It’s 2018, and while a deep freeze might have Montrealers feeling depressed and housebound, Centaur Theatre has a festival that promises to heat things up! The 21st Wildside Festival, running from January 4th-13th, is an annual affair showing off the best of the best independent English theatre productions that graced Montreal stages in the prior year. This year, the Wildside features an arsenal of trailblazing queers who prove that women and non-binary artists are leading the way when it comes to innovative performance. The festival is a must for those with an interest in LGBTQIA+ stories and those with a heart full of love for the queer community!
One of the beautiful aspects of queerness is that it can be expressed in so many ways; communities of queerness are varied and often vastly different, with unique goals and ways of connecting. Ask two queer artists what queerness means to them and you’re guaranteed to get different answers. That’s exactly what we did, speaking to three of the queer playwrights whose work will be performed at the Wildside. What we found is that while queerness may look different from person to person, an underlying theme persists: a theme of subversion, of making us pause and reconsider what it means to be normal and how we can reshape our perceptions of others around us.
Below are three of Wildside’s queer offerings! The festival only runs for two weeks, so be sure you don’t miss out:
THE MORNING AFTER THE LIFE BEFORE written by Ann Blake
Travelling all the way from Ireland, Ann Blake does double-duty as writer and performer in her award-winning autobiographical piece, The Morning After the Life Before, which took home Centaur’s prestigious award for the Best English Language Production at the 2017 Montreal St-Ambroise Fringe Festival. Produced by Guna Nua Theatre Company, this two-hander features Ann playing herself while her co-star, Lucia Smyth, takes on the challenge of playing all the other characters in her life. The coming out story is an expression of queerness many of us are familiar with, promising to be at once heartwarming and hilarious, and chock full of Irish charm!
The Morning After the Life Before tells the story of Ann’s own journey coming out as gay, falling in love, and getting engaged in a country where she couldn’t marry her partner. The show centres around Ireland’s 2015 referendum on marriage equality which eventually resulted in the legalization of same-sex marriage. “This show has really affected my own embracing of my sexuality and queerness and literally putting it out there for the world to see,” says Ann, “It’s had a very positive effect on me.”
I spoke with Ann while she was still in Ireland, bracing herself for the temperature shift since she visited Montreal last summer. “This show looks at the referendum and what that politically does to a country, when everybody has to talk about something,” Ann tells me, “Do you know what I mean? Suddenly it was thrown into the limelight, the issue was, and it worked out for the best.” As I speak with her, Ann is in the passenger seat of a hatchback, her partner driving, while two dogs distract me from the back seat: a snapshot of family life. It seems it did work out for the best.
“It was incredible,” Ann says, when I ask what it felt like the morning after the referendum. “I think that’s what this show is about, trying to bottle a bit of that magic. Of what it was like to wake up in a country that had been changed forever.”
Ann’s show tells a story we may be familiar with as coming out and marriage equality themes are common in gay and lesbian narratives, but these themes hold importance for a reason. “I suppose queer to me is positive subversion of norms and challenging in a way that makes us think and accept and be more involved human beings,” Ann tells me. The Morning After the Life Before extends beyond the queer community, connecting on a universal level through the story of love overcoming struggle. “Everyone’s had to come out of some kind of closet, everyone’s had to deal with something with their family, everyone’s had an issue that this show touches on.”
And if you’re looking for something to sweeten the deal, I’ve heard rumours that this show lets audiences have their cake and eat it too. Ann explained, “There’s a very particular moment in the show, and, yeah, some cake happens.”
The Morning After the Life Before runs from January 4th – 13th at Centaur Theatre (453 St. Francois-Xavier).
PLUCK’D written by Kě Xīn Li
While Ann Blake’s piece offers a vision of queerness wrapped up in marriage equality and the breaking down of closet doors, Pluck’d, produced by Bald Angry Asian Productions, offers an altogether different perspective on queerness. “The show is not your stereotypical coming out show,” explains Kě Xīn Li, the show’s playwright, “I wanted to write something that wasn’t this traumatic coming out story that I think we see so many tropes of. It has a queer non-binary character, but that is not made the biggest deal.”
In Pluck’d, a queer, non-binary, radical, anarchist returns home to their traditional Chinese family at Christmas. Tensions at Christmas dinner rise quickly in the struggle of first-generation immigrants, upholding traditional Chinese values, to understand their child, whose expressions of identity, gender and otherwise, have been largely Westernized. An absurdist comedy, the show portrays something that may be relatable for many of us who have just returned from familial holiday dinners: a family, linked by blood, but who struggle to understand differences, repair divisions, and ultimately understand one another.
