Getting fly in western Canada with FlyGirl productions

BY HEATHER CASSELL
GirlsThatRoam

Life has been a party for Leigh Cousins and Mandy Randhawa promoters of award-winning FlyGirl Productions, a queer women’s party company based in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

FlyGirl Productions’ monthly parties and all-girl festivities during Vancouver Pride have been a sellout affair for thirteen years, they say.

Next weekend, the girls are taking their party on the road to Calgary, Alberta, where they are throwing their first Hershe Day Club post-Calgary Pride party.

“It’s kind of exciting to go to a place that is at the forefront of change,” says Leigh, about hosting their first post-Pride party in the formerly conservative province, Alberta.

Only a short few years ago many Pride Parade marchers donned masks during their celebrations in fear of being “noticed,” says Leigh. What’s changed is the population has swelled upward of just more than 1 million people, according to a 2011 census, and “new blood in the political system” has turned the conservative government’s tide.

For years, Vancouver girls who relocated to Calgary along with Calgary’s girls who attended FlyGirl Production’s Vancouver Pride parties have begged Leigh and Mandy to bring the party to them. Finally, the two women couldn’t resist the enticement anymore.

The party is the first for Leigh and Mandy in Calgary. They’ve thrown wildly successful monthly parities, Hershe Bar, in Vancouver for more than a decade, most notably during Vancouver Pride Weekend.

This new Hershe Day Club at West Restaurant and Bar (225 7th Avenue SW, 403-237-5556, WestRestaurantandBar.com), Calgary’s newest gay club, is steps away from the Pride celebration and features a rooftop patio overlooking Calgary as the girls dance the day away with DJs Riki Rocket and Jenna J.

The party gets started at 1 p.m. – 8 p.m., Sept. 1. Tickets are $36.75 Canadian and $35 US dollars advanced, not including the processing fee.

How to Get Fly

Really, it was a lark how these girls got into the lesbian party scene. Thirteen years ago they were hosting fundraisers for their softball team and throwing their own birthday parties that seriously got out of control. It got them thinking that they had a talent throwing parties and being a promoter could be a business.

“People loved it so much that there must be a business in this,” says Leigh, who quit her job as a retail manager at local stores nearly two years after launching FlyGirl Productions to focus on producing parties for women full-time.

The two women, who have been together in business and love for 15 years, throw mostly circuit parties and some live band events for queer women in Vancouver called Hershe Bar. The parties are usually on the Sunday of Canada’s monthly Legendary Long Weekends, but occasionally the festivities will happen on a Thursday when the holiday lands on a Friday.

Girls get down at Hershe Bar closing out Vancouver Pride Weekend 2012. (Photo: Courtesy of FlyGirl Productions)

The next Hershe Bar is set to get down Sept. 1, 10 p.m. – 2 a.m. at the Red Room Ultra Bar (398 Richards Street, 604-687-5007, RedRoomonRichards.com) in Vancouver (the same day the launch Hershe Day Club in Calgary). Tickets are $15.75 Canadian / $15 US dollars advanced, not including the processing fee.

Hershe Bar attracts an estimated 700 women out dancing and partying in Vancouver.

“It always showcases female DJs or with a combination of live artists,” says Mandy.

During Vancouver Pride the girls are known for their popular cruise dance party along with other parties they produce throughout the weekend for women.

“The boat cruise is really, really spectacular it goes up to a very beautiful spot up to Vancouver called Indian Arm which is sort of a fiord or inlet and you get to see the beauty of Vancouver,” says Leigh.

They have been known to entertain an estimated 3,000 women throughout the weekend, they say.

The girls hosted another stellar all-girl weekend during Vancouver Pride this year at the beginning of August. They closed out the weekend with Hunter Valentine who was the headliner of one of their after-Pride parties Aug. 4 with opening act emcee Re’Styla from the U.K. along with their other parties during Pride weekend where they had a killer lineup of local and international female DJs. pumpin’ up the music on the dance floor.

Seven years after Leigh began working full-time on FlyGirl Productions, Mandy joined her full-time too after the Doctors Without Boarders office where she worked closed up shop due to the economic downturn.

“I recruited her,” laughs Leigh, who tied the knot with Mandy three years ago this September.

Joking, she says, “I thought, hmmm, she has a lot of experience and skills. I think that we will scoop her up.”

The two women run the whole show with the help a three to four regular part-time staff and on-call talent. They won’t disclose their ages or annual revenue, but age is just a number and the business is clearly enough to sustain them and expand.

When the they aren’t planning the next big party, the two women are escaping into Vancouver’s natural surroundings, often going on hikes, taking a walk on the beach and kicking it at home eating good food, generally, taking time off to enjoy their each other.

