Arts & Entertainment
5 min

Top 10 arts achievements by Canadian queers

Phantasmagorical

EXCITING DEBUT. Waawaate Fobister's wildly funny and moving Agokwe at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

With boors in Parliament playing divisive politics, trying to paint a nasty picture of a nation and its artists alienated from each other, it’s a wonderfully uplifting experience to be reminded of how much fantastic art has been produced by this country’s hard-workin’ homosexuals.

The prime minister may speak dismissively of “rich galas all subsidized by tax-payers” (surely he wasn’t referring to Senate appointments, was he?) but “ordinary working Canadians,” like working queer artists and the ordinary folks who appreciate their work, know the true value of art — and the true value of bullshit artists like Stephen Harper.

So to start the year off with a jaunty spring in our step let’s look back at the top 10 arts achievements by Canadian queers in 2008.

10) Drag sensation Fay Slift

From Hot Nuts at the Beaver to YouTube, the new face of drag in Toronto is Fay Slift, “a supersized ladybear all wrapped up in a lovely bow,” according to Xtra scene writer Andrew Robertson.

“Dancing French fries and doughnut earrings provide the perfect backdrop for Fay’s energetic antics, pop songs and reworked classics. In Fay’s hands Stevie Wonder’s well-loved hit ‘Ma Cherie Amour’ becomes ‘Scary Old Whore,’ a bruising ode to the geriatric and underemployed hooker on Fay’s corner. A little sweet and a lot hairy, Fay’s fierce posing and posturing is sure to leave some sugar on your chin.”

9) Visual artist Daniel Barrow

“This was a great year for Winnipeg-based Daniel Barrow,” writes art critic and painter Sholem Krishtalka. “It should have been a stellar one.

“He premiered his new hand-manipulated illustrated opus, the gorgeous and elegiac Every Time I See Your Picture, I Cry at the Images Festival. A wistful, faux-diaristic tale of stalkers, encyclopedists and serial killers, it deepened the mythos of Barrow’s world of sad young lads and neglected misfits.

“His nomination for the Sobey Award was pretty much the only one that made serious sense, and the fact that he was passed over just cements the fact that he’s just too damned brilliant for the institutional tastemakers of this country.”

8) Rodrigue Jean’s film Lost Song

Winner of best Canadian feature at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, writer/director Rodrique Jean’s French feature Lost Song is a devastating look at heterosexual domesticity and the idyll of new parents living at the lake. Suzie LeBlanc plays an opera singer who has agreed to move with her newborn and husband to the cottage country where he grew up — next door to the mother-in-law. LeBlanc (who is a real opera singer) gives a terrifying performance of a woman losing control of her life and her reason.

From an affecting soundscape of grating baby cries and scurrying wildlife to a family portrayal where every silence and pleasantry is meant as a critique, this is a slow-burner of a pyschological arthouse horror that builds tension to an excruciating level. Comparisons could be made to Cukor’s Gaslight or Hitchcock’s Rebecca but without the obvious villains.

Cocooning never looked so sickening.

7) Helen Humphrey’s novel Coventry

This story of two women with a powerful but ephemeral connection is told through the night when the English city of Coventry is razed to the ground by Nazi aerial bombardment during World War II. “Humphreys presents the aftermath with grace, subtlety and no trace of sentimentality,” writes book reviewer Maureen Phillips.

“Humphreys again demonstrates that she can cover more emotional ground in 175 pages than other novelists can in much longer books…. She seems to be getting closer and closer to producing the perfectly compressed novel.”

What sustains people even in the worst of times, Humphreys’ book seems to suggest, can be moments and feelings as fleeting as a swallow’s flight or a stranger’s laugh on a bus… or a few lines scribbled down on paper. Haunting.

6) Emma Donoghue’s novel The Sealed Letter

“Emma Donoghue’s third historical novel tells the (mostly true) story of a sleazy divorce case that gripped Britain in the 1860s,” writes Xtra’s Alice Lawlor. “More surprising than the juicy details is that the subject matter feels so contemporary. This is Victorian London yet people travel on the tube and talk about feminism. A Monica Lewinsky-esque stained dress even turns up as evidence in the divorce trial.

