Every September, the Vancouver International Fringe Festival presents a veritable smorgasbord of indie theatre, and this year’s offerings include a healthy dose of queer-themed plays and queer artists.
This year, lesbians take centre stage.
Perhaps the most relevant and, yes, sexy queer show at this year’s Fringe is pornStar, a one-woman show performed by Anne Wyman and written by Chris Craddock, the mind behind previous queer Fringe hits BoyGroove and Bash’d.
PornStar tells the story of Esther, a young, uptight librarian from small town Alberta whose single sexual encounter, videotaped and leaked on the internet, earns her a nomination for the best newcomer award from an association of porn producers. Esther takes the opportunity to escape the overprotective shadow of her mother, a prominent Canadian Alliance MP, and flies to Toronto for the awards show. What ensues is a hilarious adventure and a life-changing lesbian encounter, which help her come into her own as a person.
Although originally written and produced on the Fringe circuit in 2000, Wyman says the time was right for a remount.
“I love this play. When I read it I was struck by how strong all the female characters are, and how it’s a strong look at sex from a female perspective, without being sleazy,” Wyman says.
Wyman, who’s still going to college in her hometown of Winnipeg, sheepishly admits she borrowed $4,000 from her dad to make this Fringe tour happen.
“The show has a wonderful message about being yourself, even in the face of judgment. Even when it’s hard and the whole world is watching. I think it’s a great show for someone who is just trying to come out to see,” Wyman says.
I enjoyed Wyman’s workshop production of this show at last year’s Winnipeg Fringe, and I recommend you get your tickets quick. Once word of mouth gets out on this show, it’ll quickly sell out, as it has on every stop of the Fringe tour so far.
On the less sexy end of the queer theatre spectrum, New-York-based lesbian storyteller Lisa Haas delivers her comic, autobiographical one-woman show, Crown Hill Cemetery, about trying to avoid death while growing up next to a cemetery outside of Denver.
Haas’ attempts to keep death at bay are trampled on by telemarketers selling cemetery plots and her death-obsessed family — including an uncle who secretly photographs dead relatives in their coffins.
An interesting aspect of the show is that Haas makes all the death-related stories funny, and she includes opportunities for the audience to call for a break anytime the death theme gets too heavy — and then Haas must deliver a non-death related story.
In search of more traditional theatre fare? Oscar Wilde’s classic queer farce The Importance of Being Earnest is being given an all-female treatment by the UK’s Manchester Central Theatre Company.
The original play is a fantastic farce of Victorian social codes written with the wit and flair of history’s cleverest writer. The scandalously queer Wilde slipped gay double entendres about cucumber sandwiches and “bunburying” into the original play; alas, some of these jokes have been excised for length in this production.
Manchester Central decided to produce the show with an all-female cast — two of the performers appear in drag throughout — which nonetheless returns a queer bent to the production, however tangentially. Still, almost any opportunity to hear Wilde’s delicious dialogue —delivered with authentic British accents — is worth the admission.
Another established play that’s getting a Fringe treatment is Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, being produced by Fighting Chance Productions.
The play continues the lives of the Peanuts gang, about 10 years after Charles M Schulz left off, and reveals Charlie Brown questioning his sexuality while his friends go through all the worst changes that adolescence can bring — from drug abuse to juvie. You’ll have to trek down to the Pacific Theatre to catch this one.
Finally, another must-see show at this year’s festival is Today is All Your Birthdays by Montreal sketch comedy troupe Uncalled For.
Although it isn’t queer-themed, one half of the Uncalled For duo is gay comedian Anders Yates.
“If art and science had a funny-looking baby, that would be our show,” says Yates. “Today Is All Your Birthdays is about birth, death, science, celebrations and monkeys. Our show is technically sketch comedy, but it’s quite unlike what most people expect from the genre,” he elaborates. “We travel through time and space and bleed scenes together so that otherwise disconnected ideas flow in a stream of consciousness style from one to another.”
I saw All Your Birthdays at the Montreal Fringe when Uncalled For was a foursome (two cast members couldn’t be at the Vancouver dates because of personal commitments), and I can tell you without a doubt that this will be one of the funniest shows at the festival. Birthdays is sure to be another hot ticket once word of mouth gets out, so book your tickets early.