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Laughing at Fat

Encouraged by success at the Toronto Fringe festival last year, ex-realtor Lesley Carlberg is aiming to take her play How I Lost One Pound, The Musical to New York

It all started with the title.
Theatre producer Lesley Carlberg had a respectable run with her latest show at the Toronto Fringe Festival last summer. The revue-style show featured eight women wearing white tutus and chained to weigh scales. Most were on the plump side, by design.
“I was collaborating with another musician on another show and I just came up with How I Lost One Pound, The Musical and I thought, oh my god, that is hilarious. I am going to submit that to the Fringe, and I did, and I got in.”
Carlberg– also a playwright, comedian and songwriter – was accepted to the festival in December, 2011.langing
Starting from scratch – aside from that catchy title – the show dates were set for the following July. She immediately began writing lyrics and gathering up snippets of material she had written in the past. By February she was auditioning female actors while furiously writing 12 monologues, four songs and two ensemble scenes, then spent four months rehearsing. How I Lost One Pound, The Musical hit the Theatre Passe Muraille stage on July 5 for a seven-show run. Despite light attendance Carlberg was proud of the final product and encouraged to take it further.
“I have this amazing idea, this amazing show, and I want to see how far I can take it,” the 48-year-old related during a recent interview in the FYI offices. She’s now applying to the New York Fringe Festival in January with a revised script.
If writing for How I Lost One Pound, The Musical was done in focused haste – thus accounting in part for Carlberg’s decision that she needs to rework it into a four-person production with more character development and story line before it next hits the stage – the career arc of this witty, self-deprecating mother of three has been more meandering.
Carlberg realized she was funny performing in high school plays. She then studied dance and choreography at York University, screenwriting at George Brown and comedy at Second City and Humber College. Over the past two decades she participated in community theatre and a good number of other artistic ventures as she raised a family in Mississauga with her husband Fredrik. Projects she has created include a workshop for would-be comedians titled Funny 101, two previous children’s shows that ran at Fringekids and creativity workshops for the workplace. But seven years ago, she decided it was time to settle down and get serious. And so Carlberg embarked on a career as a realtor.
For five years, she did her best in that ambitious line of work, but her soul suffered.
“Real estate is really competitive, there are a million agents, but it is not my schtick,” she says. “I’d rather be pounding the pavement doing stuff that I love and not making any money instead of pounding the pavement doing something that I borderline like and not making any money.”
In 2009 she “put real estate on hold” while she collaborated her first show for adults, titled When I Grow Up: a Personal Narrative, at the Toronto Fringe. She quit real estate for good in 2011.
And now, she is completely energized – in her deadpan style – by musical comedy, specifically her show about the battle with fat.
How I Lost One Pound, The Musical, she says, is about losing weight – or “not losing weight” – and also about “self-acceptance and self-love.”
While Carlberg is by no means a large woman herself these days, she says, “I’ve lived it for the past 20-something years, because I’ve been in and out of having children, being pregnant, and not being where I wanted to be in terms of weight when I first got married when I was a kid in my 20s. I’ve tried Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Bernstein, all the diets.” She rejects representations of “20-year-olds that inundate us with youth, beauty and skinnyness that the media and society push us to strive for, to make money on us.”
While the show has that message, it’s mainly played for laughs, Carlberg says. One routine that is well received features a take on the bucket-list phenomenon with a phrase that rhymes with “bucket” but starts with the letter “f.”
langing2Perhaps the standout from the Toronto cast was Michelle Paré, who got good laughs with these lines: “You know, being skinny isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When I was skinny, I didn’t have any cleavage. But look at me now (looking at her bust). It’s back! Look down like this … men you shouldn’t be looking down. Women, look down like this. I don’t even have to do this (pushing her breasts together), it’s just there!
“Oh, by the way, they’re real and they’re spectacular!”
Carlberg did not appear in the Toronto cast but will performing in the New York show, as will Paré – assuming the play gets accepted. Carlberg says she loves being on stage, and recalls a pivotal moment in her life when she realized how much she loved making people laugh.
“My sister-in-law, a long time ago, I was the MC at her wedding, I think this was the impetus of it all, and I was funny and I did a good job, and I was loving it, and after the wedding, she said, Lesley, you should do standup, and I was, yeah! It was a little kick to me, her little comment to me, it gave me a lot of strength.”
And so Carlberg, having moved past the one misstep of her aborted real estate career, now confident in her abilities and certain she has a good product in her latest show, is hoping to follow the paths of such former Fringe successes as Da Kink in my Hair and The Drowsy Chaperone.
“Of course, I would love it. Now I have this base, and I think I really have something, now I gotta find a way to push it, explore all the avenues until the universe tells me, okay, Lesley, you are not going to make a heck of a lot of money from this, so you gotta move on.
“You don’t know unless you try.”
Website: toyboxproductions.ca.
Above: Joining Carlberg (centre) in the next production of How I Lost One Pound, The Musical will be Barbara Jensen, Janet d’Eon and Michelle Paré. Left: Carlberg says one of the things she learned in her playwriting classes is to write about things that bug you – thus her focus on the media and advertisers ‘hounding women (and men) to be thinner, blonder, tanner, younger, toner, sexier, prettier and smoother.’
(Fredrik Carlberg/
Boomerang Art & Design photos)

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