Two Calgary artists have cofounded a theatre company dedicated to the positive promotion of Calgary’s queer culture, stories and voices.
Jonathan Brower says he and Paul Welch formed Third Street Theatre in response to still-prevalent negativity toward the queer community. “Even though we have the Pride parade and many organizations in Calgary that promote queer culture and recognize Calgary as a city of diversity, we notice in our own personal lives that we’re still experiencing negative social attitudes.”
The name of the company pays homage to 3rd St, which is bisected by the Mission neighbourhood in downtown Calgary. Brower says it’s a metaphor for the sometimes invisible nature of the queer community. “So 3rd St really is a beautiful picture that we are there, we exist and have great stories to tell.”
Pride Calgary’s communications director, Doug Hass, says the Third Street Theatre may fill a void left by the closure of three of the city’s gay bars. Club Sapien closed in February, followed by Fab Bar in May. The Calgary Eagle, a leather bar, is set to close in September.
“As an organization, we welcome diversity within the community and think it’s fantastic that these folks have brought this to town,” Hass says. “With the loss of the gay bars, I think a lot of the community is shaken up but I think it’s great to see new and different approaches come to light. It helps the diversity of the gay community and shows that we are maybe evolving in a different way.”
Third Street Theatre currently has two projects in development for the 2012/13 season, including a playwriting competition and a one-man act, directed by Kevin McKendrick and featuring Paul Welch.
“We definitely hope to get into Fringe but are not sure yet,” Brower says. “We have a production slated for April in a venue called Motel, a professional theatre space. Basically, you’ll see us in professional theatre spaces; we plan to use a whole bunch of different venues.”
GayCalgary magazine publisher Steve Polyak believes Third Street Theatre will ensure that queer-themed productions are included in longstanding Calgary area festivals such as the Calgary Fringe Festival and the High Performance Rodeo.
“Going through mainstream theatre and venues totally means we’re going to see a lot of different types of gay and lesbian productions, and having an organization creating something like that will help get gay and lesbian talent out there,” Polyak says. The city has a lot of great talent, but there aren’t many opportunities to showcase it, he observes.
Polyak hopes the new company will challenge homophobic stereotypes by exposing the wider community to local queer talent.
“A few years ago they put on a production of the gay rap opera Bash’d at Roost in Edmonton, which was the oldest gay club in Canada until it closed,” he recalls. “The play addressed what it’s like to come out of the closet, have homophobic parents or visit a gay bar for the first time. It really brought home gaybashing. It was a great production. Things like that help show the straight community a great story. Theatre is a great way for communities to interact. It’s not like watching TV, because you feel closer to the cast and [engage] with what’s going on.”
Brower in turn hopes their productions will provide queer audiences with authentic shows that portray the humanity and diversity of their community. “Even though it’s a small queer community, there are so many stories. Why not feature them?” he asks. “That way the rest of the community gets to hear what’s going on in Calgary.
“Our audience isn’t just going to be the queer community,” he adds. “You don’t have to be queer to get involved, just queer-minded.”