El Camino or the Field of Stars, writer/performer Stewart Legere’s new solo show, takes its title from El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrimage route that follows the Milky Way through Europe. The journey fascinates Legere, although he’s never gone on it himself. “My ex-husband had this book called The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit, by Shirley MacLaine,” he says, “and I never read it. And I became fascinated with it, because it was this presence in my life: I saw it on the bookshelf for years, and as we moved from place to place, it moved with us, but it became this joke to me that there was this book that I always wanted to read, but I never read. And it’s about a journey that a lot of people talk about taking but, relatively speaking, few do.”
Legere’s play has gone on a very real journey, and it will make its Toronto premiere at Videofag later this month after debuting in 2011 at the Queer Acts Festival in Halifax, his hometown. Legere has an impressive reputation in the Halifax theatre scene: he was named Best Actor two years in a row by alternative weekly publication The Coast (which also recently included him in their top-10 list of “most doable Haligonians”). His work has ranged from collaborative, highly physical shows with the Irondale Ensemble Project and Zuppa Theatre Co, to playing “the half-naked angel host of a Weimar Republic burlesque cabaret” at Plutonium Playhouse’s Sex Festival, but the decision to develop an original solo show was partly inspired by that other queer Nova Scotian solo performer: Daniel MacIvor.
When he was a Dalhousie student dealing with the combined trauma of coming out and theatre school, Legere saw MacIvor do a reading of Cul-de-sac. “It was electric,” Legere says. “And then the discussion afterwards about creating and writing and his process – it just lit a fire under me.” Years later, when performing with Zuppa at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival, Legere had a second influential encounter with MacIvor. “He was on a panel talking about truth and really wanting to write a show coming from a true place,” Legere says. “And that really resonated with me, because the entire reason for writing El Camino was to believe everything I said.” Last August, when Legere was in Toronto acting in a play at SummerWorks, he reconnected with director Christian Barry, resulting in the current production of El Camino. The play? MacIvor’s I, Animal. “In the last two years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with him on a few different projects, and my younger self would probably have been shitting his pants,” Legere says. “And my current self probably was a little bit, as well, but it was a nice, full-circle moment.”
Like some of MacIvor’s solo shows, El Camino combines autobiographical elements from Legere’s life with fiction to tell a story that is part confession, part character study and part standup comedy. “In this show, there’s a lot of jokes that some people would call ‘dad jokes,'” Legere admits. But it also examines the toll internalized homophobia can take on queer relationships. “I’d had relationships in the past where I’d fallen for people who really struggled in one way or another with sexuality,” he says. “When you love someone and you promise that you’ll stand by them, how long can you stay on that road before it starts becoming something unhealthy for both of you?” Answering that question takes Legere to some vulnerable, emotionally raw places in this poignant, intimate and surprising work. “But it’s also funny!” he adds with a smile. “Chockfull of dad jokes!” – Johnnie Walker
El Camino or the Field of Stars runs Thurs, May 23-Sun, June 2 at Videofag, 187 Augusta Ave. videofag.com