Since its inception, The Rhubarb Festival has been a space for experimentation. Buddies’ long-running new works festival, now in its 38th year, eschews polished products in lieu of rough, raw creations.
Conceived as a platform where risk is the goal and failure is always an option, the 10-day event is jam-packed with queer artists, and a handful of heteros for good measure.
Many performances run simultaneously in different spaces, so it’s impossible to catch everything in one night. But fear not! Among the plethora of works on offer, Xtra has selected a few performances you just can’t miss.
Created and performed by Anthony Johnston and Nathan Schwartz
Have you been longing for a show that mixes bondage gear with aerobic exercise? If so, AnimalParts’ Rhubarb debut will fill that void. Last seen in Toronto with their hit takedown of gay conversion therapy A Quiet Sip of Coffee, the New York-based theatrical duo’s latest is the final instalment of the Tenderpits trilogy, which was sparked by the death of Johnston’s sister in 2010.
Clad in a leather bondage mask, a man runs on a treadmill, his thoughts and feelings communicated through audio and video projections. Through this unlikely combination of elements, a nuanced meditation on family, regret and the afterlife emerges. At the same time, the show also proposes a highly relevant, if unexpected question: whose lives do we truly value and why?
By Sonny Mills
Sonny Mills exploded in the mid-1990s with the hilarious Dyke City series; an irreverent send-up of lesbian culture, followed up by side-splitters Exactly The Same and the variety show Tits Up. The year 2002 marked a theatrical about-face with the trenchant, multi-Dora award–nominated epic, The Danish Play, which looked at the life of queer resistance fighter Agnete Ottosen during the Second World War.
His latest work marks a return to comedic territory with a look at the conundrums gender-variant folks face every day, from filling in forms to deciding where to pee. Since leaving Toronto in 2007, first for Owen Sound and later for Hamilton, we haven’t heard much from Mills, other than 2010’s booze-addled capitalist critique The Bird. But perhaps M/F Chose One will mean we start to hear more again from one of Canada’s queer theatrical greats?
By Staceyann Chin
If you’ve ever seen Staceyann Chin perform, you’ll know it’s tough to put the New York artist’s presence into words. Dynamic, ecstatic and never afraid to push buttons, Chin offers up performative poetic meditations on everything from her experiences as a queer biracial Jamaican immigrant to contemporary political issues. Working with a combination of devised material and improvisation, she’s famous for just getting on stage and letting it rip.
Rhubarb’s only rule is that there are no rules, which makes it a perfect place for Chin. Her unpredictable nature means no one is totally sure what she’s going to spew forth when she hits Buddies’ stage. But at this critical juncture in history, as the forces of the political right appear poised to take over the world, what we need more than anything are people who aren’t afraid to speak their minds and spaces where that can happen.
Created by Manifest Destiny’s Child
Not to be confused with the highly obscure comedic rap crew, Toronto’s own Manifest Destiny’s Child is all about bringing indigenous humour to the stage. After meeting in Dawn Whitwell’s Comedy Girl class, the seven members formed a collective set to stake their territorial claim over Canada’s funny bone.
Set in a post-apocalyptic 2018, their Rhubarb debut, Nasty Kwe, follows three indigenous comics from different nations, in a gloves-off battle to be supreme leader of the world. Blending sketch and standup, the show offers a humorous look at inter-tribal conflicts often invisible in the homogenized Canadian view of indigenous people. With deft timing and a decidedly political sensibility, Manifest Destiny’s Child are out to prove that 523 years of oppression can give some serious comedy chops.
Created by Bambitchell
In 1474, in the city of Basel, an errant rooster was hauled before a court of law charged with the crime of laying an egg. Part of an ongoing series of works looking at the peculiar phenomenon of animals being put trial in Medieval Europe, Toronto duo Sharlene Bamboat and Alexis Mitchell’s latest takes the fate of this gender-bending cock as its subject.
Working with multiple screens flashing images ranging from RuPaul’s Drag Race to the Salem witch trials, the show examines the persecution of bodies which to fail to meet mainstream standards. Marked with their trademark humour, the show will resonate with any queer who’s ever felt like they don’t fit in, while at the same time makes you laugh.