Arts & Entertainment
6 min

Fringe preview: Operatic passions

Dweebs, queer kids, peelers, gay rap & Al Gore?

We’re back with part two of our Toronto Fringe coverage, highlighting the queer and queerly fun shows in the annual theatrical free for all. Let’s begin with a heartwarming show about showing your yoo-hoo in public.

Miss April Day’s School For Burgeoning Strippers

Sure, a lot of us have fantasized about a career in stripping: hitching our Calvins up our buttcracks, we bump and grind to Christina Aguilera’s latest ode to musical hookerdom in the safety of our own bathrooms. But for those eager to brush up their peeling skills with a qualified instructor, Miss April Day’s School For Burgeoning Strippers may be a real educational eye-opener.

“It’s based on my own experiences as an exotic dancer,” says creator June Morrow, who spent seven years stripping in the greater Toronto area. She hung up her G-string back in 2002, and now seeks to counsel hopefuls on the ups and downs of working the pole.

“There are stories of the customers you need to watch out for,” Morrow says. “Most come in just wanting a dance. But sometimes they’ll want to smell your feet or dance with a gag in your mouth. It was a little bizarre to do that in a club setting.”

Morrow shares these titillating tidbits in a series of reminiscences, coupled with hands-on instruction for braver audience members. She’ll be bringing people up to help them with their shake and shimmy, and help them pick out their very own stripper name during a musical parody of “My Favourite Things.”

Of course, having been away from the business for a few years, Morrow and director David McKay naturally had to take some field trips to check out the current scene.

“The industry itself has changed,” says Morrow. “It’s not about what happens onstage at all. Almost all the money made is selling lap dances now. Sixty percent of girls in Toronto don’t even get paid… they pay the bar.

“The laws are really unclear,” says Morrow. “The Supreme Court is always flip-flopping on whether touching is allowed or not. The boundaries between stripping and prostitution become very unclear, and there’s always this pressure to give more.”

Miss April Day begins class on Fri, Jul 6 at 1:15pm in St Vladimir’s Theatre. You can tune to her website (Aprildays.com) for a special infomercial based on the play.

Geek-Gasm

Coming out is often problematic. The fear. The self-loathing. Sure, any self-respecting queer has their own horror stories, but all too rarely do we think of society’s real victims of oppression and ridicule: The Trekkie.

Geek-Gasm tells the harrow-ing tale of one man’s emergence from the nerd closet.

On the surface, Owen (Art James) is the picture of respect-able normalcy. He’s got a great job, a hot girlfriend and all the trappings of a young buck in his prime. Owen reads comics on the down-low, and can quote Star Wars dialogue by rote, but has never indulged his inner geek in public.

His friend Matt (Leslie Takeda), a full-blooded nerd, finally succeeds in dragging him to a sci-fi fantasy convention, and it’s there that Owen finally confronts his inner dweeb.

“Owen goes in kicking and screaming because he looks down upon people who are free with their openness,” says director Victor Correia. “Otherwise he’d be the guy at home in his underwear, playing with his lightsaber.”

For Matt, the convention offers the Holy Grail all nerds look for but rarely find: a righteous babe whose looks are only outshined by her video game collection. He stumbles onto the luscious Gwen (Rebecca Kingdon), who’s arrived dressed as martial arts comic seductress Elektra. It’s love at first sight.

While Matt scarpers after his dream girl, Owen is left to the mercies of an effeminate hobby store clerk (Steve Browne), who purports a curious hypothesis regarding George Lucas’ famous space trilogy.

“The clerk has this personal mission to push ideas of these gay overtones in Star Wars,” Browne says, chuckling. “Things like the fact the Jedi council is all men who run through the galaxy with giant glowing phalluses, speaking about how the Force flows through them.

“Not to mention the only girl Luke Skywalker is ever interested in is his sister.”

Geek-Gasm premieres Sat, Jul 7 at 1:45pm in the George Ignatieff Theatre.

Bash’d

“If you hear us yell faggot and you think it’s whack, well fuck that/It’s our word and we’re taking it back!”

Sexy homo rappers Feminem and T-Bag are set to strut their stuff in Bash’d, the Fringe’s first ever gay rap opera. It’s the brainchild of Edmonton writer/performers Nathan Cuckow and Chris Craddock, and tells the story of two young lovers affected by a violent gaybashing.

