As Beyoncé repeatedly points out, it is, in fact, girls who run the world. Two of those girls are doing their part by taking over the Toronto comedy scene with their hilarious act, The Templeton Philharmonic. I caught up with the award winning Briana Templeton and Gwynne Phillips at the Campbell House Museum, where they are performing their latest creation, a murder mystery called Sockdolager.
Nicky: When did The Templeton Philharmonic start?
Briana: We both went to [the University of Toronto], in the drama program, so we were in a lot of shows together. Then in 2011 at the Montreal Fringe Festival we decided to put together a show. We had no idea what we wanted to do. As we were writing and throwing around different ideas, it came to fruition that we came to write a sketch show.
Nicky: So you two have only been a duo for a year.
N: And where do your ideas come from?
Gwynne: We begin with characters. We’ll sort of have an idea for a character, ask each other “Hey, what do you think of this voice, or this walk…” Sometimes we’ll take out an iPhone and record an improvised scene and then we’ll listen to it, edit it and tweak it however we want. From there we start to develop a scene. We’ve been doing that for the last little while.
N: You’ve got a number of character and sketches that you do at this point. How often are you adding new material, and playing with the running order of the show?
G: Right now we’ve been busy doing this show [Sockdolager] so we’ve held off writing for the last little while.
B: We try to write one or two new sketches a month. We’re pretty hard on ourselves. We’re shy and picky about performing new material in front of audiences.
N: So those new sketches don’t necessarily make it into the show right away?
B: No, but one thing that we try to change up is our transitions. Because we’re not particularly good dancers or trained dancers whatsoever, but we like to incorporate interpretive dance moves into our transitions.
G: We’re not exactly graceful…
B: There’s a little bit of dance in Sockdolager as well.
G: In all the shows we do we like to incorporate fun kinds of transitions and music. So we knew we wanted to do some sort of movement no matter what.
N: Congratulations on being awarded Best Comedy Duo at the L.A. Comedy Festival! How did you end up playing there in the first place?
B: We had so much fun at Montreal Fringe and the Toronto Sketch Festival, so we were looking for more festivals to apply to. That was one of the bunch.
G: We applied months and months ago, and we didn’t find out that we got in until about one month before the festival. So we immediately created an Indiegogo account, and we got a lot of support from our friends and family.
B: We were unbelievably bowled over by people’s generosity. Because of them we got to make our American debut as performers, and it was very cool to get to do it literally in Hollywood. And there was a really strong showing of Toronto talent there, with Falcon Powder, Ladystache…
G: Best Stand Up went to Matt O’Brien. Best Of The Fest: Live Performance went to Falcon Powder, Best Comedy Duo went to us. We were just like, “Wow!”
N: Did they recognize that down there? That Canadians were winning all the awards?
G: People were saying that Toronto’s really been amazing for sketch and comedy in general. There were quite a few troupes representing Toronto. More so than other places.
B: More than even other American cities, other than New York and L.A.
N: So Toronto’s really making a name for itself in the comedy world. And you guys are blowing up in Toronto!
Both: We are?!
N: You’re opening for everybody. You’re headlining your own shows…
G: It’s pretty great, we’ve been pretty lucky lately.
B: It’s always really flattering to be asked to open for all these comedians that we love.
G: And the fact that it’s all our own material, too. I’d say that sketch is very rewarding in that way. We write our own stuff, it’s all our own ideas. People seem to be really liking it.
B: It’s great how you can take the weird, surreal crap that’s in your brain, you can throw it on stage to make it a reality and people can somehow relate to it. It’s a really great feeling.
G: Some of our stuff’s a little dark and weird.
B: But a lot of it isn’t intentionally so.
G: Yeah, people will say, “That’s so dark,” and we’ll be like “Really? It is?”
N: Where did the idea for Sockdolager come from? Is it based on characters that you’d previously performed?
B: Actually, it’s more based on the museum itself.
G: We knew we wanted to do a historical show as a site-specific piece. We have a fascination with the 1920s, so we started working from that. We developed all the characters over the course of a few months. We started writing completely collaboratively. We split up scenes and wrote them…
B: …with a Google document that we both had open. Luckily we get along so well that we didn’t just delete what the other was writing as they were writing it.
