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Tomboy Survival Guide & other queer picks at PuSh Festival

Christeene says she’s coming to Club PuSh to help us free our inner ponies

Ivan Coyote (second from right) presents their latest work, Tomboy Survival Guide, at Performance Works on Granville Island Feb 6. “There are so many skills that a tomboy needs to learn,” Coyote says. Credit: Robin Toma

Though presenting only three queer shows — and all outside its main stage — might seem a bit thin, the quality in this year’s queer trio at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival is indisputable.

Two of the three productions with queer content at this year’s festival will take place at Club PuSh, which features cutting-edge performances in a less formal, less traditional space. “It gives us a lot of leeway to bring smaller and more experimental shows to PuSh,” explains Veda Hille, one of the club’s curators. “We’re really big on the inter-arts — people who are doing work that crosses boundaries with dance, theatre and music.”

Hille is a big proponent of showcasing edgy new voices and experiences onstage, something she says never seems to be lacking in the queer submissions to the festival. “As far as edgy art goes, the queers have always led the way,” she says. “There is so much queer performance that it isn’t one area that we have to dig very far to find great content.”

One of the edgiest productions this year comes from Austin, Texas, as Paul Soileau brings his alter-ego Christeene to Club PuSh, a character Spin magazine describes as “a manic combination of Alice Cooper and Hedwig (of the Angry Inch).” The theatrical incarnation of the persona Soileau created five years ago and has featured in music videos, The Christeene Machine stage version is more than simply music.

While partly scripted, the show is also an improvised conversation Christeene has with her audience, exploring the idea of queer assimilation in society and using her own unique metaphor to resistance. “Christeene believes that everyone has a pony inside their belly,” Soileau says. “She wants you to understand that pony inside you, and then ride those ponies down the street.”

Also at Club PuSh is author Ivan Coyote’s latest work, Tomboy Survival Guide. Combining Coyote’s storytelling prowess with music and practical tips for tomboys, the Guide is the stage version of what will become a book in 2016. 

“This is the guide that I wish I had growing up,” says Coyote, who uses the gender-neutral pronoun they. “I can’t tell you the number of times I was told it wasn’t ladylike or what I was doing wasn’t becoming of a lady. When you can finally give up on trying to be pretty, it can be a very freeing thing.”

The Guide is as practical as it is affirming. “There are so many skills that a tomboy needs to learn,” they say. “We even have a Stomp-inspired number about how to tie a half-Windsor knot.”

Outside Club PuSh and returning for a third year is the Human Library, a selection of human books covering a range of topics such as Hitchhiker and Autistic Actor, available for festival-goers to literally check out at the main branch of the Vancouver Library.

Conceived 15 years ago in Denmark, the Human Library mimics the book-borrowing experience with a real live person, who not only provides a narrative on their topic, but will also answer any questions the borrower might have about their particular subject.

“It is part performance, part interaction,” explains curator Dave Deveau who, with Zee Zee Theatre, is once again co-presenting the library. “Each ‘book’ will have prepared a short narrative about their lives and why [they chose] their title. There is a potential for it to be interactive, especially if the borrower has a burning question they are looking to have answered.”

With a collection of up to 40 books available, Deveau says there are a number with queer stories to tell, like Bearded Drag Queen, the provocative Queer Islamaphobe and a currently untitled book about violence in a gay male relationship.

Deveau also urges community members to branch out beyond the queer stories to check out some of the other “books” too. “Born Again Christian is one that many queers, like myself, may find very eye-opening,” he says. “Or Invisible Minority, which could be very interesting, as there is sometimes a commonality between an ethnic minority who is not particularly visible and queer people who are not out.”