Three years ago Luminato seemed to appear out of the blue to massive acclaim and instant success. Sure, gajillions of corporate and government dollars helped but even the most heavily funded events can go tits-up if the public doesn’t catch on. Luminato has made its impressive impact on the strength of eclectic and accessible artistic offerings.
It really is like nothing else our country has seen: a marriage of European sensibility and eclectic content that is anything but normal and expected. And if you think that Luminato’s lush, cabalistic atmosphere is, well, a little on the gay side, it’s with good reason: three quarters of its programming team are out and proud members.
Chris Lorway, Mitchell Marcus and Scott McVittie each bring their own area of expertise to constructing and executing Luminato’s ambitious program with a zeal that borders on activism. For artistic director Lorway one of the most exciting aspects of the festival is the abundance of live music performance, in particular an evening of song at Massey Hall devoted to the work of one of Canada’s preeminent troubadours in The Canadian Songbook: A Tribute to Neil Young (Wed, Jun 10, 8pm; $59.50 to $79.50).
“Last year we had an amazing collaboration with Joni Mitchell,” he says. “This year we thought that, instead of doing a particular artist showcase, we wanted a multi-artist show focusing on the legacy that the artist has in the music world.”
Finding high-level performers for A Tribute to Neil Young proved relatively easy. Artists like Holly Cole, Issa (formerly Jane Siberry), Steven Page and Carole Pope quickly jumped on board to tip their hats to Young’s enduring musical catalogue.
“I emailed the festival on my own,” says Pope. She was more than a little starstruck when she first met Young at the recording of the 1985 Canadian charity song “Tears Are Not Enough.”
“He was in shades the whole time,” she says. “I was just in awe of him.”
Another favourite of Lorway’s is A Poe Cabaret: A Dream within a Dream featuring musical adaptations of some of American romantic poet Edgar Allen Poe’s most haunting works: the world premiere of commissioned pieces by Mike Ross and Alexina Louie, along with a one-act opera by gay New York composer Lance Horne (see main story).
“We’ve turned it into a very vaudevillian evening,” says Lorway. “Mike Ross and Patricia O’Callaghan are the MCs, bringing bits and pieces of Poe’s prose from different things and weaving it into a cohesive whole.”
Perhaps one of the most important elements of Luminato is its ability to reach audiences outside of the traditional venues, and McVittie has things well in hand as associate producer of live events.
“My portfolio is really focused on outdoor events, and how culture can engage in a dialogue with the city and interact with the urban landscape,” he says. “We’re bringing something that’s open and accessible to the whole city, reaching out to people who wouldn’t necessarily seek art out.”
Yonge Dundas Square figures largely into these plans with something planned for nearly every day of the festival. Collaborations with organizations like music fest North by North East (NXNE) and the Goethe-Institut yield performances by Randy Bachman (Jun 5, 7pm) and Goran Bregovic (Jun 12, 8pm), as well as a special outdoor screening of the 1919 German horror flick Tales of the Uncanny (Jun 11, 9:30pm) accompanied by live music from Berlin electronica artist Robert Lippok, indie collective Do Make Say Think and virtuoso violinist/singer Owen Pallett (aka Final Fantasy).
It’s an impressive lineup, with full accessibility to whoever may wander by. “All of our outdoor programming is free,” says McVittie, “including our final three evenings with Cirque du Soleil down on the waterfront.”
As the associate producer of dance, film and music, Marcus hopes this level of access will reach potential audiences who may feel left out of the more traditional art scene.
“Some people are happier to sit in their living room,” he says. “They want to watch TV and play a video game instead of sitting and being entertained for three hours.
“But if they have a positive casual encounter with art from Luminato, seeing world-class art exhibits around town in their normal routine, then maybe people who wouldn’t normally go out to theatre will now be interested. We’re allowing people to access art without demanding too much of their time or money.”
Among Luminato’s abundance of queer and queer-friendly content is Robert Lepage’s nine-hour theatrical marathon Lipsynch (Jun 6 to 14 at Bluma Appel, 27 Front St E; $75 to $125) and literary offerings by the brilliant Ann-Marie Macdonald and Nalo Hopkinson at Gothic Toronto: Writing the City Macabre night (Jun 10, 7:30pm at the Music Gallery, 197 John St; free). Also no self-respecting queen or dyke would miss Emmylou Harris and Shawn Colvin as they join Patty Griffin and accompanist Buddy Miller for a night of music with Three Girls and their Buddy (Jun 5, 8pm at Massey Hall, 178 Victoria St; $59.50 to $79.50).