Arts & Entertainment
4 min

On stage: Forget burning bras

There are bigger boundaries to bust

DOODLE DANDY. Jennifer Miller, the fire-eating, sword-swallowing, bearded lady of Coney Island, joins Hysteria's New York Invasion.

It may not be entirely accurate to refer to Buddies in Bad Times’ annual interdisciplinary Hysteria fest simply as a “festival of works by women.” Though most of the creators in the 10-day interdisciplinary showcase opening Thu, Oct 25 are in possession of two X chromosomes, there is something more than mere genetics to unite the artists and their work.

In assembling the eclectic group who hail from across Canada, the US and Europe, festival director Moynan King wasn’t looking so much for projects created by women as pieces that break boundaries. “Women often end up creating their work in different ways than men because of their economic situations,” she says. “Having to create work with little money really forces artists to think outside conventional ways of creating.”

As a result of the tenuous situations under which they sometimes create, King feels that women end up making work that falls outside mainstream definitions of what theatre should be, which is fine as far as she’s concerned. “Buddies has really moved away from conventional theatre-making,” she says. “Fortunately for us there are a lot of artists who are also moving that direction so there’s a real plethora of work out there to choose from.”

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In keeping with the whole outside-the-boundaries theme, last year King decided to expand the fest’s local focus. Each year, now, features a night dedicated to another city. This year the lucky town is the Big Apple itself. Under the watchful eye of curator and NYC-expat Jess Dobkin, the New York Invasion is sure to delight (8pm on Fri, Nov 2).

Over the phone I notice in Dobkin’s voice a distinct lack of the standard “plumber in the mafia” drawl that New Yorkers carry into their adult life. Is she really from New York?

“I’ve lost my accent over time,” she says, laughing; Dobkin moved to Canada five years ago. “In New York everyone talks with their tongues hanging out but in Canada everyone keeps their tongue tight in the bottom of their mouth. I can put on an accent if I loosen up my tongue, which is a good thing anyway for a lesbian.”

Beyond the relative tightness of our tongues people in Toronto are always comparing the two cities — New York being the bigger, badder, brighter Mary to Toronto’s humbler, cleaner, blander Rhoda. Not so says Dobkin, at least when it comes to artists being able to take risks with their work. “We have much better arts funding in Canada than they do in the US,” she says. “Arts councils here are also much more willing to fund experimental and controversial work. I’ve done a lot of things since moving here that I never would have been able to do in New York.”

The program will feature performances by Jennifer Miller, the fire-eating, sword-swallowing, bearded lady of Coney Island fame (yes, you read that right), as well as the butch bravado of performance poet Susana Cook and work by video artist Patty Chang who does a Fear Factor-esque fandango with a school of eels.

In keeping with the festival’s boundary busting, there are also a few men on the bill as well. Writer Ivan E Coyote and country crooner Rae Spoon (both born female but now identifying as male) have created You Are Here (8:30pm, Sat, Oct 27), a multimedia performance piece featuring spoken word, song and projected visuals designed by Valerie Salez. The project sprang from a series of short stories Coyote wrote about growing up in the Yukon.

When Coyote and Spoon first decided to create the piece it seemed essential to start the process up north. But they needed a way to get to Whitehorse. In a poetic twist of fate, Spoon purchased a beat-up white hearse from his mother’s husband to make the long trip to the subarctic. The two packed their bags and hit the road. “A lot of people forget that Canada is almost as large to traverse north to south as it is east to west,” says Spoon. “There was this incredible feeling of the scenery growing wilder as we went north, with foxes, bears and eagles popping into sight regularly.”

After the initial research trip, the pair returned to the north in January to finesse their creation under the watch of nearly 24-hour darkness. Apparently a complete lack of sunshine and minus 40 temperatures were a great spark for their creativity. “The combination of the weather and the isolation really helped us bond,” Spoon says. “We went curling together, dragged our groceries home on a sled and perfected the art of the chicken dinner.”

Montreal’s Lesbians on Ecstasy are currently tearing up stages in Switzerland with their unique brand of carpet-munching rock-rap. But they’ll soon upend a Hysteria stage with their new rock opera, The Amphitheatre of Homosexuality. It makes its Toronto premiere as part of the Strange Sisters program (8pm, Fri, Oct 26).

Born from a desire to feature their songs on stage in a new way, Amphitheatre is a gay and grandiose tale of lost hope from the perspective of a concerned citizen watching the world crumble around her. But will it be a true rock opera with big hair and Spandex? “Sorry to disappoint,” says front woman Bernie. “We don’t have any of that. There will be tie-dye and glow sticks. We are lesbians, after all.”

This is the second time the Lezzies have graced the stage at Buddies, following an appearance in 2003 when the band was just starting out. “Buddies booked us for our first show outside of Montreal which was a super important step in our careers,” she says. “As well as being a well-respected and long-standing institution with an incredible group of people working there it’s also a space where the public actually attends new works, having faith that those at the helm are steering the programming in the right direction.”