Here’s to infusing a little old-school activism into the Pride repertoire.
During Pride Week, we spent a lot of time celebrating queer identity — emphasis on “celebrating.” It seems fewer and fewer people use this massive convergence of gays and their friends as a platform to talk about social issues.
But a beacon of light came in the form of a theatre troupe established in 2008, ripefully named lemonTree. This year, in partnership with Pride Toronto (PT), lemonTree planned to sneak-peek the heartfelt Still Life, a tale set in Toronto that follows young adults as they speak about love, life and loss.
However, when PT banned the term “Israeli Apartheid” from the Parade, lemonTree cancelled their show in protest. But, thanks to the politically-engaged folks at the 519 Church St Community Centre, the show is back on. Still Life will debut July 16.
Five talented emerging artists form the spine of this unit: Jonathan Seinen, Indrit Kasapi, Cole J Alvis, James MacLean and Alisha Stranges. They return after the booming success of their sold-out run of Deathwatch at last year’s festivities.
“Since our collective is investigating the contemporary queer world in Toronto, I don’t think there’s a better place to present the work,” says Indrit Kasapi, lemonTree’s artistic producer.
The inspiration for Still Life comes from the creators’ personal experiences, while paying tribute to the tragic death of Christopher Skinner in Toronto in 2009. The goal of the piece is simple: to generate dialogue about how violence affects the family and friends of queers who are subject to hate crimes.
With collaboration at its heart, lemonTree has found its groove.
“The most important element of working in a collective is to create an atmosphere of honesty, courage and trust,” Jonathan Seinen says.
He wants to push the actors and creators to be forthright so they can walk away with an experience that will remain personally valuable.
The meeting of various experiences often leads to spontaneous creation when the collaborators are fleshing out ideas in the piece. James MacLean, one of the actor/producers, believes that improvisation has been a key tool for breathing air into Still Life.
Improvisation also complements lemonTree’s policy of placing no restrictions on creativity or expression: what the audience will see is performance in its most raw and candid form. Actor and producer Cole J Alvis sums it up.
“Still Life will certainly hit home with theatre lovin’ 20-something queers in the city, but our goal is to create an honest performance, authentic enough that someone from any community will be able to hook into the heart of what we are doing.”