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Spark Fest preview: Oh My Irma

Award-winning, one-woman play comes to belfry’s Spark Festiva. Described as a "comedy with razor teeth"
haley McGee is the awkward Mission Bird in Oh My Irma, playing at the Belfry Theatre's Spark Festival of new works until March 17.

What started as a five-minute piece for a playwrights’ cabaret at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille has turned into an award-winning, 60-minute, one-woman play.

Written and performed by Haley McGee (and directed by Alisa Palmer, artistic director of the National Theatre School), Oh My Irma was the winner of best production at the 2011 United Solo Theatre Festival, the crown jewel of solo performance festivals.

Now it’s on its way to the Belfry Theatre, and running until March 17 in the studio theatre, for the annual Spark Festival of new works.

Described as a “dark comedy with razor teeth,” Oh My Irma follows Mission Bird, an awkward young character in a dire situation.

“Comedy comes out of a need to laugh because of  some deep underlying pain, sorrow or loneliness. What I like about that is that it rings true to me and my obsession artistically with the polarity between hilarity and despair. They exist in the same moment.”

Oh My Irma “explores the really extreme things that one can do to eradicate their loneliness,” says McGee.

At the beginning of the play, Mission Bird stands before the audience, having just returned from the scene of a crime, covered head to toe in blood.

“It’s a storytelling piece in that it exists in this moment in front of the audience, and it moves forward and back in time,” says McGee. “In the end, she comes clean with the audience.”

The Mission Bird character finds its roots in a piece of writing McGee did based on a clothesline. “The character just popped into my head. And that character really dictated the story to me,” she says.

McGee describes the character as “someone who’s in their twenties, but hasn’t accepted the fact that she’s gone through puberty. She’s very intellectual, but very stunted.”

But McGee’s career has been far from stunted. After winning the playwrights’ cabaret, she was invited back to present a 15-minute version. “Then they asked me to write 30. They just kept on asking for more,” says McGee.

Passe Muraille artistic director Andy McKim encouraged the development of the play and accompanied McGee to Banff, where the 60-minute version was created. McGee then performed it at the Edmonton Fringe Festival before Oh My Irma made its official debut as part of Passe Muraille’s 2011 season.

Oh My Irma will tour to solo show festivals in Mongolia (March 23-28), Kosovo (April 17-22) and Germany this fall.

The Belfry’s Spark Festival of new plays and new ideas runs until March 24, featuring four  feature shows, free miniplays, workshops and new play readings. Get the full  schedule at M


Oh My Irma

Spark Festival

Wed. to Sat at 8pm

Sat. at 4pm, Sun. at 2pm in the studio

$20 at or 250-385-6815

No late admission