When 23-year-old Joshua Dalledonne learned that he was the first recipient of the University of Alberta’s Michael Phair Leadership award, he says he felt a bit uneasy.
Aimed at queer undergrad students that have shown leadership within Edmonton’s queer community, the award provides students with $1,000 for their studies. It’s named after Phair, the former city councillor who was a founding force behind HIV Edmonton, Edmonton Vocal Minority and Exposure: Edmonton’s Queer Arts and Culture Festival. Phair has supported countless other groups in Edmonton both inside and outside the queer community.
Dalledonne, a third-year acting student, says it is an honour to earn a scholarship named after Phair. “Michael has done so much for the city and the community,” he gushes. “At first I felt unworthy to receive the scholarship, but now I feel empowered to do more.”
Part of Dalledonne’s initial anxiety in receiving the award was fuelled by the fact that, for the most part, growing up gay was not an issue for him. He hopes to share his experience with many of the youth he volunteers with for whom being gay is a struggle.
Volunteering at both queer youth leadership Camp Fyerfly and at the U of A’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, Dalledonne has meet many young people. He says many of them experience what he calls “soft discrimination” — being gossiped about and being merely tolerated rather than truly accepted.
He’s interested in exploring the evolution of coming out and homophobia through his first passion: theatre.
Dalledonne is co-writing a play with two friends and he hopes to tour fringe festivals this summer. The work focusses on a group of friends, one of whom is gay. Dalledonne sees this positioning of a gay character within a larger context as the future of gay theatre. “Queer theatre needs to be re-imagined,” he says. “Now that people have come out and that story has been told — what is next?”
While Dalledonne might not know the answer to his own question, he says he looks at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre as an example. He says Buddies is paving the way for Canadian queer theatre, and he looks at the theatre group’s past work to see how queer theatre has changed.
“When Buddies first began, queer was a radical word, and that transgressiveness was reflected in the theatre’s earlier work,” says Dalledonne. “Then as society changed, growing more accepting of alternative lifestyles and along with it the meaning of the word queer.”
Dalledonne leaves school this year and enters the next phase of his life, which may or may not include starting up a queer theatre troupe in Edmonton.
But he must first face the busy summer ahead of him. Aside from his volunteer work with Camp Fyerfly and his theatre project, he is preparing an audition for Stratford and helping to organize the Compass Point Student Symposium, a part of the Magnetic North national theatre festival.
While the scholarship may have given him cash for his studies, it has also given him a chance to further communicate to young queer people that being out and being involved in your community has its rewards.
As for the scholarship’s namesake, Phair is amazed at how different his life was growing up compared to Dalledonne’s experience. “While I never would have imagined having a scholarship named after me, hearing how things have changed has also come as great surprise,” says Phair.
And with news that an anonymous donor has given $10,000 to the scholarship, there’s sure to be even more change in store for Edmonton queers.