The 2013 Vancouver Fringe Festival may very well be the year of the lesbian. With a Sapphic update to a Norwegian fairy tale, the story of a group of 1950s widows who worship eggs, and the return of a lesbian romantic comedy all part of this year’s lineup, women’s stories are definitely at the forefront.
This year’s lesbian tales join a long tradition of queer stories and performers that have graced the Fringe Fest’s stages for nearly three decades. “The Fringe loves queers. We always have,” says executive director David Jordan. “We are proud to have had queer ‘theatrati’ like Michael V Smith, Morgan Brayton, Berend McKenzie, Denis Simpson and many others walk the Fringe stage in the past. We look forward to seeing new queer artists this year continue the long history of the Fringe as part of the queer community.”
Here are Xtra’s queer picks for the Fringe. For full festival listings, go to vancouverfringe.com.
5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche
Real men might not eat it, but the members of the Susan B Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein downright worship it.
In the black comedy 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, audiences get an opportunity to sit in on a meeting of a 1950s women’s organization whose motto — No Men, No Meat, All Manners — suggests they have more in common than just savoury pastry.
“It’s not about men-hating,” laughs producer and actor Beth Gunderson. “It’s about a group of women coming together and holding on to something that is precious.”
That something precious includes a reverence for the egg, which they declare to be “as close to the Lord Jesus as a piece of food can get.”
And while it takes the possibility of an apocalyptic event during the Cold War to get these women to finally admit their forbidden love, Gunderson insists the play still holds many truths today.
“In a way, not a whole lot has changed when you look at how people are controlled by fear,” she says. “As a gay community, we still are oppressed. These women have a strong friendship that helps them overcome their fears.”
Proof once again that art imitates life, the friendships shared by the women of 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche are mirrored in real life. “The cast are all connected to each other with friendships extending over 20 years,” Gunderson explains. “For one of our cast, being able to perform is even on her bucket list, and her dream of acting onstage before her 50th birthday this year is coming true.”
In March 2011, 29-year-old Jason Dow paid a Saint John teenager with cash and beer to pose for photos in various stages of undress, CBC reported two years ago.
Around midnight the teen texted a friend saying he was going to kill Dow. After chasing him down the street, the teen stabbed Dow five times with a kitchen knife, leaving him for dead in a pool of his own blood. The teenager eventually turned himself in and was sentenced to two years in a youth detention centre for manslaughter.
Reading the reports of the murder in the media, playwright Step Taylor became fascinated by the unanswered questions and the lack of detail that emerged in the media about the murder. With media coverage that included hints of a “certain intimacy” and other images found on Dow’s camera of teens masturbating and having sex, Taylor has created what he calls a “what if” story about what might have transpired that night between Dow and his murderer.
“At first it was as simple as just not knowing what was going on that night,” Taylor says. “I was curious as to what they might have talked about that night, how provoked the teen was, what lines were crossed. Was the teen homo-sexual, or did he go into that night wanting something or resenting it and just needing the money? There were so many ways it could have played out, and I couldn’t determine what those were based on the articles that I read.”
Told from the hypothetical perspective of the young killer, Model Wanted begins with the murder and gradually peels back the playwright’s hypothesis of what life may have been like for the teen, and what might have motivated the murder he committed, including a confused sexual past and the possibility that his past may have been too much for him to handle.
“I don’t think of him as a young murderer. He is a pretty normal kid that gets caught up in these awful circumstances,” says actor Jesse LaVercombe, who plays the teenager.
“He really gets stressed out about these things that suddenly escalate to life and death. There is a repressed sexuality that he is dealing with, and while he plays ‘straight,’ there are lots of undercurrents about being gay.”
The Troll and the Three Lesbians Gruff
A traditional Norwegian fairy tale gets a lesbian makeover in a site-specific production of The Troll and the Three Lesbians Gruff that will take place under the footbridge of the False Creek Community Centre on Granville Island.
Inspired by the 19th-century Scandinavian fable Billy Goats Gruff, this Leaping Thespians story follows a troll who feeds off the negative energy of a community of lesbians.
“It doesn’t quite follow the Billy Goats Gruff story,” writer/director Karen White explains. “Where Billy Goats is a story about throwing your buddy under a bus, this story is more about building community.”
Part of the Fringe Fest’s Onsite program, The Troll and the Three Lesbians Gruff is the culmination of seven months with mentors and fits nicely into the Leaping Thespians’ commitment to expand its audience base.
“We’ve always wanted to be in the Fringe, as it is where people will go to see a group that they’ve never seen before,” producer Stephanie Kemp says. “It really fits in with what we want to do, to help take us to our audience rather than them always coming to us. We’re trying to branch out, and this site-specific show really suits us.”
The seventh original show from Vancouver’s lesbian theatre company, The Troll not only breaks down the fourth wall between audience and actors in a unique setting, it also provides an opportunity for audience interaction.“We even have people making entrances in boats, a horse race, a real campfire and live music,” White enthuses.
Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter
When Alison Wearing first cracked open her father’s diary, from a box recovered from the basement, she knew that she was on to something.
“The very first page of the diary had an entry that said, ‘Last night I made out with a Roman Catholic priest.’ It was at that point that I knew I had a gold mine,” she says.
A one-woman show that has since been turned into a book, Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter tells the story of growing up with a flamboyant father who lived a double life in the 1970s, as a gay man on the weekend and as a seemingly straight father to Wearing and her two brothers during the week.
“There weren’t any models for this at the time,” Wearing says of her father’s dual life. “The popular thinking at that time was that the parents stay together for the children. They tried that, but it didn’t work, so they eventually divorced. He lived a very Jekyll and Hyde existence at the time.”
With her father’s blessing, Wearing has crafted a tale that not only reflects compassionately on her father’s coming-out journey, but on her own, too, as she gradually came to terms with being a fairy’s daughter.
The Last Piece
Jacqueline Korb’s lightweight romantic comedy The Last Piece gets a return engagement at the Havana Theatre. Last seen two years ago, it tells the story of two women who meet in a bookstore and suddenly find themselves on a date.
“Recent romantic comedies in general are not very good, let alone one that has two lesbians as the central characters,” Korb told Xtra in 2011. “I thought, How hard would it be to write a love story, a good romantic comedy for two women, and thought using books would be a good way to bring two people together.”
A 51-year-old mother, artist and teacher named Tasha Diamant embodies vulnerability by appearing naked and unscripted in The Human Body Project, a piece of experiential theatre literally stripped to its most essential. Audiences have been known to join Diamant by removing their own clothing.
He may identify as straight, but John Grady knows what it is like to be bullied, having been called a “faggot” for most of his life. Little Pussy explores the years of torment at the hands of his bullies and how he finally fought back.
Gay actor Paul Cosentino’s Bad Connections? follows the intersecting lives of nine eccentric New Yorkers, including a cardiologist who is married to a woman while dating a gay yoga instructor.
After a successful run at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, queer puppetry duo Mind of a Snail brings its latest show, Against Gravity, back to home audiences.