“But it’s Donoghue’s depiction of Fido Faithfull, a spinster with Sapphic tendencies, that makes the book a lesbian classic-in-the-making. Faithfull’s naive devotion to the calculating Helen is totally at odds with her independent lifestyle and high-minded principles — a familiar lesbian-feminist dilemma if ever there was one. A sharp reminder that although times have changed, queer matters of the heart really haven’t.”

5) Theatre artist Moynan King

“Moynan King’s curatorial prowess exploded in exciting, innovative ways at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in 2008,” writes theatrereviewer David Bateman. In addition to returning with her Hardworkin’ Homosexuals crew to produce Cheap Queers, King, Buddies’ associate artist, also conceived and directed the “environmental spectacle” The Beauty Salon in June. “Elaborate choreography and individual esthetician’s supplied spectators with everything from facial hair to breast augmentation.

“Trans-formative!”

Then queer Canadiana reigned as King curated (with playwright/performer Rosemary Rowe) the “spectacular” cabaret Anne Made Me Gay. “Featuring academics with witty erotic analysis, bawdy video tales of auditioning for the TV series and a variety of positively playful porn-ish scenarios,” writes Bateman, “Anne became the radical ginger-bushed dyke with a vengeance we always knew her to be.”

4) TV star Adamo Ruggiero

“I feel this amazing sense of relief and an amazing sense of confidence,” says Adamo Ruggiero, the then 21-year-old star of Degrassi: The Next Generation on coming out in January. Ruggiero has been on the CTV series since 2002 playing Marco Del Rossi. His charactert is also gay and Ruggiero says he related to Marco’s trials and tribulations.

“I did it for the kids that watch the show,” Ruggiero tells Xtra’s Terri-Lynne Waldron. “I really wanted to connect the bridge between fiction and reality.”

Shout out to Canadian hottie Luke MacFarlane who plays Scotty Wandell on ABC’s Brothers and Sisters. The London, Ontario native came out in April just as his character was going to marry Kevin Walker (played by Matthew Rhys).

3) Graphic novel Skim by Mariko & Jillian Tamaki

Described by author Mariko Tamaki as a “gothic Lolita lesbian story” it was the only graphic novel nominated for this year’s Governor General’s Awards. Skim follows a term in the life of Kimberly “Skim” Keiko Cameron, a 16-year-old Wiccan at an all-girls private school. “Through Skim’s diary entries and Jillian’s beautifully physical drawings,” writes Xtra’s Jessica Taylor, “the story weaves together two dramatic events: the suicide of a classmate’s ex-boyfriend (rumoured to be gay) and Skim’s brief involvement with the school’s hippie-esque English teacher. Beyond the more obvious drama, it also deals with the changing relationships between friends, the oddities of guidance counselors and the everyday racism of children.

“Both poignant and occasionally humorous, Skim is definitely one of this year’s best graphic novels.”

2) Watershed by kd lang

Music critic John Webster calls kd lang’s “moody, dreamy and romantic” CD “perfection.” It’s her first album of original material in eight years and the first-ever self-produced by the big-boned gal from southern Alberta. “This is the most romantic Sapphic album ever made,” writes Webster, “and lang, of course, had to be the one to make it.”

1) Waawaate Fobister’s Agokwe

Buddies in Bad Times’ 30th season opener marks one of the most exciting theatre debuts in recent years. Waawaate Fobister, a 24-year-old writer/performer, translates a true story of love and tragedy on the Grassy Narrows reserve in northwest Ontario into “a wildly funny and touching narrative,” according to theatre critic David Bateman.

“Fobister’s impressive vocal skills, marked by a clear, quirky eloquence and measured pacing, engages the audience at the outset and takes us on a bittersweet journey.”

Kudos to director Ed Roy and the whole production team for developing Fobister’s talents and giving his play such a handsome production. What a rare gift to witness two-spirited Ojibwe stories straight from the bush told so beautifully in downtown Toronto.

Only in Canada, eh?

How rich. How gala.