Getting to know Mandy Randhawa, co founder of FlyGirl Productions with Pirabalini.
FlyGirl Productions is easily penciled first by any queer womxn residing in Vancouver for Pride Weekend. Everything else revolves around FlyGirl.
Known for their YVR Pride weekend rollout which commences by setting sail with Chicks Ahoy! (boat cruise), Chica’s in the Afternoon taking place at the lush Sheraton Wall Centre and closing off with their signature Hershe Bar bash at a the Red Room.
Every year, same themes and somehow it never, never gets outdated and never gets missed.
What is it all about? What is their story?
The Coming Out of FlyGirl
In the early days of queer entertainment, womxn’s bars and gathering spaces were relegated to unsafe, rat infested spaces with terrible lighting and broken sound systems, while gay men could afford nicer venues and events. Men made more money, therefore had greater disposable incomes to spend on their social spaces. They weren’t keen on sharing those spaces with the queer womxn. As queerness wasn’t fully accepted by greater society, each of the queer groups wanted their exclusive spaces. Spaces for queer womxn artists were limited to learn/grow their skills.
In an effort to address the exclusion that was happening within the gay community itself, Mandy Randhawa and Leigh Cousins set out to change this with FlyGirl Productions. Leigh approached venue owners in the nightclub industry and asked them to take a chance on a lesbian event. Many venues shut the doors on her, as no one in the mainstream club industry had heard of a lesbian event. She persisted, found a venue partner who was willing to give it a try and the rest is history.
“This one persistent action moved the lesbians out of seedy space into beautiful venues where they felt proud and safe. Over time, the club industry recognized that there was a new market for them and if they truly valued equality, they could partner with the LGBTQ+ producers which in turn helped create a lesbian event industry.”
You’ve been here from the start to have initiated this space for queer womxn. Can you reflect on your journey on founding FlyGirl Productions?
Leigh and I simply built FlyGirl Productions on the natural evolution of change and the needs of the queer womxn community. We are standing on the shoulders of many brave and pioneering womxn before us. Many of whom were spit at, verbally abused for simply wanting a space to gather as a community and be proud of who they were. The freedoms and privileges we have as queer womxn and as event organizers in this space, were made possible by someone else’s struggles and handwork.
How is it working alongside your partner? What roles do you both play when producing these events?
We are life and business partners. Our personal relationship is based on absolute honesty, trust, love and respect for each other. We approach life and business with the same values. Early on in our relationship, we weathered intense life challenges, that taught exceptional communication skills. We don’t shame each other for making a mistake or compete with each other. We do our best to build each other up through challenges. We also know that it is ok to have different opinions about a topic, we may discuss our position strongly, but in the end, we fall on our collective values to guide us through a tough decision.
A FlyGirl Zone
I’ve noticed your audience has grown now to all genders and sexualities. What would you tell your original queer womxn audience about your space expansion?
Throughout our 20-year history, we have consistently stayed true to these principles, and have a long list of milestones, achievements and events that we believe helped to shape the culture and inclusivity of Vancouver and the LGBTQ+ community.
From day one, which was before the world woke up to “diversity and inclusion”, all FlyGirl events were and will continue to be inclusive of all genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and body-types.
It’s been such a gift to see these shifts. I am simply saying visibility is very important, and I have had firsthand experience with this.
You were raised from a conservative family and you stood up for your truth. It must’ve have been quite the struggle. What advice do you have for queer womxn raised from a conservative background coming out later in their adulthood?
I was one of the very few out South Asian womxn in the community, and none of the South Asian womxn would say hello to each other. I openly shared my coming out struggles as a South Asian womxn in the hope that it would help someone else, especially other womxn of colour. It felt very risky, and I was scared many times, but I did it anyway. I would spend one of one time with South Asian womxn to hear their stories and to help them through their challenges. Many of the womxn had no one with a cultural understanding of their struggles.
You have one life to live. This life is an absolute gift. Don’t waste it waiting for other people to approve of who you truly feel yourself to be. This is not easy. Assess your situation and find ways to empower yourself to be more you.
What’s new this year on Flygirl Production’s agenda? What do you keep in mind when preparing for this event?
