Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Where is queer theatre going in Canada?

Vancouver hosts national Q2Q conference on queer performance

One expected highlight of the four-day conference will be dub poet and playwright d’bi.young anitafrika’s intervention on queerness and intersectionality on July 22, 2016. Credit: Wade Hudson

At least one of Canada’s leading queer thespians is surprised this hasn’t happened before. A first-of-its-kind conference takes place in Vancouver next week looking at the history and future of queer performing arts.

Q2Q: A Symposium on Queer Theatre and Performance in Canada, July 20–24, brings together theatre practitioners and theorists to look backward and forward at their craft.

The idea came to Chris Gatchalian after he attended a conference for Asian-Canadian theatre artists in 2010.

“I felt that I want to create something — or that there should be something — similar for queer-identified theatre performance artists,” says Gatchalian, artistic producer of the frank theatre company and an adjunct professor at UBC.

“The frank is one of the few organizations in the country that can do it because we are an explicitly queer-mandated professional theatre company and there aren’t very many of us in the country,” he says.

Gatchalian got Peter Dickinson on board. A professor in Simon Fraser University’s departments of English and contemporary arts, Dickinson helped get SFU to co-sponsor with the frank, and wrangled a host of successful grant applications, which means the conference is entirely free to everyone, including the general public.

“It’s a unique opportunity to see, together in one room, different generations of queer theatre artists and scholars talking about really important issues of what’s affecting the community now, where do we go from here, what’s our history and how do we want to document that legacy?” Dickinson says.

More than 100 attendees are expected over the four days of programs, all of which take place at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts in the Woodward’s building.

Roundtables and panel discussions take place during the days; evenings will feature performances, including Out On Stage in Lotusland: A Cabaret Retrospective.

The hour-long event on the first evening of the conference will be guided by Vancouver producer and unofficial historian of local queer performance David C Jones.

“I have always been a huge proponent of preserving and recognizing what has gone on before,” Jones says. “As much as we have to acknowledge that there is a new way of doing things and there’s new ways of expressing art, the young often consume the old.”

Jones is keeping details tight but raising expectations: “I can’t tell you who’s involved but it’s a veritable Who’s Who.”

He is trying to dig up old scripts and have them read by contemporary actors around the ages of the actors who originally performed them in the 1970s.

In addition to reviving old scripts, the conference will also feature readings of scripts in development, integrating into Q2Q frank’s biennial Clean Sheets event, usually part of the Queer Arts Festival.

The artistic director of Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, evalyn parry, is surprised there hasn’t been a conference of this type before and she’s happy it’s on the West Coast.

“I think it’s exciting to see the academy and the people on the ground, the practitioners, meeting together, sharing the space,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to being elsewhere [than Toronto].” It’s helps creativity, she says, “to dislocate yourself, be in a new place, to have that perspective.”

She’ll be speaking on a panel about queer space and moderating a roundtable about queer form. What do these terms mean? That’s up to participants, she says.

“I’m not coming at either of them with a thesis,” parry says.

She is also “directing” — in quote marks, she insists – a presentation that Sarah Stanley and Sky Gilbert are doing Friday night called Dinner at Le Fag and Dyke.

“It’s a work that Sarah and Sky have been slowly putting together over a couple of years, a very new collaboration between the two of them, and even newer for me to be collaborating with them.”

Another highlight is a lunch-hour “intervention” about queerness and intersectionality by dub poet and award-winning actor and playwright d’bi.young anitafrika.

Roundtables include such topics as: Acts of Faith; The Queer “Real”; Across Generations; and Dragging the Past into the Future.

Gatchalian is especially pleased that Q2Q has not developed into a “two-city conference” represented only by artists and scholars from Vancouver and Toronto. “Virtually every region of the country is represented, except for the north,” he says.