Fun with Calgary’s Dirty Laundry

By Tara DiBenedetto

Airing dirty laundry is something most of us try to avoid. But what if you had the chance to laugh at someone else’s for only seven dollars?

Dirty Laundry is Calgary’s only completely improvised live soap opera, and is often described as a fusion of a soap opera with the improv show Whose Line is it Anyway? Now in its fourth year, the group performs every Sunday night at Buckingham’s Pub. Past seasons spoofed dry cleaning, evangelical television and space travel. This year, Dirty Laundry gets “Un-scrubbed” in a gripping hospital drama.

“The theme was chosen because hospital dramas have lots of good stories in them,” explains Elinor Holt, producer of Dirty Laundry. “It doesn’t hurt being in Alberta’s economic climate, we’ve got lots of good stories and fodder just in terms of health care in Alberta. Anybody in Canada gets their back up with what’s happening to Medicare.”

The show is set in the for-profit Peter Laundry Hospital, which provides the cast with ample opportunities to highlight the consequences of privatization.

“The character of Fliberty Gibbet, played by Sherry Watling, is in the hospital for long-term care and is trying to figure out how she can afford to stay. One of her schemes was a Halloween party on her floor, at which she charged $300 a ticket. My character, Madge Badge, is a security guard trying to justify her job by looking out for crime. She’s worried she might be cut because, Lord knows they wouldn’t cut beds in a hospital!”

Despite its social commentary, Dirty Laundry fundamentally remains a fast-paced mix of comedy and improvisation.

“It is completely different from conventional theatre,” explains Holt. “You get a storyline and a plot that’s improvised. The actors just don’t know what will happen next. Also, you won’t hear people heckling at other theatres. The audience is encouraged to participate through audience directed scenes.

“The show is set up cabaret style, which allows people to sit with their pub grub and a pint of beer. The atmosphere of being in a pub makes it much more laid back and relaxed. It isn’t uncommon for a cast member to interact directly with the audience. That is why we say: ‘Heckle at your own risk!’”

Dirty Laundry encourages audience loyalty through its Save-o-Matic card, where after four shows–a soak, wash, rinse, and spin–the cardholder gets one free load. And like any good soap opera, the group ends each week with a cliffhanger so that audiences eagerly anticipate the next show.

With three seasons under its belt and the addition of award-winning standup comic Cory Mack as director, Dirty Laundry is poised for a great new season. Be warned however; watching other’s dirty laundry may become addicting. As the show proudly proclaims, “Sunday night is Laundry night”.

Dirty Laundry plays every Sunday night at Buckingham’s Pub.

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