Jack’s a city boy, raised by adoptive gay parents. He’s been comfortable with his sexuality since day one, unlike his countrified partner Dillon. Tragically, Jack finds himself on the unfriendly end of a thug’s fist one night, sparking a violent reaction from his burly boyfriend.

“It’s inspired by true stories,” says Cuckow. “When the government was trying to pass gay marriage, Ralph Klein took a stance against it, using militaristic and combative language.”

“It was seen as provocation by some people here,” Craddock adds. “We saw a big spike in hate crimes in that period.”

The two workshopped the piece in their hometown, beginning with a humble series of jokes that developed into a full-grown show. “The whole thing is quite operatic in theme,” says Craddock. “The characters’ love is ‘Love’ with a capital L.”

Bash’d spins its rhymes beginning Thu, Jul 5 at 10:30pm in Factory Theatre’s Mainspace.

Phoney

Middle age can be a daunting prospect, particularly when you are ill prepared by your elders. Just ask Shelley Marshall, creator and performer of Phoney, a one-woman show.

“I was told when I was young, ‘What do you need a social insurance number for? You just get married when you leave home,'” says Marshall. “My life is incredibly different now than it should have been, according to my mother.”

Marshall drives the point home with hilarious portrayals of her mother and grandmother in a series of filmed segments and live performances.

“My story is a voyeuristic peek into the way I was brought up,” she says. “My mother was always smoking and trying to find us a father, and all she’d find were consistently abusive men.”

Likened by one reviewer to hilariously caustic Karen Walker from TV’s Will And Grace, Marshall came to her career as a funny lady relatively late in life. “I didn’t start my career until I was 40 years old,” she says. “A psychiatrist told me I needed to express myself, so I went down to Yuk Yuk’s and walked up on stage.

“I felt so exposed. Oh my God, it was like a pap smear at first, but I was hooked.”

Exposed indeed. With Marshall, every detail of her complicated world is on humorous display… including the lives of her own fabulous family.

“I’m the mother of two gay children,” she says proudly. “I knew my daughter was gay when she was 10. She wanted to go to an Alanis Morissette concert. She was mesmerized by her, and I was mesmerized by watching her watch her.”

Marshall admits to some tongue-in-cheek reticence to her son’s orientation early on.

“I swear to God, I locked him in that closet,” she laughs. “I threw in food and told him to stay. Mama wants to be in the PTA!”

Just in case the whole comedy/theatre thing doesn’t work out, Marshall’s got a unique backup career plan already in place. “My uterus is my fruit basket,” she deadpans. “I’m going to freeze my eggs. Gay is the new black, and everyone’s gonna want a queer baby.”

Phoney opens Thu, Jul 5 at 7pm in the Factory Studio Theatre.

An Inconvenient Musical

Anyone with an air conditioner and a hydro bill can tell you that the planet’s getting hotter every year. Kurt and Brandon Firla, known collectively as the Rumoli Brothers drive the point home with An Inconvenient Musical, an homage-cum-parody of Al Gore’s environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Queer As Folk hottie Fabrizio Filippo plays Gordon Green, a wide-eyed musician trying to stop a local coal plant from further poisoning his neighbourhood. Green writes a catchy song to change hearts and minds, but quickly discovers that the powers-that-be won’t go quietly into the night. An evil cabal, led by mastermind Cole Powers, sets out to squish Green’s crusade.

“Gordon’s sort of like Luke Skywalker,” says Filippo. “His home gets decimated by a power plant, so he goes on a journey to stop it.”

Al Gore (played by Doug Morency) narrates Gordon’s journey as the young hero educates the masses and falls in love with his nemesis’ daughter (Ayumi Iizuka).

“We’re satirizing the power of corporations, and how art does affect people,” explains Firla. “Al Gore’s film actually caused massive change, even though a lot of people were afraid to confront its serious message.

“I feel a lot of environmental work is trying to find that balance between entertainment and education.”

Dora Award-winning composer Waylen Miki reunites with the Rumoli Brothers following their success with last year’s SARSical: The Musical, and brings his inimitable talent for musical parody to the comedic show.

“Waylen’s like an encyclopedia,” Firla says. “Anything we come up with melodically, he references with three other shows. The joke is that the songs are recycled from other musicals.”

Miki revels in the challenge of creating fresh sounds drawn from more traditional fare.

“We’re crossing the genres of standard musical theatre and pop music,” Miki says. “I keep wanting to say it’s like 1980s pop music meets Gilbert and Sullivan.”

An Inconvenient Musical opens Thu, Jul 5 at 5pm in the Tranzac Club.