Back in the day — which is to say the mid to late ’90s — a popular queer performance troupe called Taste This made quite a name for itself. Anyone who came out or of age at the time probably remembers an Elvis-like aura of fame surrounding these up-and-coming queer artists who toured all over North America sharing their edgy take on being young, gendered and queer.
But even if you weren’t tuned in to this cultural moment in queer Canadian history, you’ll probably recognize the names of the troupe’s performers: Anna Camilleri, Ivan Coyote, Zoe Eakle and Lyndell Montgomery. Since Taste This disbanded in 2000, these artists have been pumping out albums, books and solo shows to wide acclaim — including a 2002 book featuring the best of the Taste This collaboration called Boys Like Her: Transfictions.
Ten years later, Camilleri, Coyote and Montgomery are staging a reprisal of their collaboration — minus Zoe Eakle and with the added imagery of Toronto video artist Leslie Peters. The new iteration of the troupe is called Swell, and their first multimedia storytelling show, which premiered last August at the Pride in Art festival in Vancouver, is entitled So the Story Goes.
“It’s amazing that they’re remounting this,” says Chelsey Lichtman, a Toronto performer, activist and cultural producer who is promoting the Swell shows in both Toronto and Ottawa.
“I came out to Boys Like Her. I never got to see [the troupe] perform, but the book is iconic for me. Seeing those writings when I was 19 changed my whole perspective on queer identity, along with a lot of other people I know. [These performers] are so incredibly articulate and insightful.”
But why the reunion after nearly a decade of decidedly successful solo projects? The urge to revisit this collaboration developed out of personal loss, which brought the three artists into closer contact a couple years back.
“I guess what sparked it is that I had a housefire in the spring of 2008,” says Camilleri. “It was kind of uncanny because Ivan had [just] had a housefire. Ivan had this experience of losing everything, as did I, and Lyndell had had this strange vehicle fire. It was really odd, two old friends [also] having this experience in the ‘baptism by fire’ department.
“We had a lot of conversations that spring — more than we normally would — and we [decided to spend] a couple of days together in a cabin in the forest shooting the shit. Really, that time was about exploring beyond the friendship connection. The question was, ‘Do we want to work on trying to make this [reunion] possible?’ And the answer was yes.”
New to working with the group, video artist Leslie Peters says that she had been taking a break from her craft before this opportunity came her way — which she says has reinvigorated her art practice.
“I’ve sort of stepped away from… video over the last two years, and this project felt right for me because it wasn’t just about myself and my own practice,” says Peters. “I had hit this point with video where it was like, ‘I can never do this again!’ And [working with Swell] made me think that that’s not true; I really love this. It sort of gave me an entry back into video. I know I’ll continue on in my own way.”
It would seem that this across-the-board sense of enthusiasm and inspiration can survive even a 10-year hiatus. Lichtman, for one, thinks that queer storytelling has something to do with that continued engagement.
“We have to share our experiences with each other, and I think storytelling is a really accessible medium,” she says. “The experience of having a whole bunch of queer people in a room listening to these stories is really beautiful. People always walk away from their performances thinking about their queer identity or queer community differently.”