Celebrating a Season of Queer “Cultch-er!”

Celebrating a season of queer “cultch-er!”

With Vancouver Pride approaching, it seems the appropriate time to take a look back at The Cultch’s colourful 12/13 season.

Many proud representatives of the LGBTQ community took to the stage last year, sharing a myriad of voices and stories. The list includes Miriam Margolyes, sole performer (of 23 characters!) in Dickens’ Women, Evalyn Parry singing tales of bicycle led revolution in SPIN, and of course Cameron Mackenzie and Dave Deveau (or, as you may know them: Isolde N. Barren and ‘The Baddest Bitch Peach’ Cobblah) took us on a wild ride through Vancouver’s Drag Herstory in Tucked and Plucked.

Miriam Margolyes, the 69-year-old British lesbian actress, starred in The Cultch's presentation of Dickens' Women

In addition, one of the best attended gallery events of the year was the opening gala of photo-based artist SD Holman’s show Butch: Not Like the Other Girls. Holman’s images, each a stunning portrait of a different self-identified butch model, decorated The Cultch’s lobby this April.

Opening night of SD Holmon's exhibition 'BUTCH: Not like Other Girls'

Not unique to this year’s IGNITE! Youth Festival was Fruit Basket, a cabaret of performances created by youth around the themes of sex, gender identity, sexuality, and sexual orientation. This year’s show was comprised of The Magic Spells, Saul Chabot, Dörothy Griffith, Ruby Slickeur, Sahara Hildebrandt and Leroy and The Lovebots. Included in the process was a workshop with Evalyn Parry, as well as the Gender Blender, a youth-led forum on sex and identity…facilitated by all the smoothies you can drink, of course (oh, and a professional facilitator from Out in Schools )!

Brendan Agnew a seasoned member of The Cultch's Youth Panel

We had the chance to talk with seasoned Youth Panel-er Brendan Agnew, to ask him a few questions about his experience on the panel, and his views on queer theatre for youth in Vancouver.

Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got involved in the IGNITE! program and Fruit Basket specifically.

I am going into my grade 12 year at Templeton Secondary and have been very involved in their Theatre program. I also play piano, but really fell in love a few years ago with the backstage side of things, particularly stage management. I hope to do a BFA in theatre.

When I was in grade 9, some of my friends in higher grades were on the Youth Panel, and told me a bit about it and encouraged me to come to the festival. So I dragged some other friends to go see it. It was a good festival, but I left thinking “it would be so much better if I helped organize it.” It also seemed like a fantastic concept, kids organizing their own arts festival. So in Grade 10, I joined the youth panel, and one committee, the one organizing The Olivia Project, which is a multi-disciplinary devised performance created by young artists. We group together youth who do different types of art (say filmmaking, dancing, visual art, etc) and give them three weeks to create an original ten minute piece combining their arts.

In grade 11, I did Youth Panel again, but also added the Fruit Basket committee to my schedule. I’d already attended two Fruit Baskets, and knew it was a great supportive environment for queer and allied youth. I identify as a gay male, so I also felt close to the subject matter that way. What I found cool about Fruit Basket is that it is a queer show geared directly towards youth. There are many queer/sex related shows in Vancouver, but very few, if any of them, are youth focused. A lot of them require you to be over a certain age.

What kinds of shows or programs would you like to see more of in Vancouver to fill this void?

I think it’s important to recognize that queer doesn’t just mean drag, sex doesn’t just mean stripping or burlesque. These are huge topics that can be explored in all kinds of ways, and it can easily be done in a way that’s accessible to youth.

Floyd Cariad Van Beek in 'Fruit Basket' 2013

So specifically, the kinds of shows I’d like to see would be featuring young people of non-straight sexual orientation in cute romances, coming out stories or other plots. It would also be fun to see adaptations of traditional plays (Shakespeare, for instance) to a queer setting.

I saw a fantastic play called The Silicone Diaries by Nina Arsenault (performed at The Cultch in February 2011). It was an autobiographical work telling the story of her transition from man to woman. It was phenomenal, and even though it wasn’t targeted at youth, didn’t feel “adult exclusive.” More programming like that (accessible to all ages) would be great-things kids can drag their parents to, which can then spark discussion. That’s what I think good art does, after all: it makes you think about things a little deeper/differently, and that thinking transforms into conversation.

Nina Arsenault, star of 'The Silicone Diaries,' meets with The Cultch's Youth Panel

It would also be nice to see more young artists use their art as a means of expressing their sexuality. A lot of Fruit Basket performers (we love them dearly) are either queer artists doing thoroughly mainstream art, or people doing sexual dancing/stripping/burlesque/drag performance. While that’s all great, I think there’s a need for content that delves a bit deeper into what it means to be queer.

I heard that part of your involvement in Fruit Basket meant you had the opportunity to take a workshop led by Evalyn Parry. What was that like?

One of the unique things about the IGNITE! Youth Festival is the workshops. We have two types: “external” workshops, which are open to the public, and geared towards youth; and “internal” workshops, which are exclusively for youth panel members. Evalyn Parry was one of our internal workshops, and was centered around writing. The first part was a Q&A discussion about her, her artistic process, and her show SPIN, which most of Youth Panel had been invited to see. The last part was an extremely compressed version of the writing workshop she does. The primary focus was on MC acts, which are for the most part written by the youth panel, although a lot of the discussion and writing exercises applied to all sorts of other things. Evalyn Parry is a very neat person, and learning from her was an amazing experience.

Evalyn Parry ,star of 'SPIN,' meets with the Youth Panel

Queer artists from many backgrounds helped make last season at The Cultch a resounding success. If you are looking for another opportunity to celebrate before next season begins, or you are looking for an event to kick-start your Pride Week, join us in the Vancity Culture Lab for the Genderfest Launch Party on Thursday, July 25 at 8 pm. Head to http://www.genderfest.ca to find information about the event, and how you can participate in the event’s photo collaboration.

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