Mix of Humour Music and Theatre With Franny Wisp and Her Washboard

Another in the Gallery Concert Series this Saturday brings Franny Wisp and Her Washboard to the intimate venue in the gallery of Meaford Hall.  Her show, a blend of theatre and music, takes a satiric and often self-deprecating look at our life and times.

Franny Wisp opened for singer-songwriter Steve Poltz not long ago at The Bruce Street Social Club, something she considered a great privilege.  “I think he’s just a genius,” she says.  That along with regular appearances at Bruce Wine Bar’s weekly open stage has built a local following for her unique performance style.

Franny Wisp is the alter ego of Fran Bouwman, an accomplished sculptor whose work has been displayed in the Meaford Hall gallery.  It is eye-catching and clever with a touch of humour.  Franny Wisp draws on other aspects of her talents.  The character of Franny Wisp, who accompanies herself on the washboard, draws on her past history in theatre.  The fact that she worked primarily in puppetry explains a lot.  That form of performance allowed her to use her skills as a sculptor and this character she inhabits as Franny allows Fran the artist to pull the strings.  Having also played in a jazz trio, music is a natural element in this incarnation.  And humour, always as she says, “my best medicine”, is the spark that brings the stories to life.

This act evolved partly as a catharsis when she found herself being single in her forties after a long term relationship ended.  It wasn’t what she had expected and she was struck by the way society “pressures us into feeling that we have to stay forever young.”  Acting out her self-doubts within an invented persona, mixing in music and humour, she not only found a release for her creative energies but she also found that it struck a chord with audiences.  She had expected that it would appeal primarily to women like herself in similar situations but found it has a cross-generational appeal.  “I tackle a lot of subject matter that touches on that universal embarrassment that people feel,” she says.

And, speaking of subject matter, her routines can be pretty frank about sexuality.  “I don’t think what I do is obscene but I do push the envelope,” she says. “I have shocked people, but it’s not my intention. Comedy is different than music.  Comedians usually push the envelope.  It’s trying to lighten up serious issues.”  She admits “it may be a bit crass,” but she has no intention of toning it down for the Meaford Hall audience, noting “That would almost be disrespectful to Meaford to say Meaford can’t handle what Toronto can.”

The success of Franny Wisp and Her Washboard has taken her by surprise and she’s planning her future.  “When I first started I was just hamming it up but the response was so incredible it’s inspired me to try to take it further.”

There will be an opening act in the form of banjo picker Dave Loopstra and percussionist Bambalamb Kid.  “Bam has been one of my biggest supporters,” she says, “and I’m very grateful.”  His larger than life sense of joy is sure to enhance the evening and remove any semblance of discomfort that could arise from Franny’s subject matter. And Dave Loopstra is another performer she thinks very highly of.  “I first saw Dave play at the open mic, His humour and his wit is just unbelievable. He takes really simple things in life and makes them funny.”

The timing of this show is perfect, set in the bleakest part of winter.  It’s a good bet that the audience will come away with a renewed appreciation of life’s little absurdities.

Franny Wisp & Her Washboard, with special guests Dave Loopstra and Bambalamb Kid, Sat Feb 25, 8pm in the Meaford Hall Gallery.

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