The Queer Arts Festival has been bringing out art and artists from Canada’s queer community since 1998. However, when it first started it was not called the Queer Arts Festival but rather Pride in Art, and was primarily focused on LGBT visual artists and on showcasing community art exhibitions. Now, six years later, it is stretching further and wider than ever, opening its arms to a great variety of genres and including lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, two-spirit, questioning, and queer identified artists and performers from across Canada. Since 2006 QAF has presented over 600 queer identified artists! Running from July 24th all the way until August 9th 2013, this year’s line up has everything from queer opera, burlesque, theatre, dance, visual art, play readings, book readings, poetry readings, spoken word, live music, concerts, and workshops galore!
I have attended two QAF events so far, and have left both feeling up-lifted, inspired, and proud: proud that I live in country that celebrates diversity, and proud, and grateful, that I live in a city that has festivals and inclusive spaces like the Queer Arts Festival. A festival that invites everyone, and showcases art that not only inspires and entertains, but informs, educates, and liberates its audiences. I had no idea when I decided to check out the opening night of Fruit Flambé on Tuesday July 30th that this QAF performance would offer a little bit of everything: a queer variety show. In one performance I was able to see singing, dancing, slam poetry, comedic theatre, hip-hop and burlesque!
The Roundhouse community stage, the same space that I attended the night prior for Clean Sheets (a night of queer play readings) was transformed with dazzling lights and exciting props and tantalizing costumes. Fruit Flambé was a colourful, sexy and intriguing performance, or rather a variety of performances twisted and tied together with visual and auditory motifs, and reoccurring themes of gender and sexual fluidity.
Fruit Flambé was put on by the Queer Arts Festival in partnership with The Cultch and their IGNITE! Youth-driven Arts Festival. It showcased performances by Dorthy Griffith, Floyd Van Beek, Jo Bee, Leroy Wan, and Ruby Slickeur, and was put together over a six-week transdisciplinary youth mentoring program led by acclaimed actor and playwright David Bloom, Juno award-winning producer and hip-hop artist Kinnie Starr, and visionary new media artist Sammy Chien.
The tap dancing number reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. Only here, Alice was Dot, a tap dancer with six white hands and turquoise trench coat, who transformed into a pretty pink insect after eating a house plant. The performance numbers were all magical and fantastical, but one of my favourite aspects of the show actually came between each song and dance number where there was a staged interview with each performer. An ominous, disembodied voice drifted from the overhead speakers asking questions like:
“So, do you consider yourself a burlesque dancer?”
“Are people confused by your [burlesque-esque-inspired feminine dance] performances as a trans man?”
“ Who are your greatest influences?”
“What is ‘love’ to you?”
“What annoys you the most in a significant other?”
“How do you feel about bras?”
Some the questions were straightforward, the kind you might hear during any typical journalistic interview with a performing artist. Some questions were the kind that would make you shift uncomfortably in your seat, and think, oh God, when people ask that in real life that is so awkward. The answers were completely different and unique to each performer, and sometimes ridiculous, and hilarious. I was very curious to know how much was scripted and how much was improvised; so many of their answers seemed fresh, on the spot, and honest. One of my favourite answers came from one of the spoken word artists.
“Love? Love is the degrees chocolate at which poetry melts.”