“I would say it’s biomythological,” says Kě Xīn, when asked if the piece is autobiographical, “It’s like an overly dramatized more extreme version of a biography.”
As a queer, non-binary, person of colour, Kě Xīn emphasizes that they wanted to create theatrical representations for that community. “I think most queer representation we see can be very white,” they say, which echoes with truth in Montreal, “I think that’s why the show is really important, because it sheds a different light on what it means to be queer and other queer and trans people struggles which haven’t been highlighted before.” Kě Xīn is impressively proactive in making the show accessible to queer and trans, black, indigenous, and people of colour communities (QTBIPOCs) by offering complimentary tickets to members of those communities. Further information regarding these tickets is available on the Pluck’d Facebook event.
While the family in Pluck’d is divided with tension, they are held together by an unlikely factor. “There’s a lot of saran wrap. The entire stage and the entire set is covered in saran wrap,” explains Kě Xīn, “Okay, it’s not the most eco-friendly show and I acknowledge that and I do apologize for that, but it is art and no other material we could get would be as shiny and perfect. It holds a lot of personal significance, as well as metaphorical significance.” With an honest, personal, and perhaps a less prevalent representation of queerness, Pluck’d offers Wildside audiences the opportunity to learn from and laugh with an immigrant family torn apart by generational gaps.
Pluck’d runs from January 4th – 12th at Centaur Theatre (453 St. Francois-Xavier).
TRAGIC QUEENS written by Rhiannon Collett
Following a successful run last August, Cabal Theatre is remounting their production of Tragic Queens, which scored nominations for 7 Montreal English Theatre Awards. Tragic Queens is a devised creation, produced by a performance ensemble dedicated to creating provocative and poetic interdisciplinary theatre. Though the piece is a devised creation, the script was written by Rhiannon Collett, the genius non-binary playwright behind Miranda & Dave Begin Again, which landed her the RBC Emerging Playwright Award in 2016.
Tragic Queens follows three time-travellers stuck in a perpetual state of girlhood. The piece is non-linear, utilizing collages of different styles and theatrical devices to stage passionate power games. “It’s very beautiful – the show. It’s so beautiful,” says Rhiannon, praising the work of the designers. The creators took influence from sad girl theory, an idea credited to Audrey Wollen asserting that female sadness can be a source of empowerment and collectivity. Rhiannon tells me how the piece subverts structure, queers traditional theatrical aesthetic and form, “And it freaks people out!”
While the content of Tragic Queens is explicitly queer at times, throughout the play a lesbian and a bisexual woman are in a relationship with one another, Rhiannon emphasized that it’s not just the stories that make the show queer, it’s the process. “We had a research period of about three weeks where we were all in the studio, we were devising together,” she explains the creative process, “It was so queer. Everybody comes into the room with the same weight to their voice. So, you don’t come into the room as a director or a playwright, you come into the room as a collaborator, and then once that time has passed everyone has the task that they’re best at.”
Rhiannon emphasized that for her, queerness isn’t inherently connected to gender and sexuality, but more connected to recognizing oppressive power structures and working to dismantle them in her work. “For me, being queer is about being okay with my own liminality and digging deep in it. Because I’m bi and because I’m genderqueer, I’m between everything. I always feel like I’m between. And a playwright is a very liminal job to have,” As a playwright she intends to use her liminality to explore a range of stories during her career.
Outside of its acclaimed run last summer, Tragic Queens opens up a whole new perspective into what it means to be queer and to produce queer art. There are so many reasons to check out this show: maybe you want to witness the award-winning design elements, or to engage with the stories of girlhood and sadness, or maybe you simply hope to catch the work of one of Canada’s emerging queer playwrights (did we mention that Rhiannon is currently working with the prestigious Buddies in Bad Times in Toronto?). Tragic Queens promises to bring voices of queerness and feminism centre stage at the Wildside.
Tragic Queens runs from January 5th – 13th at Centaur Theatre (453 St. Francois-Xavier).
The Wildside Festival is sure to warm the hearts of all us queers just looking for a place to connect this January! In addition to the shows mentioned above we have to give a shout out to the much-anticipated remount of Helen Simard’s IDIOT, a contemporary dance piece whose Iggy Pop influence veers towards the history of queerness in punk.
To review the complete programming for the 2018 Wildside Festival, consult the Centaur Theatre website.
Regular single tickets to Wildside shows are $16 each, or $13 for season subscribers, students, under 30s and seniors. With so many great shows to choose from, audiences are encouraged to see more and save with the 4-Show Superpass, available at a regular price of $50, or $40 for season subscribers, students, under 30s and seniors. For specific show dates and times, visit: https://centaurtheatre.com/wildside-festival.html
Please note that Centaur Theatre is accessible by wheelchair.