Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Jordan Tannahill’s Soviet parable Bravislovia

Tannahill traces sexual and artistic awakening

Credit: Drasko Bogdanovic

Jordan Tannahill has never done porn. But if he did, his on-screen name would be Mystic Duff, at least according to the notorious first pet/first street formula.

“It’s probably not a very good name,” he laughs, while cupping his hot chocolate. “I’m not planning to break into porn anytime soon, but if I did I’d try to come up with something better.”

The creation of alternative identities is at the centre of his new piece, Bravislovia, which will debut at Rhubarb. Incorporating projected film images with overhead transparencies and live narration, the show turns a complex story from his childhood into a multimedia performance. As a boy, struggling to deal with divorcing parents, an intensely religious family and his burgeoning gay sexuality, Tannahill found respite in a fantasy world he called Bravislovia, a fictitious breakaway republic of the former Soviet Union on the Baltic Sea.

While many kids spend time in imaginary worlds or with make-believe friends, Tannahill took his mythological nation to the extreme, crafting hundreds of pages of maps and blueprints and creating a complex social and political structure.

“Growing up in Ottawa you’re surrounded by embassies, which I think is part of what inspired my love of geography as a kid,” he says. “Having an imaginary world is pretty common for kids, but what was different about mine is that it wasn’t a paradise. It was a very complex and troubled place.”

The show follows Tannahill’s alter ego, Isaac Nyakov, as he is forced to flee the housing complex where he lives because of his mother’s anti-soviet sympathies. Eventually they find themselves in an encampment with other dissidents, which is where Nyakov has his first gay tryst. But the story is less about sexual liberation than Tannahill’s challenges in coming to terms with his sexuality.

“Being a repressive regime, Bravislovia was not a place of sexual freedom,” he says. “As a gay preteen I was still rather conservative, and it manifested itself in the story. It wasn’t so much about self-hate as it was about trying to articulate the reality of feeling marginalized.”

Tannahill first made a splash on the Toronto theatre scene two years ago, at the tender age of 20, with Takes Two Men to Make a Brother, a docudrama piece that explores the inner workings of fraternities.

Using a cast of real-life frat boys, he constructed a performance based on the dynamics of their house and their views on masculinity and sexuality. He has gone on to produce several successful works since then, including the Dora Award–winning Get Yourself Home Skyler James and Post-Eden, the runaway hit of last year’s SummerWorks Festival.

Tannahill also worked with Project Humanity on Tongue of God, an exploration of the experiences of queer youth in the shelter system. “I was shocked by how over-represented queer youth are in shelters,” he says. “Being queer is probably the main reason they are there, but the range of services for them is so limited.”

Though he’s a mere 22 years old, Tannahill has managed to pack a lot into his career so far. He sees Bravislovia as the end of one chapter in his artistic life.

“I just finished school last spring, so I’m making art as a job for the first time,” he says. “Part of making this piece was about examining why I make art in the first place. When I created Bravislovia as a child, it wasn’t even about art. It was about trying to answer questions for myself and the pure joy of creation for its own sake.”