‘We get a lot of inspiration and happiness from wigs’ – the Travelling Sisters on character creation, feminism and memorable landmarks
Lucy Fox, Ell Sachs and Laura Trenerry, aka the Travelling Sisters, have hit the Melbourne International Comedy Festival! The three Gaulier-trained comedians are back with an hour of offbeat sketch, clowning and musical comedy in Toupe. The Sisters kindly caught up with Sam Jones to chat about character creation, feminism and memorable landmarks.
Many of your reviews focus on how well you all deal with technical glitches, wardrobe malfunctions and the like. What’s the most memorable disaster you’ve had happen while on stage?
We have so many costumes and wigs that whenever we do a new show, it’s usually a hot mess, and it’s very fun. For our current show, we’ve worked a lot of these hilarious moments into the show. The most memorable disaster was at Melbourne Fringe last year. Ell has a character who has these giant fake teeth and she sings a song trying to keep the teeth in her mouth. During our last show, we realised we hadn’t set the teeth backstage. We looked everywhere and the audience were losing it, we were turning the place upside down. We never found them, but we did find another pair of fake teeth that someone had in their bag…
Your characters are unique and you inhabit them so spectacularly, what’s your process for developing them? Do you work on them in isolation and then introduce them to the group? Are they based on real people you encounter?
We work on everything together in the rehearsal room, either with just the three of us or with our director Kimberley Twiner, or sometimes other outside eyes. We usually work from costumes and wigs that we have collected on our travels. We love to inhabit the costume and find who the character is from there. We get a lot of inspiration and happiness from wigs. We then improvise, a lot, either individually or all together. We don’t base our characters on people we’ve met – though some of them are inspired in some ways by real people, maybe their voice or mannerisms. Our characters are developed through play in rehearsal.
When you’re writing musical comedy how important do you feel the actual music is to the process? Do you feel that it has to be a certain level of catchy to work?
When it comes to our loop tracks, catchy and weird is the motto. We start with a beat then add little phrases and melodies on top of that. When we write with the guitar we usually start with melody and rhythm, then develop lyrics. Really we just create music that makes us groove and giggle.
If I booked a holiday to the town you all met in, what “landmark” would you most want to show off to me?
Dees Vintage Thai in Toowoomba, or ‘Dirty Dees’ as we like to call it. It’s a cheap and delicious thai restaurant where we spent a lot of time in our uni days. We could also take you to the Carnival of Flowers, or Kontraband which is a beautiful independent arts space.
Considering that your show has an overarching theme of body positivity, do you consider yourselves a feminist act?
The three of us are feminist to the core. The work we make is based in the celebration of stupidity and individuality so our feminist values surface through that work. We are proud to represent those values, but we don’t set out to make feminist work. We are three intelligent idiots, we identify as female and we love to be stupid.
Given how conditioned most of us (women) are to always be ‘pretty’, what drove you to embrace the grotesque and physical comedy?
We love to dress up. In everything. We love to blacken our teeth, we love to wear a sparkling dress like a Diva, we love to dress up as men, as middle aged women, as cacti, as potatoes. We like to dismantle the ideas that you have to be one thing, look a certain way or reserve parts of yourself.
You’ve performed in a lot of venues all over the world, which one has been the most memorable?
Probably Clockenflap Festival in Hong Kong. We basically went from performing in little shipping containers and hair salons to playing this one massive music festival in Hong Kong and we felt way out of our league. It was a lot of fun, and a total disaster, all in one.
Do you have any advice for current rural Queenslanders?
Be curious. Find what makes you tick, what fills you with excitement and what wakes you up in the morning. Then chase it, relentlessly.
If you were going to see a show at MICF that was radically different from your own, who would you see?
Spencer Jones, who is one of our favourite clowns, he’s come from the UK to do his show here. And Po Po Mo Co, who have vampire butt puppets. Two very different kinds of wonderful stupidity.
The Travelling Sisters are on at 7pm at the Melbourne Town Hall until 22 April as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets, show details and accessibility information can be found on the MICF website.