Taking Flight

It was about being in the right place at the right time. Back in bad old 2000 there weren’t any clubs or parties for queer women in Vancouver, they both say.

It wasn’t easy in the beginning. In spite of the Girls Gone Wild phenomenon, for the most part queer girls have had a tough time shaking off the age old stigma that they just don’t go out as often or spend as much money as the boys, gay or straight, do.

Leigh recalls having to kick down doors and bust through a few glass ceilings when FlyGirl Productions first launched. The club owners weren’t gentlemen, they preferred to stay dark for a night rather than open up their doors to the ladies for an afternoon or an evening.

“Like everybody else in the beginning, we are a pioneer in the fact that I had to kick some doors in the beginning to get people to notice that we could fill their nightclub,” says Leigh, about the many bar and nightclub owners who hadn’t gotten the message that in the past two decades, women have come into their own and are looking for a good time.

It’s hard to think that a little more than a decade or two is considered pioneering, but queer and straight women didn’t start really showing themselves as the hot sexy women ready for a night out on the town they are until a little more than two decades ago.

More than a decade later, FlyGirl Productions has show just how fly their audience is with a little feminine persuasion and sassy business sense. Today, the doors open wide for them.

FlyGirl Productions promoters Leigh Cousins, back, and Mandy Randhawa, front. (Photo: Courtesy of FlyGirl Productions)

“We have a good rapport and people in Vancouver the nightclub owners or the event space owners know us and know our brand, love our brand, love our customers,” says Leigh, whose trained bar and security staff over the years about how to allow the girls to have a good time, while keeping them safe. “It’s always generally a win-win situation for all concerned.”

The biggest reward for being the life of the party is, “Our customer loves us. They are very loyal. They understand that we are always working in their best interest,” says Leigh.

She’s also quite proud of the fact that in a business where promoters rarely make it to a decade, they are still going strong and growing 13 years later.

Mandy adds that they also choose quality and talent over quantity to entertain their guests. Unlike in the Australia, U.K. and the U.S., Canadian queer women don’t lust after the celesbians. Therefore celebrity doesn’t work for them at their events. What works are local queer women rock stars, hot female DJs and simply giving the girls an excuse to get out and meet other girls like them.

“It’s also consistently producing a product that the customer enjoys,” adds Mandy.

“The intention is to have a joyful uplifting event,” says Leigh, who is a Vancouver native. “We just want to wow them a little bit every year,” about keeping the parties alive and fresh “so it doesn’t feel like same old, same old” and to have the girls walking out of the party saying, “Wow, that was great.”

It’s a tone down, but similar philosophy as their club partner the legendary lesbian promoter of The Dinah, Mariah Hanson.

“We think she’s absolutely awesome,” says Leigh, who joined forces with Mariah four years ago. “I personally think that her business [approach] and the way she deals with people falls true in our business philosophy. I’ve always found her terrific to work with.”

Mandy agrees with Leigh, adding that the parties are also about community and providing an accepting space.

“For me, it’s also about a sense of community,” says Mandy, talking about her personal struggles with her Indian family for a moment. “It’s providing that space of acceptance for everyone else, just because I know what that feels like.”

Raised in North Kandahar, Mandy immigrated with her family to Toronto when she was 14-years old. She moved around Canada and Northeastern U.S. with stops in Montreal and New York State, before finally settling in Vancouver.

“At the end of the day [their guests] want to meet and greet, schmooze [and] dance,” says Mandy. “I liken it more to a lesbian rave.”

Girls set sail on the Chick Ahoy! Boat Cruise during Vancouver Pride Weekend 2012. (Photo: Courtesy of FlyGirl Productions)

Girls set sail on the Chick Ahoy! Boat Cruise during Vancouver Pride Weekend 2012. (Photo: Courtesy of FlyGirl Productions)

At the End of the Night

Leigh and Mandy know they’ve hit the right spot the moment they see women laughing, dancing, hugging and kissing friends and girlfriends and basically having a great time

“You can actually sit there and watch the smiles on people’s faces,” says Leigh. “Their hands are in the air, they are dancing, they are holding hands, they are kissing, they are meeting new friends, they are meeting old friends: When we see that moment, we know that we’ve done the right thing and have done a really good job.”

“I know for Mandy and I both there is a particular point in a party where you worked hard to facilitate the event and at one particular point it goes off,” says Leigh. “That’s what we hit for.”

“Sort of like an unbridled sense of freedom.”

To get fly with the girls in Vancouver, visit FlyGirlProductions.com.

Originally published by GirlsThatRoam.com

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