“Pride is not an organization that likes to be burned,” says Chris Schroer, who spent three years volunteering as an entertainment coordinator with Pride Toronto before convincing them to allow him and his partner, veteran club promoter Steve Ireson, to produce this year’s official Pride closing party at Toronto superclub Circa, where Ireson is a general manager.
After a falling-out with the Prism group in 2004, “Pride was still absolutely paranoid” about outsourcing events, says Schroer, but it’s better for everyone, he says, for Pride “to create these partnerships with organizations that specialize in creating great events.”
Is Circa that organization?
Recent clubland gossip and the very nature of the venue itself made the Last Dance party at Circa seem riskier than it should have.
In the nine months after it opened Circa’s Mirror Ballroom became a quasi-official gay bar on Friday nights, in large part due to the efforts of promoter and Fab magazine columnist Rolyn Chambers. But the Mirror Ballroom was suddenly closed last month and Chambers was livid.
“It’s their club,” he says, “but what sent me over the edge was that the decision was made and we weren’t even told.” Chambers fired off an angry public Facebook posting. A week later he was out of a job.
“I regret sending it out,” Chambers says, “but I was backed into a corner. I had to fight for that room in whatever way I knew how.”
Ireson says the needs of Circa as a whole outweigh the needs of a particular gay clientele. “The Mirror Ballroom numbers were so good it ended up competing with the main room,” says Ireson. “People gravitate to the smaller room and it sucks the life out of the main area.”
The decision was made to close the Mirror Ballroom leaving gay and straight people to party together in the main area; something Circa has pushed for right from the start. It’s an approach that was compatible with Pride’s vision for its finale.
“They wanted a more inclusive party,” says Schroer, noting Pride’s falling-out with Prism.
“They put on great events,” says Ireson, “but Prism is very specific…. It’s been Peter Rauhofer for the last four years.”
With that in mind Pride’s closing party at Circa catered to a broad crowd: drag superstar RuPaul in the Main Room, the Blockorama group in the sleek Cinema Lounge, an alternaqueer lineup in the Washroom Bar and Denise Benson spinning for lesbians in the contested Mirror Ballroom.
“Having a room just for lesbians and making them feel comfortable — that it isn’t just a big gay circuit party — was very important to us,” says Schroer.
As Benson plays her set, however, Pride’s goal is met: “It started out very lesbian and then the crowd got mixed,” she says. “This is what Pride should be. We should party together.”
Blockorama MC Ryan G Hinds introduces rapper Deadlee to an enthusiastic male and female, black, white and brown crowd but what really sets the place off is the arrival of RuPaul, who lip-synchs to a tight 30-minute performance.
“Toronto is my ‘hood!” she says. “This is where I got my motherfuckin’ MAC contract!”
Drag queen Stephanie Stephens squeals, “RuPaul was good, honey! She did the same old shit but she was good!” Confessing that this is her first visit to Circa, Stephens says, “This is the best club in the city!”
Leaning against the bar in the Cinema Lounge, friends Dave and Eric aren’t sold. “It just doesn’t feel like a gay space,” says Dave, who pauses for the right word before settling on “intimacy.” “It just doesn’t feel intimate.”
As the night goes on people begin retreating to the smaller spaces upstairs — the exact dynamic on regular Friday nights — because the big spaces aren’t so sexy. In a hallway between sections, two guys make out against the wall but this is a rare example.
Nevertheless, Schroer is delighted: “So? Did we pull it off or what?” he beams.
But what about the future?
Ireson insists the Mirror Ballroom is not dead, just resting. “Once we get through Pride weekend you’ll see more interesting programming geared toward the gay market.”
Chambers says Circa needs a better plan.
“To your consumers, a work in progress is not a good thing.” Circa’s problem, he says, is that “they don’t know what they want from the gay community. They want them to come but they don’t want them to come too much.”