Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Love & hate with a sexy beat

Queer rappers return to Toronto stage

IT'S A H-H-HIT! Nathan Cuckow and Chris Craddock star in Bash'd at the new Next Stage Festival.

It’s been an incredibly successful year for Nathan Cuckow and Chris Craddock, the Alberta duo behind Bash’d, the unlikely smash hit at last year’s Fringe fest. Since touring the Fringe circuit to rave reviews and sold-out crowds the “homo hip-hop opera” is now set to return to Toronto as part of the Fringe’s new, juried Next Stage Festival, starting Thu, Jan 3.

“I knew when we were creating the show that we were on to something substantial,” says Cuckow. “There are a lot of elements going on in the show that are really current.”

Bash’d tells the story of two young gays, Feminen (Cuckow) and T-Bag (Craddock), who meet, fall in love and get married in Alberta right in the middle of Canada’s first national same-sex marriage debate. They live a happy life together until one of the pair is attacked in a brutal gaybashing. Outraged, his partner refuses to hide away and goes out on a dangerous campaign to seek revenge.

The entire show is performed in rap that is filled with clever observations of gay and straight culture. The jokes, however, about a first trip to a gay bar, the different types of gay men and lesbians and Ralph Klein never overwhelm the story. The appeal of the show lies in the honesty with which the rapping lovers are portrayed — only a few songs into the show you’ll fall in love with them.

The beats provided by composer Aaron Macri will make you want to get up on your feet and wish that the Factory Studio had got rid of its seats for the show.

Cuckow, who cites Mos Def, The Roots, Blackalicious, Missy Elliot, Eminem and Public Enemy among his influences, says that using rap to tell a gay love story has resonated with audiences.

“The roots of hip hop come from that social action place, the outsiders, and it gave them a voice for their struggle in the ’80s when hip hop came out with Grandmaster Flash. But along the way it came to glamourize violence, misogyny and homophobia,” he says. “The idea of doing gay rap was just something current, taking that medium and empowering homosexuals.”

Cuckow first created his Feminen persona as a one-note joke at a queer arts festival in Edmonton in 1999. After teaming up with Craddock a couple years later to work on a new skit involving the character, they decided to create a show that unleashes the power of hip hop to fight for queers.

“We wanted to do something a little more substantial and that’s where the political aspects came into place,” Cuckow says. “That’s when the gay marriage debate was happening. During that time there was a spike in hate crimes in Alberta. I have straight friends who were gaybashed. It felt important.

“That is what work should be about.”

Bash’d also enjoyed a successful run in New York last year. “It was an interesting reaction in New York. At the end of the show there’s a shout out to people who were killed in gaybashings, and we were able to include the names of recent ones. It was amazing to see the effect it had on some people,” says Cuckow.

After the Next Stage Festival, Bash’d heads back to Alberta for an engagement at Calgary’s High Performance Rodeo Festival before returning to New York for a three-month Off-Broadway run to coincide with summer Pride festivities. Make sure you catch this show now so you can tell all your friends you saw it before it was a big international hit.

Also as part of the Next Stage Festival look for Dave Carley’s play Conservatives in Love and Cathy Elliott’s musical Moving Day. Passes cost $48 for four plays; $88 for eight. For more info go to Nextstagefestival.com.