Playwright, actor and producer Annie Valentina is inspired by masturbation. Her latest production, Touch, premieres at this year’s Queer Acts Theatre Festival in Halifax.
“Stories about adolescent girls finding themselves tend to be very clean, bubble-gummy and innocuous. Very unlike my experience of those years,” says Valentina, who formed The Doppler Effect theatre company with Michael McPhee. “I think there’s a big challenge to girls today, with the ways we’re often represented in hetero-centric media and entertainment, to step up and tell our own stories in our own ways.”
Touch is a comedic play about two teenaged cousins, Fran and Lydia, and their foray into self-discovery and identity. It asks the question: is blood really thicker than Maybelline Great Lash mascara?
“I want to say that Touch is a story for everyone. We’ve all been awkward, terrified teenagers,” Valentina says. “But the truth is, in mainstream theatre, it’s not the type of thing you will often see.”
Valentina believes Queer Acts provides a forum where Touch, with its themes of queer sexual exploration, is both acceptable and viable.
This year’s festival marks the return of another production by The Doppler Effect: McPhee’s play Logan and I, which premiered at Queer Acts in 2010.
For actor Hugo Dann, who stars in Fluffer Theatre’s production Love Me Always, a tribute to Oscar Wilde written by Bryden MacDonald, Queer Acts was a natural fit to honour the great wordsmith.
“Oscar’s getting his due in academic circles, but there’s still space to explore him in cultural media,” Dann says. “The martyr is such a staple figure of queer theatrical writing; it is fascinating to explore one of its avatar’s own deeply personal meditations on the theme.”
Love Me Always explores the two years Wilde spent in prison and how the experience affected and influenced his artistic practice.
“Wilde was the first queer prisoner of conscience. He could easily have fled the country,” Dann says. “The government wanted him to go; many in the British establishment were living exactly the same kind of life. But he stays and accepts a kind of martyrdom, partly out of a sense of guilt about betraying his own identity as a subversive.”
Queer Acts festival director Adam Reid says this year’s Queer Acts Theatre Festival boasts an abundance of Halifax talent and an entirely local lineup.
Other plays include Trrrash Productions’ showstopper Sissydude, a camp-rock musical written by Ian Mullen. Halifax poet laureate Tanya Davis’s NonMonog and the Gray Scale Dwellers explores the fluidity of sexuality and attraction. Lee-Anne Poole’s widely celebrated Short Skirt Butch, a one-woman show starring Stephanie MacDonald, returns home after an eastern Canadian tour.
“Queer Acts exists to present stories of interest to the LGBTQ community. Being based in Halifax, I feel those stories speak most clearly to our audiences when they are told by local artists,” Reid says. “I’m always happy to have visiting artists perform as they bring new perspectives, but the end goal for me is to create a vibrant queer theatre community in Halifax.
“It doesn’t mean I want to produce a fully local festival every year, but I think it makes a strong statement about the quantity and quality of work being produced right here.”
Halifax Pride presents Queer Acts Theatre Festival
Thurs, July 19-Sun, July 22