Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Tightrope set to premiere at Buddies enlist local talent to explore narrative of loss

It’s sometimes said that artists don’t choose the themes of their work, but that the themes choose them. When Montreal-based company (Stephen Lawson and Aaron Pollard) were touring the Americas presenting their trademark multimedia performances, the subject matter for their latest project, Tightrope, began to emerge.
“The theme of people who have disappeared kept arising in different communities,” Lawson says. “Whether it was political dissidents in Argentina, drug cartel victims in Columbia or aboriginal women in Canada, the idea kept presenting itself.
“We started to ask ourselves about our relationship to the disappeared in our own lives,” he adds. “We were 11 and 14 respectively when the AIDS crisis began and feel quite strongly the absence of that disappeared generation of gay men.”
Making its world premiere at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto on Friday, May 27, Tightrope melds live performance with video projection and music. Developed over a three-year period, the project incorporates a live musical element, courtesy of Montreal performers Alexis O’Hara and Radwan Ghazi Moumneh. 
“We’re thinking of the work as a song cycle rather than a theatre piece,” Lawson says. “The music forms the backbone of the piece in a way it never has in our previous work.”
The set will be constructed primarily of newspapers from the local community, changing according to the city where it is performed. This is both a nod to how the subject matter is positioned in the media and an attempt to situate the work in a local context. In addition to the fixed company of four, the piece will incorporate local performers. The Toronto version will feature a rotating cast of 12, including Kaleb Robertson, Nick Green, Ryan Kerr and lady-bear extraordinaire Fay Slift.
“The local performers take on the role of professional mourners in the piece,” Lawson says. “It was very important for us to bring people from the local community into the work. We meet a lot of people while travelling and performing, but it’s through actually working with people that you form deeper and more meaningful relationships.”
“We also want to foster intergenerational communication within the drag community,” he adds. “It’s our responsibility to facilitate and encourage younger generations of queer performers. That’s also a key platform of Buddies’ mandate, which is part of what makes the piece a natural fit for them.”
The boys have a long history with Buddies, dating back to their first show at the Rhubarb festival in 2003. Since then, they’ve presented their signature works Phobophilia and Zona Pellucida there, as well as performing in 2007’s uproarious musical extravaganza ArtHouse Cabaret.
“We’ve been at Buddies for long enough that we’ve passed through the courtship phase and become established lovers,” Lawson laughs. “They’re our Toronto home and part of our international performance family. The relationship has been a huge help to us.”
The other relationship central to the creation of the work is the one between Lawson and Pollard. Together for 15 years as a couple, the pair has been collaborating for over 10 of those years. Being partners in both art and life has its good and bad sides. 
“Many things might get discussed over the first coffee of the day or just before you turn the lights out for the night, which isn’t a privilege you get in other collaborative partnerships,” Lawson says. “The downside is that it’s impossible to escape from the work in a way, because you can’t come home and complain about the people you’re working with.”
“That’s actually been one of the best things about collaborating with Alexis and Radwan,” he adds. “If they weren’t in the room there would be a lot more slamming things down and running out in tears. Having them around takes the edge off.”