G: In a lot of duos one person writes and the other person contributes in other ways. With us, all of our ideas are collaborative. We go back and forth.
B: We both write, we both choreograph, and for this show it’s very similar.
G: There are some sketch elements in the show. There are also some straight up dramatic scenes, and there’s some full on comedy.
B: There’s some improvisation, too. Because the audience follows the cast through the house, the cast is able to play with the audience as much as they want.
N: So, if I have my information correctly, you’re splitting the audience into three groups, and each group will follow a different character? How is that all going to work out?
B: Yes, we have three different guide characters, so people will see the play in a different order…
G: …Depending on who they’re following.
B: So since there’s going to be a lot of improvisation by all the actors at each performance, we’re really encouraging the audience to see the show more than once.
G: Because your ticket is valid for multiple viewing, provided there is space available.
B: We hope that each audience member will walk away with a very different experience.
N: You’ve both performed in other areas of comedy as well, right?
B: We have, but mostly we come from a theatre background.
G: We’ve been wanting to do comedy shows for a long time, we just hadn’t actually done it. We didn’t even know we wanted to do sketch, specifically. The show we had planned before we came up with the sketch show, was this insane…
B: …It was going to be this really abstract, quote-unquote, “deep show” about dreams. It was interesting in that when we were doing research for the show, we found out that we both had the same recurring dream.
Basically in the dream, you’ll be going about your daily activities and then all of a sudden somebody will ask you, “Oh, how is your baby doing?” And you’ll be like, “What?! I don’t have a baby!” And then throughout the course of the dream, you start to realize that you had a baby that you’ve been neglecting this whole time.
N: You’ve both been having this dream and you just found out about it?
G: Yes, although it’s stopped lately.
B: Although, it’s interesting because after reading some highly scientific dreaming journals…
B: …it is often a dream that occurs when you’re neglecting a project. Specifically an artistic project.
G: We have not been neglecting an artistic project! We’ve been neglecting our lives.
N: Can I talk to Mani and Pedi? They’re two of my favourite characters of yours.
G: Sure! [Both immediately morph into character]
N: Mani, can you tell me something about Pedi that nobody knows?
Mani (B): Well! You know, although her name would suggest it, her feet need some work. I’ve gotta tell ya! Her toenails are all coral! It’s so 2009. She needs to get with it. This season is all about opal! If she wants to get a man, she’ll do some online shopping for some new sandals for her feetsies.
Pedi (G): Mmm?
N: What is something that you’ve always wanted to say to Mani that you’ve never had the guts to say before?
M (B): I’m right here! God! He’s trying to tear us apart!
P (G): Well, I mean… When she has those fake phone calls when I’m over, just so that she doesn’t have to talk to me. [To Mani] I know they’re fake! I know they’re fake. And it’s really not the nicest thing to do, because you claim to be my best friend. I know you’d rather be hanging out with the pool boy. But let’s be real. He won’t want you.
M (B): Well, he won’t want you, either, once he sees your feet. You can’t wear cowboy boots all the time.
P (G): Well, I know your husband is sleeping with a Mexican prostitute.
M (B): She’s actually Guatemalan, so that just goes to show that your sources are false!
P (G): Alright, fine…
N: Thank you, ladies! Back to your real personas now. What’s coming up for The Templeton Philharmonic after Sockdolager?
G: Obviously we’d like our own TV show.
B: [Laughs] We are looking into making more shorts to share more of our stuff online. So much of our blood sweat and tears have gone into this show.
In July we’re going to take a break and go camping. Although we’re still going camping together, so hopefully we don’t get totally over each other by the end of it.
G: But then when we came up with the idea to do anything together we were at a cottage, so maybe while we’re camping we’ll come up with some new wacky new idea for 2013.
Sockdolager runs at the Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen St. W., now through June 29. Call (416) 597-0227 ext. 2 for tickets. $17 in advance. $20 at the door (subject to availability)