“Challenging Canadian Audiences, Touring as a New Mom & Celebrating the Human Body Through Performance” In Conversation with Stephanie Morin-Robert and Ingrid Hansen on THE MERKIN SISTERS
Interview by Megan Robinson.
After being blown away by The Merkin Sisters at the 2018 Toronto Fringe, we had to chat with touring Fringe artists Stephanie Morin-Robert and Ingrid Hansen about this anything-but-average Fringe show that they are bringing across the country. A physical comedy that is a little bit Grey Gardens with a David Lynch twist, and just a dash of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, it’s an outrageous piece of theatre intended for anyone that is game.
The plot is vague, but ultimately it follows the relationship of two fallen socialites (also sisters), who are joining together to try to create the ultimate piece of art by using any means necessary. What began as a quick tongue in cheek reflection of how “we” may or may not take art too seriously, has now grown into a full 70-minute show.
This may be a new collaboration between performers and creators, Stephanie Morin-Robert and Ingrid Hansen, but they’re already planning for part two, with brainstorming sessions underway, and the assurance that with The Merkin Sisters, anything is possible.
We spoke with Hansen and Morin-Robert about collaborating on this project, challenging your audience, and celebrating the human body through performance.
Ingrid Hansen: We met touring our own projects on the Fringe circuit, and we admired each other and partied together a little bit. Then we decided to create an experiment together. We created a piece that ended up being the ten-minute intro to this show, which we first performed at a “Women in Comedy Night” in a bar in Montreal. And we received such a big response. People were blown away, they were saying, “I dont know what I just saw, but it was incredible!” So we knew we had done something tasty that we wanted to pursue together.
Stephanie Morin-Robert: I don’t think it was intentional, like, “let’s make the craziest thing ever,” it’s just what happened because our chemistry, both onstage and offstage, kind of resulted in that.
IH: And neither of us will censor each other.
SMR: We challenge each other in that way. We keep one-upping one another.
SMR: Because we are performers coming from very different backgrounds, it’s exciting being able to learn from each other. For me, puppetry was very new, and I’d never done that so it was great for me to take that on.
IH: The most amazing thing with the two of us is there’s just no fear. An idea gets proposed and it’s never rejected out of fear. I trust Steph. I trust her artistic sensibility, and I trust that if we’re on stage together and something is going way wrong that we’ll find our way through it together.
SMR: And it’ll probably be better than what we planned. I think we’re ready to just roll with the punches and go with whatever is offered to us. Whether it’s an audience member heckling, or somebody arriving late, or the lights cutting out too early, or whatever little mistakes happen during a run of a show. And sometimes even deciding, you know, “That was a fuck up, but let’s keep that! That worked better than what we had planned!”
WEIRD WORK, AND POLITE CANADIAN AUDIENCES
IH: I think if we took our work to other places in Europe it wouldn’t necessarily be so wild in comparison to the other shows. I don’t know, every show I’ve made and toured in Canada in the last ten years people have said is very weird. But I think Canadians are game to go there. Just be playful with them and you’ll be really surprised how far your audience will go with you.
And some people won’t, and that’s great. We have people walk out of our show sometimes – the odd person or two. I think it’s great that they feel empowered to walk out of the theatre for whatever reason. I think it’s a sign that you’re striving for something if you do elicit that response from some people. It’s not made for everybody. And if it was made for everybody, it would probably be kind of boring
I think people are on board for The Merkin Sisters especially because it’s super out there. This show is really challenging, but it’s also really fun and playful and absurd and surreal, so there’s the deliciousness of, “I dont know what I’m watching, but I love it.” And, “I can’t believe they went there, but oh they went there… and so much farther.”
TOURING AS A NEW MOM
SMR: It’s wild. I consider myself extremely lucky to have the support system I have because touring full-time is definitely a lot, especially as a new mom.
Last year I got pregnant in Orlando, so I was pregnant for our 4 and a half month tour last summer. I was performing multiple shows in multiple festivals so, any words of advice for that might be to go a little easy if you’re pregnant and a touring artist.
I was just so thankful to have a performance partner and a dear friend that was so supportive. Ingrid was really helpful after the pregnancy when things got a little rocky, and I was like, “Oh gosh, am I pushing my body too much?”
I feel thankful to be able to tour and artistically stimulate myself and still plan to make new shows. My partner is also a performer. It’s really cool to have the next two years booked and to be touring and doing theatre, and doing it as a family. And when I say “family” that expands beyond just him and I and the baby; it takes a whole community for sure.
JUMPING BACK IN (AND WEARING A BATHING SUIT)
SMR: During my pregnancy, I put on like 80-something pounds. To slowly have that come on while I was performing the show just made me feel so comfortable because I was continually doing a show where I was being comfortable in my body. We did a little BC tour, and I guess I was 7 1/2 or 8 months pregnant when we did that last show.
This is the first festival where I’m back on stage and doing the show in a bathing suit since having a baby. It’s quite helpful because a lot of stuff happens to your body when you have a baby, and I feel proud to rock that, to embrace it. When I dance I feel different; parts of my body are moving differently, so much is an adjustment, but it feels great.
The most challenging part is not necessarily my body image, and being up on stage in a bathing suit, it’s energy. It’s being up at night and still strictly breastfeeding. The time commitment and the lack of sleep are definitely what I consider the hardest things.
PEOPLE LEAVE THE THEATRE WITH AN EXTRA LITTLE SPARKLE
SMR: It’s an extremely empowering show to see as a woman because we are up there, celebrating our bodies, celebrating being weird, quirky, disgusting, and we’re embracing every moment of it. And that is contagious, the same way laughter is. We’re not there spoon-feeding it and talking about it directly, but we’re up there being empowered and embracing what it is we have and celebrating it with the audience.
IH: I think it’s really liberating for people in terms of how it really celebrates everything about the human body. That’s what’s at the heart of the show for me, personally.
The Merkin Sisters
Company – SNAFU dance theatre
Created and Performed by Ingrid Hansen & Stephanie Morin-Robert
A no-holds-barred physical comedy about a strangely hilarious sibling rivalry: two fallen socialites endeavour to create the Ultimate Piece of Art, using any means necessary. This vivacious romp will charm your pants off, leaving you stunned and hungry for their return. “Visually arresting & immaculately staged, with a tender heart under its hair-raising exterior.”- Winnipeg Free Press. Imagine Bette Midler meets David Lynch and Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
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