Toronto Fringe: Exorcising inner demons in the part self-help, part stand-up, all heart Personal Demon Hunter

Velvet Duke. Photo by Tyra Sweet.


The Velvet Duke faces off with our inner demons in Velvet Wells’ Personal Demon Hunter, running in the back room on the main floor at the Imperial Pub. Part self-help workshop, part stand-up and all heart, personal storytelling, improv and music combine to create a casual, open-minded space where audience members are gently invited to share their personal demons.

Motivational speaker Velvet Duke (Wells) welcomes us into the space, a workshop designed to address our inner demons–and also, as his puppet friends suggest, our angels. Diving into family history, lived experience and the ongoing inner voice we all possess, Duke shares his story, through anecdote and music—accompanied by Alan Val, Wells’ partner in the band OverDude, on electric guitar, doing some musical improving; and stage manager Alan Leightizer on laptop—and invites us to share ours.

Wells is a totally relatable and approachable presence, finding common ground as he shares personal stories that resonate; and ever so gently inviting consensual audience participation. His ultimate message: You are enough and you don’t need growth to be a person of value because you already are a person of value.

Father issues, self-doubt, unhealthy family dynamics, imposter syndrome, toxic workplaces—the space and its occupants are open-minded and open-hearted during the sharing. And saying it out loud, naming the demons, is a good step toward exorcising them. Angels and demons in our everyday lives—around us and within us—our outer and inner voices of positivity and negativity. Wells encourages us to push those negative influences and voices aside, and find and keep positive connections—whether it’s on stage behind a microphone or at our jobs, wherever.

Person Demon Hunter continues at the Imperial Pub for four more performances: July 11-13 at 8:00 and July 13 at 3:00; check the show page for advance tickets.

Wells and Leightizer are also cast members of The Dandies, who rock Star Trek-themed improv in Holodeck Follies.

Wacky, trippy good times with stand-up, sketch, music & improv in The Dandies’ Holodeck Follies

Out at the Comedy Bar cabaret space last night for a big fun night of Star Trek-themed comedy with The Dandies and their season 5 premiere of Holodeck Follies.

Set up in a variety show format, the evening’s festivities were hosted by stand-up comic Hisham Kelati, and featured guests Northwest Passage and Leslie Hudson. The Dandies are: Chris Casselman, Danielle Cole, Alan Leightizer, Zach Mealia, Jamillah Ross, Dale and Andie Wells, and Jason Zinger (musical director).

hisham-kelati-tngHost Hisham Kelati (aka Black Riker) kicked off the night with a set, interspersing bits throughout the evening. A Star Trek fanboy himself, bits included a hilarious encounter in a bathroom during a fan convention and anecdotes about his Eritrean mother, illustrating how she’s a Klingon mom at heart.

northwest-passageSketch comedy duo Northwest Passage (Kat Letwin and Simon McCamus) served up some darkly funny—and socially apt—storytelling with a series of sketches about a Grade 1 overachiever (Letwin) and how an art class critique from her teacher (McCamus) changes her life. The far-reaching and lasting consequences of that fateful day come on funny and poignant at the same time.

leslie-hudsonSinger/songwriter Leslie Hudson is also a serious Star Trek fangirl—and she proves it with a set of soulful, blues-infused original songs inspired by the various series (included on a CD). With driving beats and heartfelt ballads, she sings of doctors, captains and strong Klingon women.

For the main event, The Dandies—who set up their characters at the top of the evening—returned to the stage for some Star Trek-themed improv. Company member Alan Leightizer schooled us on audience participation for sound effects: entrances/exits through ship doors, transporter beams and warp speed engagement.

Set on the USS Hummingbird, the crew is getting used to some new arrivals: a disgraced, demoted former Captain of the USS Albatross and his Borg colleague Nine of Ten; and an ambitious young first officer. The Hummingbird’s Captain is a fierce and unforgiving Klingon woman with a love of vintage Earth clothing and reputation for ritually killing those who displease her. And the new Commander’s attempt at ingratiating himself gets super awkward when she expects his shipment of bell bottom pants to ring.

The newly, and dubiously, promoted Doctor has no patients to practice on, so the Captain assembles an away team. Beamed down to the surface, the gang finds themselves on a planet inhabited by talking monkeys. The Captain decides to fight their leader to the death for possession of the monkey inhabitants; binge-watching the Rocky movies in preparation of the battle.

It’s silly, it’s crazy—and it’s 90 minutes of good fun Star Trek parody.

Wacky, trippy good times with stand-up, sketch, music and improv in The Dandies’ Holodeck Follies.

Holodeck Follies was a one night only show, but look out for a return of The Dandies in February and keep an eye out for them at Toronto Comicon (March 17-19).


Star Trek according to Polly Esther in sassy, poignant, personal Dammit, Jim! I’m a Comedienne, Not a Doctor!

dammit jim

To boldly go where no Polly Esther has gone before…

During a one-night performance at the Social Capital Theatre last night, actor/playwright/comedienne Polly Esther took us along on a multi-media tour of her two-year voyage of exploration of the strange new world of the Star Trek series and movies in her one-woman show Dammit, Jim! I’m a Comedienne, Not a Doctor! Dammit, Jim! premiered in NYC at Solocom in November, 2015 with a 25-minute performance that has since been expanded for the Toronto premiere.

An autobiographical solo show, Polly describes meeting her sweetheart Chris, originally a Facebook friend, in person at Fan Expo Canada. Already a fan of the original Star Trek series, she was reluctant to take a look at any of the newer series and movies – although she admits to loving the J.J. Abrams prequel films – but Chris was gently persistent and eventually, Polly came to realize that she needed to know more about this world. And she goes for it big time, going all in as she hunkers down with Chris to rent the DVDs (from Queen Video), watching every series and every film in a two-year Star Trek marathon.

An enthusiastic, engaging and energetic storyteller, Esther charms and touches as she reveals her favourite characters (including Worf, Q, Lwaxana Troi, Morn and Tuvok) and moments, noting that – beyond the sometimes schlocky bits – Star Trek deals with some serious issues: war, racism, sex, gender, assault and alcoholism, among others. And her experience of the Star Trek world becomes even more heightened and solidified when she and Chris travel to the Las Vegas convention. While she’s having the time of her life meeting other fans, attending panel discussions and treating herself to oodles of merch, something happens. A recovering alcoholic who’s dealt with some other serious life-changing issues herself, she finds that the Star Trek universe, the convention and its fandom aren’t just about fun and insightful shenanigans in space, and the stuff of nerds. It’s about respect, acceptance and family. And she comes to realize that she has something in common with each of her favourite Star Trek characters – flawed, struggling and outspoken as they are.

In the end, what starts off as an innocent, fun-filled exploration of a beloved sci-fi series becomes an eye-opening personal discovery tour. With shouts to slide show master Chris MaGee.

The Star Trek universe according to Polly Esther in sassy fun, poignant and personal solo show Dammit, Jim! I’m a Comedienne, Not a Doctor!

This was a one night only performance at the Social Capital Theatre – but keep your eyes and ears peeled for Polly Esther in a galaxy near you.