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6 min

Murder on the TTC express

Innovative project gives commuters moments of respite from Toronto's transit irritations

Moynan King plays a "hard-core, political lesbian."
You may have seen it already: a moment free of advertising, news and weather, when, for 30 seconds, an episode of Murder in Passing fills the screens on Toronto subway platforms. A silent, black-and-white clip repeating every 10 minutes (with a delay, you may even catch it twice). 
 
The first episode, which aired Jan 7, opened the murder mystery with the death of a young man in a bike accident. Or, was it a young lady? The reporter at the scene of the crime isn’t too sure.
 
Toronto commuters are getting served some food for thought on transgender and transit issues, all on the TTC. No wonder they’re calling it transmedia.
 
“The great thing about the murder mystery genre is there’s lots of room for camp,” says John Greyson, who wrote and directed the series. “Our detective is an outrageous trans woman with a sharp tongue who gets away with real zingers.
 
“And underneath that first layer, there are the serious issues,” he adds.
 
The 42-episode series, which runs daily until March 1, is a great showcase of Toronto’s queer theatre arts community. Nina Arsenault plays a chemistry professor with “lots of secrets,” and Moynan King is one hard-core butchy bike shop owner.
 
Meanwhile, Greyson is known for his television and film work, including Lilies and Zero Patience.
 
The project’s existence is in large part due to another member of the city’s queer community, Sharon Switzer, who makes art programming happen on TTC screens.
 
King, a long-time collaborator with Buddies in Bad Times and co-founder of the Hysteria Festival, calls her bike boss character a “hard-core, political lesbian.” She recently saw some of the first clips running on a subway platform and says it was a great feeling. “You’re standing in the subway and there you are. Especially as a queer, you know, there we all are,” she says.
 
“It’s a question for me about how it will be received by an unsuspecting audience. People do stare at those monitors for sure, so yeah, I don’t really know, but I know that it feels really important.”
 
Of course, for many viewers it may be just a bit of fun to spice up a dull commute — each episode has a second part, done in operatic style, available online, and there are prizes for those who follow the clues and are able to solve the mystery before the detective does.  
 
“We think it’s the biggest sustained narrative created for public screens anywhere in the world,” Greyson says.
 
But scope aside, Greyson says the series is really the opportunity to engage the general public on those issues not often championed by the mainstream — cycling and transphobia.  
 
“I definitely think there’s a need for it on both topics, when we still have a mayor that says when cyclists get hurt or killed it’s their fault . . . And then likewise as much as transgendered issues have moved into the mainstream, there’s still a huge ways to go. The level of discrimination still exists everywhere we turn,” Greyson says.
 
“[The series] tries to hold a mirror up to the people on the platform. Can we have this conversation with each other? The irony is we’re all looking at the monitor so that we don’t have to look at each other.”
 
King agrees the combination of entertainment and education is innovative.
 
“Everybody loves a murder mystery, right? There’s something about the seduction of the form and then to infiltrate your ideas with things like political issues. I don’t know if anybody has ever done a project like this,” she says. “It definitely makes for a more enjoyable ride.”

Check out our interview below with John Greyson.