Arts & Entertainment
4 min

On stage: Hysteria

Wild, curvy & feminist territory

“Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians,” goes the infamous quote from Pat Robertson. The US evangelist would surely be horrified at the bewitching plethora of feminist-minded offerings in this year’s Hysteria: A Festival Of Women, running Thu, Oct 27 to Nov 5 at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre.

It’s the third year for festival director Moynan King’s fiesta of womanly delights, and she’s thrilled at her creation’s burgeoning success. “The thing that really excites me is the diversity and interest,” she says. “Our call for submissions has now reached out to the United States and Europe as well.”

King created the 10-day festival with Nightwood Theatre’s Kelly Thornton in 2003. King has now taken the reigns single-handedly, with the aid of a committee to help sift through the hundreds of international submissions. “It’s a massive job to go through them all,” she says, “and I feel we have a good cross-country selection.”

There’s a healthy sprinkling of West Coasters: Vancouverite rocker Kinnie Starr storms Megalomania (9pm, Fri, Oct 28), and fellow British Columbian Jennifer Griffin weaves a poignant story of Canadian feminism’s evolution with the staged reading of Into The Waves (3pm, Sat, Nov 5).

Alberta makes a cameo appearance in West Edmonton Mall (7pm, Nov 3), Patti Flather’s offbeat story of one woman’s road trip to spend her 30th birthday at the megamall. The province also lends us Edmontonian Lindsay Campbell’s powerful piece Girl Mom (4pm on Oct 29) with its 79 characters voicing real quotes from teenage mothers.

But it’s Montreal that really shares the spotlight with Toronto this year, with a positive army of demiurgic divas descending from our naughty neighbour to teach us a thing or two about cutting loose.

Members of la belle province’s infamous Edgy Women return after a triumphantly hilarious political cabaret in last year’s fest (Talieson McEneny appears in the mixed program Psycho[logic] at 8pm on Oct 29, Deborah Dunn performs in the mixed program Stripped at 8pm on Oct 30 and Nathalie Claude is in the mixed program Sensorimotor Stage, 8pm, Nov 5). Along for the trip are punk-acrobats Les Walkyries (8:30pm, Nov 3) and the women of Le Boudoir, a cabaret burlesque institution in Montreal, where “high meets low art” in a lush, sexy romp (9pm, Nov 4).

Edgy woman Nathalie Claude routinely appears in Le Boudoir, which has been running to packed houses in Montreal since its inception 12 years ago. Claude writes the vaudevillian skits that are the central core of each performance — one year, an Agatha Christie-style mystery, the next a prison piece and even a “totally lesbian” take on The Three Musketeers.

“It’s really an homage to everything turn of the century,” says Claude, “the aesthetic of burlesque, theatre and acrobatic dance… but all made by women.”

Le Boudoir is unapologetically lesbian, surprising even its organizers with a steadily growing audience that has seen the annual event grow from 200 attendees in a small venue, to its current home at the posh Theatre Corona, with audiences of 800.

King was thrilled to snatch the Boudoir babes for this year’s Hysteria, having been a fan of their bawdy antics for years. “I walked into the theatre that first night and everybody in the audience was dressed to the nines,” she recalls. “So we’ve put on the brochure: ‘Freaky and fancy attire a must!'”

Nobody knows freaky and fancy quite like Shasty, the bubble-headed pop star whose viciously satirical monologues make Britney Spears look like a virginal nuclear scientist.

She’s the creation of comedienne Shoshanna Sperling, who cloaks astute political commentary in Shasty’s vapid musings, mercilessly skewering the uninformed and the bigoted in The Pink Cookie Tour (7pm, Oct 29).

“[Shasty] is everything you can imagine that’s annoying about America,” says Sperling, “God and fame and self-importance.” As one of this year’s few straight chicks, Sperling feels welcomed by her queerer sisters, nonetheless.

“I’m the outcast of the straight community,” she chuckles. “Walking onstage at a straight comedy club is like being shot in the neck. Whereas, if I do a show at Buddies, it’s wonderful. I don’t feel like the straight girl, I feel at home.”

Part of Hysteria’s fun is the inclusion of several installations and performances involving festival attendees.

Hysteriites can receive an introductory course to belly dancing (11am, Nov 5), have a beauty and/or gender makeover at the Beauty Salon (6pm, Oct 31), or take part in an intensive week-long training in break dancing at the Breakin’ Clinic with Montreal’s K8 Asterlund, which culminates in a performance at the Sensorimotor Stage (8pm, Nov 5).

And for those million dollar babies just dying to kick some ass, there’s Savoy Howe’s five-day Fight Factory, which teaches its scrappy students to throw (and take) a punch, along with basic defence training.

Like the Breakin’ Clinic, Howe’s combatants will ultimately take part in a performance in Peak Fixations (8:30pm, Nov 3) where she and percussionist Tanya Matthews will use the sound of punches hitting a boxer’s hand pad with other boxing sounds to create a soundscape akin to the popular Stomp productions.

“I think Hysteria is the best venue possible to talk about healthy female aggression,” says Howe, who runs The Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club.

King delights in this year’s eclectic blend of performance and instruction, and cites it as a primary tenet of Hysteria’s mandate.

“I really want to expose people to different things at the same time,” says King. “There’s less risk involved for the audience member because they can see so many things in one night.

“Plus cute artsy chicks as far as the eye can see!”