Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Out of the box

Hysterical artistic power on stage at Hysteria

ENCORE. Staceyann Chin returns to Hysteria, this time as a solo performer. "Toronto audiences are so tuned into the political already," says Chin. "You really have to be sharp."

This month sees the return of Hysteria, Buddies in Bad Times’ biennial celebration of female artists. The 10-day festival, now in its fifth outing, features dance, film, music, theatre, spoken word and visual art. Named by festival director Moynan King after what was once considered a peculiarly female affliction, Hysteria reclaims female artistic power.

“In a way the hysterics were performers,” says King, referring to a 19th-century series of photographs taken by doctors at a hospital in Paris of women in the throes of hysteria. Women posed for the photos in an attempt to buy their way out of the institution. “There’s no way these photographs could be authentic, because photography was a long, painstaking process,” says King, “so the hysterics of all of our ideas are performance artists.”

This year’s festival features an international lineup of performers, including two queer artists based in New York — poet and novelist Staceyann Chin and drag performer milDred. Other highlights include: a retrospective by queer comedian Shawna Dempsey of her collaborations with Lorri Millan; Spin, an evening of bicycle-themed entertainment written by Evalyn Parry; and Mass Hysteria, a cabaret of five-minute performances opened by singer Sharron Matthews.

This will be milDred’s first appearance at Hysteria with her one-woman show When She Was King (8pm, Oct 29). The Brooklyn-based actress has played both male and female roles on stage, TV and film, but she is also a veteran drag performer who has been perfecting her show for 14 years.

“It brings to people’s minds the ways we’ve been domesticated about gender in ourselves and each other in a fun way,” says milDred, whose act features impersonations of P Diddy and Shaft in a combination of monologue, comedy, music and dance.

Although milDred stresses the fun aspect of her show, she says there is also a political aspect to it. “Anything out of the norm is considered political for me, and being a Haitian-American woman performing male roles definitely makes a political statement,” she says.

This is Staceyann Chin’s second visit to Hysteria, but her first as a solo performer (8pm, Oct 23). This time, she says, she’s looking forward to seeing female artists’ responses to the economic crisis. “I’m particularly interested in what marginalized voices have to say because it’s often very different,” she says.

In a way, Chin says, festivals like Hysteria are more important now than ever. “In a time when the economy is crashing globally and funding for everything that is considered artistic is being cut,” she says, “I think these festivals become almost the only places that radical feminist voices can showcase their work.”

After her performance Chin will sign copies of her memoir, The Other Side of Paradise, about growing up queer in Jamaica after her mother had emigrated to Canada, leaving her behind.

“It’s about being biracial in a black Jamaican setting, coming out as a lesbian in a country where it is violently homophobic, about a girl who didn’t necessarily conform to the gender norms of the Jamaican culture, a girl with a big mouth who understood that there was something wrong with the fact that boys were treated differently,” she says.

Chin’s performance at Hysteria is likely to be part scripted, part surprise (“even for myself”), although she adds that taking the stage in Canada is a different experience from performing in the US.

“Toronto audiences I think are so tuned into the political already that when you get to this kind of leftist fringe audience you really have to be sharp,” says Chin. “Canada’s lifestyle is similar enough to the American for them to understand the references, but because it’s not America I have a little more leeway to critique of the American way of life. I can have a little more fun.”

The festival kicks off with a free opening night gala featuring a range of multidisciplinary artists throughout Buddies’ performance spaces, as well as a new installation by King and Trixie and Beever.