Shannon Lahaie graduated from Brock’s Theatre and Performing Arts program, a prelude to the current DART program, back in 2008 and has been pursuing her career in the performing arts ever since.
In 2014, Lahaie was nominated for a Best Actress award for a short horror film at the FilmQuest Festival in Utah, a festival which specifically celebrates Horror and Science Fiction films. The film itself, Insane, was also nominated for the “Best New Emerging Talent Award” as well before continuing to tour other film festivals.
In the course of building her acting resume, Lahaie has become a founding member of the sketch comedy group “Dame Judy Dench” in Toronto.
“It’s a full time passion, but it’s not the only thing I do,” said Lahaie. “I work a part time gig to pay the bills and I’m also an actress, so I perform and do auditions for myself outside of this. I pick up gigs when they come. That’s the thing with the acting life, you’ll be hot for a while and then you’ll have your dips. So you have to create your own work sometimes which is what’s great about this. Then I also have some writing projects as well. Definitely acting and performing are full time commitments. I’m always working to find more work, always looking for the next gig. It’s like contract work. Dame Judy Dench is within all of that. It’s one of the many things I’m doing.”
Dame Judy Dench specializes in the art of sketch comedy and their use of the unique mix of comedy and drama has served them well as they work to bring laughter to everyone they can.
“We do sketch comedy which is written, predetermined comedy like Saturday Night Live does,” said Lahaie. “It’s the same sort of idea but a lot of our work comes out of doing improv work together and riffing back and forth at the dinner table or making stuff up as we go. A lot of stuff we have we came up with on the spot and liked so we wrote them down. It’s sketches that we do, but they come out of improv and genuinely cool people.”
You may be wondering where you have heard the name Dame Judy Dench before. You’re likely familiar with it from films like the James Bond franchise, among others. According to Lahaie, they purposely named the group similarly to the acting matriarch.
“We just thought the name would be funny. How funny would it be if the announcer said ‘please welcome to the stage Dame Judy Dench’ then the five of us walked out. We changed the ‘i’ in Judi to a ‘y’ to avoid getting sued though. You would not believe the number of people who tweet at us saying ‘I loved you in Philomena’,” said Lahaie.
The group began in the Second City program in Toronto. Lahaie got involved in Second City after her time at Brock and joined the Conservatory program to work with other like-minded comedians and actors. This is where she met the other founding members of the group.
“It’s sort of all over the mix,” said Lahaie. “In the group we have people ranging from lawyers, to musicians and comedians to professional actors, but we all have a performative background and we all have our own creative brand.”
Since founding the group, they have expanded their lineup to a five piece act and have been developing notoriety in the GTA comedic community.
“We liked each other and began working on things together,” said Lahaie. “Initially we just thought that the others were funny and we would sign up for random one-offs and gigs as they came, but now things have just been clicking. It’s been nice and people have been liking what we’re doing. We’re building more and more momentum which is great.”
Lahaie explained that the secret to the group’s success may be their decision to do what they love instead of what other people want.
“What it comes down to is that whatever makes us laugh the most, we keep. We like to do sketches with a political theme to them to make a point but sometimes we also just think of something really funny to us.
That’s the spectrum we work in. From political statements to the ridiculously funny. I think that really sets us apart. Were less concerned with what the right thing to say is or what other people would like. It’s all about what we enjoy because then if no one else does at least we had a good time,” said Lahaie.
The Second City program is one of the biggest names in comedy and entertainment, which offers plenty of courses for up and coming comedians and acting veterans alike.
“It was a year where you meet a lot of other like-minded comedians and you work together on something so that at the end you have a show and have learned all the different skill sets you need to pursue something like this,” said Lahaie.
The group also recently discovered that they will be performing in their third Fringe festival in a row this summer.
For Lahaie, the group is as irreplaceable as any other part of her artistic life and she has hopes that the future of the group is bright.
“I have so much fun with [Dame Judy Dench] that I would like for it to just keep going forever,” said Lahaie. “We are looking into expanding into video content as well to gain an even further reach. Whatever it takes to keep us doing what we’re doing.”
Dame Judy Dench will be performing at the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival at the Comedy Bar in Toronto on March 9 at 10:00 p.m.. Details can be found at torontosketchfest.com