Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Halifax’s theatre and comedy scenes come together for Punch Up

Matchstick Theatre and Hello City present Kat Sandler's tragicomedy Punch Up at the Bus Stop Theatre in Halifax on December 8-11 and December 15-18.

What happens when the most pathetic man ever kidnaps the funniest man alive to make the saddest girl in the world laugh?

There are a lot of really talented comedians and people making theatre and to bring those two communities together was a really exciting possibility with this show. – Peter Sarty

Such is the premise of Kat Sandler’s tragicomedy Punch Upwhich plays at the Bus Stop Theatre this December in a co-production between Matchstick Theatre and Hello City.

Punch Up is about using comedy and laughter as healing,” says Matchstick Theatre’s artistic director and show producer, Jake Planinc. “I think we hear that trope a lot, but really it’s a play about bringing people together through comedy and laughter as a form of love and togetherness.”

Hello City’s Peter Sarty, who makes his directorial debut with Punch Up, agrees. “It uses laughter to celebrate the good and the bad in life.”

In Punch Up, Duncan is trying to make Brenda laugh so that she will reconsider taking her own life. There is only one problem: Duncan is not funny. The solution? He kidnaps funnyman Pat to help him write the perfect stand-up routine. The play shows just how far we will go for a laugh, the hilarity found within despair and the profound healing power of comedy.

Alongside Sandler’s story, this production takes the comedy one step further with a series of opening stand-up acts from local comedians, including Travis Lindsay, Clare Belford, and Luba Magnus, furthering the two company’s goal of combining Halifax’s theatre and comedy scenes.

“In addition to bringing together these two companies, we were really excited about bridging the gap between the professional stand-up, comedy and theatre communities,” says Sarty. “There are a lot of really talented comedians and people making theatre and to bring those two communities together was a really exciting possibility with this show.”

Sarty says Punch Up will also provide local comedians with a space to perform for an audience that might not typically go and see a stand-up show. “To be able to bring stand-up and theatre audiences together was a really exciting possibility,” he says.

The reverse is true for theatre audiences who might not otherwise attend a comedy club.

“I think the more we can get people interested in each other’s works and cross-pollinate this way, the better it’s going to be for the whole performing arts community,” adds Planinc.

Punch Up is also a departure for Matchstick Theatre, which has leaned into producing dramatic works over the past several years.

“We were looking for an opportunity to do comedy, and to have these highly talented comedians from Hello City want to work with us was flattering and something we couldn’t turn down,” says Planinc. “Besides, Punch Up is a dark comedy that suits our company well because we’ve tended towards some dark dramas in the past, which bridges the gap very nicely for us.”

For Sarty, it was also an opportunity to celebrate the relationship between Matchstick and Hello City.

“We’re both companies that have gotten our starts at the Bus Stop Theatre, so directing this play felt like the perfect opportunity to celebrate each other’s strengths and come together to make something remarkable,” he says.

The production also includes several new and emerging theatre artists of colour as part of a designer mentorship program.

“At Matchstick, we’ve always prided ourselves on giving opportunities to emerging artists, and we saw this project as an opportunity to fill roles with new people and give opportunities to some emerging artists who maybe weren’t getting them before,” says Planinc.

For Hello City, it was an opportunity to stretch even further as they moved away from their usual long-form improvisation.

“I felt that if we’re going to do a play, then let’s push it to the max in meeting some new people and hopefully giving them some skills and knowledge to take on to their own projects,” says Sarty.

Punch Up is a nice counterpoint to holiday programming where audiences will leave the theatre fulfilled and full of joy, but not in the typical Christmas show kind of way. – Jake Planinc

And finally, while Punch Up may not be the typical show this time of year, Planinc calls it a “nice counterpoint to holiday programming where audiences will leave the theatre fulfilled and full of joy, but not in the typical Christmas show kind of way.”

“The holidays can be really joyful for some people and not for others, but this show takes both and brings it together with laughter,” says Sarty. “And truly, you’re going to see some of the funniest people in Halifax do one of the funniest plays that I’ve ever read.”

Matchstick Theatre and Hello City present Punch Up at the Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen St, Halifax) on December 8-11 and December 15-18. Visit tickethalifax.com for tickets and information.

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