From 1990 to 2007, the Strange Sisters cabaret was a Toronto institution. Now, after a five-year absence, the one-night-only event is back (subtitled The Insatiable Redux). Buddies in Bad Times will be taken over by a slew of artists — including Catherine Hernandez, Donna-Michelle St Bernard and Alvis Parsley — expressing themselves through spoken word, burlesque, video, dance and everything in between. Xtra spoke with the event’s curators, Gein Wong and Kim Crosby, about reviving old traditions, queer history and a butch lesbian Cinderella.
Xtra: Strange Sisters has been gone for quite a while. Do you think the new incarnation will seem familiar to fans of the old edition, or is it an entirely new beast?
Gein Wong: We’re ecstatic and honoured to be reviving and continuing the legacy of Strange Sisters. It very much represents the long history of strong support for the amazingly talented queer women performers in the city.
Kim Crosby: We think it’s important that younger folks understand that we are reviving a tradition. We have been interviewing previous curators, including Jane Farrow and Moynan King, as well as former Buddies artistic director Sarah Stanley, because we wanted to get their insight and their blessings as we begin this new journey. The night comes from a really powerful, raunchy and vibrant history that we are excited to revive, and we are hoping to bring the same energy back to Buddies.
In 2013, where do you think we’re at in terms of representation for queer women and trans people? Are events like this one still vitally important, or are there more opportunities for queer female and trans expression than there used to be?
KC: When it becomes entirely normal to see a performance of Cinderella with a butch lesbian as the lead or Othello with a genderqueer Desdemona, we may decide that places like Strange Sisters are obsolete. But the applications speak for themselves: over 70 for eight spots, with artists applying from Bangkok to Oakland. Clearly, folks are hungry for this space, and they want to bring their particular kind of magical talent to the event. In the coming years, we really want to grow Strange Sisters so that it can accommodate more of the visionary work that is being created.
What will audiences see at Strange Sisters that they aren’t going to see anywhere else?
KC: An amateur cute Asian dominatrix, as interpreted by Alvis Parsley; hot superhero aerialists and pole performances from Oakland; a lot of bravery, frailty and hotness. This is a space where we encourage artists to unabashedly worship the complexities of themselves. We want artists to express their whole selves — as freaks, as queers, as weirdos — and to do it with as much celebration as they want.
GW: Accordingly, we are moulding the space to reflect this amazing energy. We’re working with space activator Jade Lee Hoy to create a performance space that feels transformatively queer as soon as you enter the building. As well, we are bringing high production quality through lighting, transitions and direction. Performances blend and flow into one another, performers appear multiple times all over the room, and a big group musical number will occur.
How do you plan to get the word out to younger members of the community who might have missed out on Strange Sisters in its first incarnation?
GW: Strange Sisters has a storied history of bringing queer women together. With this revival, we hope to fill Buddies with the energy of as many queer women, trans folks and allies as possible, especially younger generations, newly queer-identified women and cash-poor queer and trans folks. To help make this happen, we are offering a “pay it forward” program, where people have the option to purchase tickets for people who cannot otherwise afford to come. People simply purchase extra tickets at the box office, which will then be distributed to people-in-need who request them.
You’ve programmed a diverse night of performances, but do you see connections between the different pieces?
KC: While the content and the subject matter of each piece is distinct, they are all fierce, hilarious and innovative in their own skin — it’s this energy that ties them all together.