October. You’ll join him for “A Very Leila Christmas” at The Staircase on December 19th [The show runs Dec. 17-19]. What makes you guys a good pairing?
TJ: Yes! We are so excited to be a part of “A Very Leila Christmas”! What makes us such a good pairing is that we like to make each other laugh. The three of us can sit in a room for hours improvising jokes that have us cry-laughing in a good way. At the opening Fringe Festival event this year, Izad came up to us at The Baltimore House – we had never met before – and suggested we cross-promote because he thought our shows had similar themes. We agreed, although we had no idea what we were getting into at the time, we just knew we loved the little snippet we saw earlier that night and had heard good things about Izad’s show the year before.
When we saw Leila, either the first or second performance at the Fringe, we were shocked at how complementary the shows actually were, and Izad felt the same way after he saw ours. We are so glad Izad followed his gut and took that risk talking to us that night! “Love with Leila” is an incredible show, and throughout the course of the festival the three of us became friends very quickly. We all get along very well and that chemistry shows up on stage, which is another reason why we’re a good match. It’s so lovely to find people you click with artistically and personally, we are happy to have Leila as an honourary third Juliet and as Leila says about us, we’re her best white friends! Plus December 19th is also Franny’s birthday, if you needed an extra reason to come check out the show that day.
Favourite place to eat in Hamilton:
TJ: The food trucks (Specifically the schnitzel truck)
Favourite breakfast food:
If you were a drink, what would you be?
M: Shirley Temple
F: Chocolate milk
Your go-to karaoke song:
M: Any Eminem song
F: “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” by Bonnie Tyler
If you could speak flawlessly with any other accent, what would it be?
F: Irish would be helpful for our show! But I would choose American South, Mississippi style.
F: Probably a swear word, but I’ve worked hard to cut that from our show! Real life is much trickier. Second favourite: chocolate.
Favourite concert/live performance you’ve seen:
M: Kristin Chenoweth performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
F: Hawksley Worman’s original staging of “The God That Comes” in SummerWorks 2012
What is on your playlist right now:
M: Taylor Swift’s 1989.
F: Basia Bulat – “Tall Tall Shadow”
If you could take a detour to anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?
M: New York City.
F: Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Favourite mode of transportation:
What’s one thing on your bucket list:
M: To travel around the world
F: Perform in every province and territory in Canada.
Thanks so much to Meghan and Franny for taking the time to speak with me! Looking forward to Thursday’s show at Yuk Yuk’s – don’t miss it!