Arts & Entertainment
4 min

The art of play

This year's Queer Arts Festival salutes the Outgames

Credit: Patricia Atchison

In keeping with its avant-garde and experimental heritage, the Queer Arts Festival plans a salute to this summer’s Outgames — nudge-and-wink style. While the athletes work up a sweat in the traditional sporting sense, 29 artists will flex their conceptual muscles to ensure an unconventional investigation of Games People Play, the theme of this year’s curated visual-arts exhibition.

Think of all the psychological games, role-playing and other life performances we indulge in and you’ll get a glimpse of what’s in store. Back in the Queer Arts Festival mix, too, is the open-call community art show, featuring 16 artists. It’s where the festival started, artistic director SD Holman emphasizes, and a turning point along the challenging road queer artists have travelled, whether they were being tokenized in, or marginalized from, the art mainstream.

Making room for both curated and community shows is its own benchmark, marrying a desire to create a professional, international festival that elevates and remunerates artists while paying homage to its roots. This year’s festival will feature visual art shows, as well as three weeks of performances, workshops and other artistic fare.

Lesbian Debauchery
Artist/painter Patricia Atchison’s Lesbian Debauchery mines a range of beloved games — Pictionary, Trivia, Truth or Dare, I Never — to create a wits-testing interactive whole, throughout the three-week festival.

Glitter & Be Gay
With the potent merger of tenor Frédérik Robert, baritone Joel Klein (pictured) and energetic pianist Karen Lee-Morlang, the Roundhouse promises to assume the seductive ambiance of a classic Berlin cabaret stage, conjure up the legendary drag duets of Broadway’s Great White Way, and throw in some off-the-beaten-track pop opera in Glitter and Be Gay, Aug 6 at 7:30pm.

We are our own culture
What’s the Clean Sheets treatment? It’s about nurturing queer playwrights, honing their voices, getting them to the next draft of their new works and having fun with that process.

Those who were lucky enough to see Clean Sheets’ workshopped presentation of Deirdre Walton’s Inna di Wardrobe last year will, no doubt, be back for this year’s live readings of Unstuck (Toronto), Marla’s Party (Montreal) and The Better Parts of Mourning (Vancouver).

“We want to see ourselves in culture — more than Will & Grace — actually meaningful, thought-provoking art,” says Clean Sheets co–curator Seán Cummings, of Screaming Weenie Productions. “Enough with the subculture thing; we are our own culture.”

Clean Sheets 2011
The Better Parts of Mourning, Aug 2, 6:30pm
Marla’s Party, Aug 2, 8:15pm
Unstuck, Aug 9, 6:30pm

My God is gay-friendly
Photographer Angelina Cantada’s fanciful depiction of Rage is part of her “Seven Deadly Sins” series, reflecting her religion-steeped background and her self-professed need to lighten up. “My sexual orientation and lifestyle have always been at odds with my strict Catholic upbringing,” says Cantada. Her solution? “If I can’t play by the rules, I’ll make up my own.” Look for Rage and her six “sinful” sisters in the curated visual arts exhibition.

Part Deux, Even Gayer
Mix some audacity with a dash of feisty and a generous dose of irreverence and the end result is comedic love child Darcy Michael. And if you didn’t meet your death at last year’s sidesplitting Gayest Show on Earth, then gird your bladder for Part Deux, Even Gayer.

Michael proposes to morph from the butchest incarnation of himself into a six-inch-heel-wearing diva who tries to keep up with the superstardom of Symone and her like — all in the midst of a grab bag of drag, improv, standup, sketch and musical performance.

Fair warning: if you sit near the front, you’re in the splash zone, and you’ll want to get tested after the show.

And surprise, surprise: the Conservatives balked at giving Michael a grant for the show. The reason? Be there and all will be revealed.

The Gayest Show on Earth: Part Deux, Even Gayer
Tues, July 26, 9pm
$12 advance, $15–20 at the door

Argument in Q major
They’re probably two of the most important 20th-century figures you’ve never heard of — and they’re queer, to boot. Yet the ideas of the structured Pierre Boulez and the more free–form John Cage are indelibly part of contemporary art music’s fabric.

Through an eclectic fusing of theatre and musical performance, the two composers’ friendship, conflict and polarizing artistic debate, documented in their 1949–1954 correspondence, will raise the Roundhouse roof.

Listeners unfamiliar with their music can expect to be pushed in new directions, promises pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa, who, along with Mark McGregor, David Bloom and Simon Webb, will showcase the works of Boulez and Cage, still resonant 50 years on.

Boulez Contra Cage
An Interdisciplinary Argument for Two Musicians and Two Actors
Thurs, July 28, 7:30pm
$12 advance, $15–20 at the door

What did he just say?
“Niggerfag!” Berend McKenzie repeats — loudly —  to the leather guy trying to retrieve his dropped jaw from a Seattle bar floor.

It’s a runaway needle-over-vinyl moment, for sure. And the Edmonton-born actor/playwright takes fiendish delight in uttering the name of his autobiographical unpacking of what it means to be black and gay in white, straight Canada.

Nggrfg is adding its four-vignette punch to the Queer Arts Festival’s lineup. It’ll be one of the last times a theatre audience hears the voice of its late director, Denis Simpson, playing the father of the show’s protagonist.

“I got to spend his last four days with him, sitting around a table, working on a script, laughing, talking… being completely inappropriate with him,” McKenzie reminisces.

“Denis is still with the show.”

Tues, July 26 and Wed, July 27, 7pm
$12 advance, $15–20 at the door