Arts & Entertainment
4 min

Seven queer picks for SummerWorks 2016

Post-apocalyptic pantomime, slow dances and naked ladies at Toronto’s curated performance festival

D’bi.young anitafrika’s Bleeders paints a bleak portrait of our future, with humanity largely infertile and perpetually at war. Credit: Courtesy Anthony Macri

Unlike Fringe, with its wild and woolly lottery system, every show at Toronto’s SummerWorks Performance Festival is handpicked by a jury, but with over 60 shows, you’ll still need help winnowing down to the best of the best. Xtra is here to help. Founded in 1991, the annual showcase has expanded from an exclusively theatrical program to include live art, dance and music. Summerworks is usually jam-packed with queer artists and this year is no exception. Xtra has sifted the program to find you the fest’s gay best. 


Written and directed by d’bi.young anitafrika

Set several years after the explosion of the Pickering nuclear plant, queer performance maverick d’bi.young anitafrika’s Bleeders paints a bleak portrait of our future, with humanity largely infertile and perpetually at war. Melding African-Caribbean-Canadian musical theatre with folklore and pantomime to create a new form she calls panto-dub-opera, the project succeeds in an unlikely task: tackling desperately dark subjects like environmental degradation, racism, gender oppression and homophobia with unexpected hope.

(Courtesy Anthony Macri)

Fame Prayer/EATING

Created by Andrew Tay, Francois Lalumiere and Katrzyna Szugajew

Whether you’re Finding the Boyfriend Within, realizing He’s Just Not That Into You, or looking for The Secret to everything, there’s a self-help book to heal your ills for one low price. Created in collaboration with visual/performance artist Francois Lalumiere and photographer Katrzyna Szugajew, Montreal choreographer Andrew Tay’s show skewers this multi-billion dollar industry. The team examines how consumer culture has absorbed the practices of healing, as well as the dangers of blind faith they demand. The creators’ solution is to re-imagine spirituality as a kind of drag that can be donned and doffed as the mood strikes. Combining pop music, therapy books, and a simultaneously seductive and confusing sexual energy, Fame Prayer is like a queer twist on Oprah’s book club.

(Courtesy Katrzyna Szugajew)

Intent City

Created by Eventual Ashes and the Red Slam Collective

Meaningful conversations about privilege are among the most difficult we can have. But that’s exactly what the team behind Intent City intends. Combining a complex spatial design with live music and video projections, the artists  provide an environment for dialogue, instead of just talking at the audience . Touching on issues of decolonization, indigenous futurism and solidarity, the show aims to build bridges between the queer and indigenous communities in a spirit of healing and compassion, proving that the toughest talks also build the strongest bonds.

(Courtesy Zahra Siddiqui)

Mr Shi and His Lover

Text by Wong Teng Chi, music by Njo Kong Kie, directed by Johnny Tam

Most queers have at least a passing familiarity with David Henry Hwang’s play M Butterfly, later adapted to film by David Cronenberg. Loosely based on true events, a French diplomat falls for a Chinese opera diva without realizing she is actually a he. Macau Experimental Theatre’s version puts a unique spin on this tale, stripping it down to two characters and scripting it entirely in Mandarin. While the original tackles Orientalism and the West’s colonial relationship with the East, this version centres on the story’s uniquely queer qualities. The result is a portrait of a relationship existing outside sexuality or gender, until it’s forced to conform to convention.

(Courtesy Chen Yi Tang)

Naked Ladies

Written and performed by Thea Fitz-James

Many artists claim their decision to enter the creative life had something to do with pissing off their parents. But Thea Fitz-James cites a more direct connection, crediting an argument with her mother as the catalyst for her SummerWorks show. When her mom quipped that women who shed their clothes in public all have “daddy issues”, Fitz-James set out to explore the naked female body in historical and personal contexts. From original sin to strippers, sexting-induced slut shaming to those over-40 gals at the gym who don’t give a shit, Naked Ladies opens up and bares all. Ideal family entertainment!

(Courtesy Paula John)

Queer slow dance with radical thought: The (Ir)reverence Edition

Created by Heather Hermant and Alvis Parsley

Have you ever gone to a library and wished that instead of having to read the books you could just have someone whisper their contents softly into your ear while cupping the small of your back? If so, Heather Hermant and Alvis Parsley’s collaboration is the show you’ve been waiting for. Visit their “circulation desk,” request a specific work, and meet your text in the form of a dance partner. Working largely with memorized materials from the CLGA’s collection, the piece offers both a look inside the archives as well as a critique of their contents. And there won’t be any nuns watching from the sidelines with rulers, so no need to dance a foot apart.

(Courtesy Henry Chan)

This is the August

Directed by Megan Piercey Monafu and written by Hillary Rexe

Feminism is neither a stable term nor a unified political ideology. For young feminists — especially those of the queer variety — wading through the movement’s history and its relationship to pornography, trans rights and slut-shaming can be head-spinning. Bringing together an imaginary filmmaker focused on marginalized women in foreign countries, a queer YouTuber who shares her sexual experiences online, and a gender-neutral artist who “just wants to make pretty shit,” Rexe’s play personifies the movement’s many wings, ultimately showing there’s no definitive version of feminism and no one uniquely qualified to define it.

(Courtesy Chelsea Hirons)