Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Queer picks at the PuSh Fest

Vancouver’s most provocative annual performance festival turns 10

Gender Failure, by Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote, chronicles their failed attempts to fit into the gender binary and how that binary ultimately fails us all. Credit: Push Fest/JJ Levine

The PuSh International Performing Arts Festival — one of Vancouver’s signature arts events — celebrates its 10th anniversary of provoking audiences this year and, once again, queer voices will be well represented.

As this year’s program states, and past selections demonstrate, “pushing artistic boundaries is not only the PuSh Festival’s reason for being — we believe it’s ultimately what the performing arts are all about. Because when you cross that line between safe and risky, sometimes amazing things can happen.”

Two of those amazing things, Tucked & Plucked and Gender Failure, are productions by boundary-pushing queer Canadian performers. Both were brought to the festival’s attention by renowned Vancouver music-maker and PuSh co-curator Veda Hille.

Hille recently spoke with Xtra while nursing herself through a cold. “One of the first things I look for as a curator — and it’s kind of a selfish thing — is do I want to see that show?” she said. “If that internal desire isn’t there, I’m not so inclined to pursue it.”

Tucked & Plucked is a talk-show-style performance hosted by beloved East Van drag queen Isolde N Barron and her drag husband Peach Cobblah — aka Cameron and Dave Mackenzie-Deveau, the always provocative co-conspirators behind Zee Zee Theatre. The show is an investigation into Vancouver’s rich drag history, and integral to this investigation are guest appearances by the city’s most famous (and infamous) drag queens, past and present.

“I’m curious to see how they combine their drag work with their theatre work, both of which have really high credentials,” Hille says.

The piece was originally commissioned by the Performing Arts Lodge Studio Theatre Society. As a provider of affordable housing and social support for our elders in the performing arts, and with an onsite 150-seat theatre, the PAL partnership with Zee Zee has created a series of events stacked with equal parts hubris and self-mocking humour that’s rich in local drag lore.

Indie electronica singer/songwriter Rae Spoon and writer/performer (and former Xtra columnist) Ivan Coyote have been collaborating for nearly seven years. Gender Failure — their multimedia production that has played (frequently to sold-out houses) in London, Montreal, Toronto and New York — delves into their personal gender paths and is described as an equally hilarious and heartbreaking exploration of failed attempts to fit into the gender binary, and how that binary ultimately fails us all.

The most recent iteration of the show includes collaboration with Seattle animator and video artist Clyde Petersen, who approached the pair after seeing them perform in New York. The PuSh Festival has commissioned new work from Petersen that will premiere as part of this production, adding a brightly textured visual element to Coyote’s razor-sharp narrative and Spoon’s ethereal voice.

When asked what drew her to Gender Failure, Hille’s excitement overshadowed her flu-ish symptoms. “Both those artists are constantly readjusting and reinventing themselves in an artistic and aesthetic manner, which I find completely exciting. I’m always interested in seeing what they’re up to next.”

What they’re up to next is a book version of the show, also entitled Gender Failure, being published by Arsenal Pulp Press and set for release in April 2014, that will include text from the show, stills from performances and illustrations by Petersen.