Arts & Entertainment
4 min

Seven queer picks at Toronto Fringe Festival 2016

Gay artists and acts fill the annual fest

Homeland Collective’s Fringe offering tackles sexual awakenings, bullying, racism and immigration. Staged in a Kensington Market school, the show follows the kids from kindergarten to Grade 6. Credit: Mackenzie Clark

Hogtown’s summer theatrical free-for-all is back as the Toronto Fringe Festival descends upon us. Featuring more than 150 shows spread over more than 30 venues, the annual, unjuried program is truly a place where anything and everything can happen. This year’s event offers a bevy of homo content and Daily Xtra has zeroed in on a few productions you’ll definitely want to add to your queer calendar.

Adam Bailey is On Fire
By Adam Bailey

(Hugh Probyn)

Picture a room full of people rolling around on the floor, making guttural noises. It sounds like a sex party sans furniture. But this is actually Adam Bailey’s religious upbringing. Raised by an Evangelical minister who started his own church, Bailey spent his youth amid the “speaking-in-tongues”, “gays-are-an-abomination” set. When it came time to make his own steps out of the closet, the heavy-handed religiosity added an extra layer of difficulty. Addressing the “gays versus Christians” divide the media perpetuates while telling his own story, Bailey’s self-deprecating journey through his staunch upbringing and early sexual fumblings takes on his particularly challenging coming-out process with an unexpectedly humourous spin.

By Homeland Collective

(Mackenzie Clark)

While a lot of queer youth narratives tend to focus on the teen years, it’s probably elementary school that encompasses the biggest sexual shifts. From skipping ropes and sandboxes to masturbation and menstrual cycles, it’s a moment of dramatic physical and psychological change, as well as a time when the seeds of many of our adult quirks are sown. Based on their own memories from this period, the Homeland Collective’s Fringe offering tackles sexual awakenings, bullying, racism and immigration. Staged in a Kensington Market school, the show follows the kids from kindergarten to Grade 6, as they come to understand the scary world that awaits them.

Get Yourself Home Skyler James
By Jordan Tannahill

(Neil Silcox)

While the Fringe can be a place to experiment and fail with new ideas, it’s just as often a spot where artists aim to put their own spin on established works. For Binocular Theatre’s Fringe debut, the team has chosen some heavy hitting material with Skyler James. The piece was part of theatrical wunderkind Jordan Tannahill’s collection Age of Minority that snagged the Governor General’s award in 2014. Staged in the gritty, fluorescent-lit glory of an arts centre basement, the play looks at the true story of an American army private who fled to Canada after being outed as a lesbian. Working with an established script can put a lot of extra pressure on a company. But they can also take respite in the fact that nothing in Tannahill’s meticulously crafted play happens by accident.

A Minor Mid-Career Retrospective
By James Judd

(Anatoliy Koval)

NPR star James Judd has made a career of dumping out his diary on stage. The lawyer turned writer/performer’s trademark brand of autobiographical storytelling puts a humourous spin on his life’s highs and lows. With Mid-Career, the NYC-based artist assembles a greatest hits collection from his shows over the last decade. We hear about his tryst with a fake, gay doctor currently locked up in Attica, his tale of confronting a lesbian bully during a gay scuba expedition, and his work as an undercover journalist in a Beijing whorehouse. While it relies on personal material, Mid-Career avoids the trap often associated with first person solo shows, eschewing the art-as-therapy model, and instead offering pure, escapist entertainment.

By Greg Campbell

(Photo by David Hawe, graphics by Hope Thompson)

Veteran actor Greg Campbell has been a major player on Toronto stages since the late ’80s. But while he’s performed in works by Sky Gilbert and Michael Hollingsworth, as well as a turn in Bob Martin and Don McKellar’s smash hit The Drowsy Chaperone, he’ll be stepping on stage during Fringe for the first time to tell his own story. Set in 1977 (the year he took his earliest steps from the closet), Out chronicles a nine-month period where Campbell peeked inside NYC’s Crisco Disco era. Beyond sharing his own life experience, Out looks at a pivotal moment in queer history between Stonewall and the emergence of AIDS. Along with being a valuable lesson for younger queers unfamiliar with this period, the show reminds us of a time when Pride was radical act of defiance, rather than just another excuse to party.   

By Sky Gilbert
With David Benjamin Tomlinson


(Ian Brown)

While many a faggot has floated across a rink in figure skates, Canadian Toller Cranston was the first to formally come out. Sort of. While the flamboyant Canuck who’s credited with bringing a new level of artistry to the sport is generally remembered as being gay, the truth is somewhat more complex. In the second part of his two-volume autobiography published in 2000, he claimed to have had a brief affair with Czech skating sensation Ondrej Nepela. But he also mentions several relationships with women, and seems to have lived his life largely without romantic fulfilment. Set in 2014, the year before he died of an apparent heart attack, Tomlinson and Gilbert’s collaborative look at the skating star aims to unearth an unknown side of the larger than life persona. As innovative on the ice as he was in front of the easel (he had a second career as a painter), Toller renders a portrait of an individual locked in a lifelong passion with his art.

“Ze”: Queer as F*CK!
by Michelle Lunicke
A Pride Toronto-affiliated event

(Virginia Guy and Goad Studio)

While older generations of queers were largely dedicated to fighting for rights and pushing back against stereotypes, it seems like youngsters today are more often fixated on language and labels. Michelle Lunicke’s solo follows one queer’s struggle to find a place in a community where everything is possible but everyone’s also supposed to be able to fit into one of the pre-existing boxes. Mixing re-enactment, storytelling and stand up, Lunicke invites the audience to witness a complicated journey through gender and sexuality. Though it involves plenty of push back against the larger community’s need to keep identities neat and tidy, Queer as F*CK also offers up a healthy dose of humour, forcing us to laugh about how seriously we take ourselves and our divisions.