Covid has been particularly tough on the artists and the events’ industry. This year, we’ve focused on hiring local and Canadian talent only. Chicas’ headliner is Sandy Duperval. She was trained by Cissy Houston, Whitney Houstons’s mom. Sandy is a gem of a person, an incredibly talented singer and DJ. We interviewed her and you can read her story here.
Riki Rocket, Kasey Riot, Slade, S@m I @m and Amy, all of these DJs are technically exceptional, but most importantly, everyone on our team works collaboratively and supports each other. No one hogs the decks, or engages in sabotage of another DJs set.
There is no room for such behaviour on our team. Our team is positive, fun, unpretentious. We all just wanna have fun. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. All of us work incredible hard in our area of expertise, but we don’t let it give us big heads. Life is too short to act like a jerk. Why be an ego maniac when you can spread fun?
Are you actively ‘on the floor’ at FLyGirl productions events or are you lost amongst the crowd nowadays?
Sometimes, I am actually ‘on the floor’ that is, the dance floor, dancing, usually the last 15 or 20 minutes of the gig, but for the most part, I am floating around troubleshooting, helping our team, taking care of the DJs, answering guest questions, etc, etc, etc. There is a LOT that needs to happen to create a logistically seamless experience for the guests, and that is what both Leigh and I do once the doors open.
That’s a 2-day non stop lesbian agenda, how are you going to handle it? Most importantly, how do we handle it? How do you prep yourself – we’d like to hear your tips so we can be well equipped.
Hahaha…. Yes, it is 3 full days of event roll out. It’s 2 days for guests, but 3 days for us. Chicas is an extensive setup that starts on Sat. After the boat cruise on Friday, we start working on Chicas. Our prep for this weekend is 5-6 months long. And, hopefully, we’ve done our job well, to roll things out systematically on the weekend. Of course, things happen, such is life, but we roll with it and have confidence in our ability to make good decisions on the fly *pun intended*. We remind ourselves to be in the moment and take it all in because before we know it, it’s gone in a flash!
As for tips, simple things like, wear a hat, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. People can forget to take care of simple things in the excitement of the parade and the heat.
What was one unforgettable experience you’ve encountered with FlyGirl Productions ?
It’s really difficult to pick one! There are SO many incredible and funny moments. One year, this stunning womxn arrived at the coat-check of Pride Hershe bar, took off her outer layer of clothes, checked them in and partied the night away in her lingerie. She was so polite and quiet, but felt so incredibly safe to dance on her own terms. That was really something.
Another year, Jenna, one of our team member and I, tried to stuff her little Honda car with a giant bouquet of balloons for transport from Chicas to Hershe. Think of the bouquet of balloons from the movie UP, that is what we had.
Stuffing of balloons did not work, so I held this giant bouquet out the car window while Jenna drove to the delight and hollering of many people on the street. We were fairly close to The Red Room for Hershe Bar, when we were stopped by the cops.
Does it ever get old? What is the driving force that gets you to do this every year?
The work itself we both love. There is nothing like creating a space for joy, fun and community. Watching people own the dance floor, smiling ear to ear and dancing in unison with hands in the air, is indescribable. There are no words to explain what that feels like. Hearing stories that someone met their life partner at our party or that it was their first Pride and that they had an amazing time, these are inspirations that keep us motivated. So, no it hasn’t gotten old
What does the future entail for FlyGirl Productions?
Our biggest hiatus has been Covid. No one in the world was prepared for it. This was extremely difficult, but also an opportunity to re-asses our life on a personal and business level. I have personally experienced a family tragedy this March. My focus after Pride is to heal and recover from it, but you can safely put Pride 2023 on the books.
What do you wish B.I.V’s readers to be made aware of when attending?
If you missed on tickets, come to the door early and be patient. Door admission is only available if ticket holders do not show, which happens EVERY year. Everyone with advance tickets has to be checked-in first and only then, the missing spots can be sold. Some people also sell extra tickets at the door when doors open. If someone wants to really attend, I would recommend trying door admission. Be very careful with purchasing tickets from people who post on social media. Event tickets have become a new hobby for scammers. They’ll post saying they have tickets, but they are only after your personal info and money. Do due diligence and check the profile of the person.
I wish everyone an incredible Pride, where-ever, and however they may celebrate!