“It’s hard to be an artist in Vancouver,” Randie Parliament contends.
“I don’t submit to theatre companies anymore. I’ll produce it,” he says.
Parliament, creator of Ghost Light Projects, is kick-starting the company’s 2012 season with a series of queer-friendly plays with project coordinator, and fellow playwright, Jordan Patterson.
The two gay artists are hoping to expand the queer live theatre industry in Vancouver, a scene they say is tough to break into.
“When I got to Vancouver, the Vancouver art scene was so dismissive,” says Patterson, who attended theatre school in Toronto before heading west. “I got hate mail.” He says the early rejection he experienced in his growth as an artist highlights how exclusive the industry can be.
“It wasn’t homophobia. What I realize now at 46 years old is that there’s only a certain amount of money to go around, and they [veteran producers and playwrights] are not going to let anyone [new] take their money,” Patterson says.
Parliament, who has been a producer for 12 years and has written many plays, agrees. “I went to Toronto for three years and was going to give up theatre altogether. But I couldn’t get away from it because the love was there. I started producing again, and once you start you just can’t stop,” he says. “Most of the time I just find projects that I’m passionate about, and I don’t see anyone producing them so I produce them.”
Ghost Light Projects has brought such shows as Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, The Vagina Monologues and Hedwig and the Angry Inch to the Toronto stage. Next month the company will launch five queer-friendly plays in Vancouver: Mother May I, The Pitch, Drag Queens on Trial, The Great American Trailer Park Musical and The Boys in the Band.
Parliament’s play, Mother May I, delves into the realities of being gay in a small Prairie town, when the protagonist travels to his homestead to help handle his parents’ affairs. “There’s a bit of comedy and a bit of crazy drama, but it’s also pretty serious,” he notes.
In contrast, Patterson’s autobiographical play, The Pitch, recounts a dark period in the playwright’s life. “It’s about a period in my life where I met a boy and we started doing drugs together. It’s about my whole experience into the drug culture,” he says. But where Parliament takes his audience on a more sober ride, Patterson says his work is a comedy filled with camp and jest.
During the series, Parliament and Patterson will also collaborate with playwright Sky Gilbert and two others from the United States. “We’re just gung ho,” Patterson says. “These projects are what I really want to do, and I want to see other people taking chances on projects that actually have some social relevance and real gusto.”
Parliament and Patterson maintain that one must follow one’s passion before the cash can flow.
But Patterson says that when he was scouting actors to star in a play about drag queens, he looked specifically to performers in the gay community and was shot down due to pay-scale limitations.
“What I find interesting is that there are millions of people that call themselves actors in Vancouver, that have been working in restaurants and haven’t booked a gig for 20 years, and yet they don’t want to do a play. But they’ll spend thousands of dollars on acting classes. What’s the point? It doesn’t make any sense not to out yourself in a play,” says Patterson. “That’s where you’re going to get your experience.”
But these issues are not peculiar to Vancouver, he acknowledges. “Everybody talks up the Toronto art scene, but it has the same challenges.”
In the meantime, Patterson and Parliament just hope audiences will enjoy their series. “I hope it solidifies us as people to be watched for in terms of what we are going to do in the future, in Vancouver and in Canada,” Parliament says.
“I hope people just have a fucking good time,” he adds with a smile.