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Performatorium takes Regina

Festival of queer performance offers three days of talent

Martin O’Brien uses cystic fibrosis to challenge perceptions of illness in his show at the Performatorium theatre fest. Credit: Martin O'Brien

As a born and bred Torontonian, I’ll admit my centre-of-the-universe complex is showing when I wonder whether queer art can be found in Regina. But after glancing at the schedule for Performatorium, I’m debating a weekend trip to check it out. Produced by the team behind the Queer City Cinema festival, Performatorium is a three-day performance event that has featured the talents of Heather Cassils, 2boys.tv and Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay. I chatted with curator and visual artist Garry Varro about this year’s program, the task of queering Regina and why big-city types should pay attention.

Xtra: What’s on the agenda for this year?

Garry Varro: Among the many artists we’ve assembled, Ron Athey is bringing his usual extreme brand of performance. It will be trippy and intense. There will be blood and piercing and a baseball bat up his ass. Toronto’s Jess Dobkin will have some labia lip-synching and asshole-spewing. Anya Liftig will be communicating telepathically with a lobster before she boils it. Martin O’Brien uses cystic fibrosis to challenge perceptions of illness, pain and hardship. And Homo Monstrous will enrage your eardrums and assault your spirits with their queercore fantasy sounds.

This year’s theme was Making It Difficult. What’s that all about?

We’re presenting work by artists that’s challenging to perform and to watch. For artists, this can mean intimate expressions, physically or otherwise, acts which the artist recognizes as creating ethical, moral and political dilemmas for audiences and personal expressions which address ideas around body phobia, HIV/AIDS, sadomasochism, suffering and life-threatening illness. I was drawn to presenting this kind of performance because I was intrigued by my own reactions to it, which were a push-pull response. It’s important and necessary work to show, to rattle a few minds, confront complacency and address mediocrity in both art and status quo North American culture.

When I think of Regina, I don’t immediately think of a hotbed for queer performance or queer life. Care to enlighten me?

The queer scene is fairly contained and conservative, with one gay bar populated by lots of drag queens and a few LGBTQ organizations. As for the queer arts, thank god for the Dunlop Art Gallery. From time to time there are locally produced shows, usually in tandem with Pride. As a smaller city, it’s really all about critical mass. There just isn’t the population to support more than what goes on here. Performatorium and Queer City Cinema are kind of anomalies, being distinctly and experimentally queer. Presenting these festivals helps to queer things up here a little.

Is Performatorium worth the trip to Regina?

We don’t want any outsiders in Vagina! Leave us the fuck alone! Of course it’s worth the trip. Just ask any of our amazing visiting artists, our sexy and dedicated audience or our awesome staff and volunteers. Seriously though, I think this festival has great integrity. It’s intensely considerate of both its artists and its audience and would stand up in any large urban Canadian city. Take that, Toronto!