Thursday, October 27, 2016




“The history of performance in the twentieth century is the history of a permissive, open-ended medium with endless variables, executed by artists impatient with the limitations of more established art forms, and determined to take their art directly to the public. For this reason it has always been anarchic. By its very nature, performance defies precise or easy definition beyond the simple declaration that it is live art by artists. Any stricter definition would immediately negate the possibility of performance itself.”

Roseiee Goldberg, Performance Art from Futurism to the Present (1979)


Keith Cole’s current performance/installation at the Art Gallery of Ontario defies easy or precise definition. #HASHTAGGALLERYSLUT is an unabashed celebration of all things Canadian and sacrosanct - or perhaps better put - all things embedded in the sacrosanctity of Canadian Cultural practice, piety, and promiscuity. Now there’s a mouthful of words to ingest. 

Tom Thomson, David Buchan, Maria Del Monte, and a buxom sailor type (aka gay porn star Ryan Russell) either wander through the gallery or become ensconced in patchy sections of stark white wall space, displaying various aspects of iconic gay signification. Drag, promiscuity, shaming, beautiful male breasts, and lives shrouded in mystery (i.e. Tom Thomson) take centre stage in a huge uncluttered space that, paradoxically, embodies a positive essence of clutter - a spare, selective form of clutter, but clutter nonetheless. Snapshots, portraits, etc. as beautiful queer camp clutter. Clutter as resistance, clutter as queer...


“the only antidote to cultural effacement is the cultivation of diversity in as many forms as possible - the production of marginality as a deliberate and deliberate act of artistic resistance.”
Robert Wallace, Producing Marginality: Theatre and Criticism in Canada,1990

Reflective of some of the poses he performs in the centre of the room, large photographs of Cole in drag, hang from the ceiling, interrupting traditional male het identity as he lounges bewigged and corseted - a lone blousey courtesan of sorts. Instead of the demure femme wig in the big photos however, Cole the live performer wears an elaborate head dress that becomes a central and very active prop during a ninety minute performance of both mesmerizing and bewildering endurance for both audience and performer. 


“Performance has been a way of appealing directly to a large public, as well as shocking audiences into reassessing their own notion of art and its relation to culture.”

Roseiee Goldberg, Performance Art from Futurism to the Present (1979)

During Cole’s performance spectators enter and leave as they see fit, and when they see fit it is always entertaining to overhear or to simply observe their expressions and their words.

“What’s going on? What does it mean? When will it end? Has it started yet? Is he going to shampoo and condition?”

#HASHTAGGALLERYSLUT enters the room, bulls eye in tow...


Making a distinction between theatre and performance has been cautioned against as a tendency toward “giving a ‘preciousness’ to performance art that it does not deserve or need.”
                     Gregory Battcock, The Art of Performance; A Critical Anthology, 1984


There is nothing precious here - without giving too much away about Cole’s latest exhibitionist/exhibition/installation/performance it may be sufficient to say that, true to Keith’s notorious style as a performer/bon vivant/social political activist, candidate for mayor, #whathaveyou over the past few decades, his current work at the AGO continues to resist all of the conventional elements of traditional theatre and cohesive narrative by exploding the myths and grandeur of one of Canada’s most beloved painters. Considering Tom Thomson’s complicated legacy as the premise, exploding the puzzle of Thomson’s unanswered finale adds to a further web of unsolvable mystery through a performative element that teases and teaches regarding the act of how to be Canadian without really trying. Cole asks many unstated questions as he gives himself the most vulnerable position of all, centre stage and literally submerging himself in the iconic mire of particular Canadiana-queries -

I.E. Was Thomson a homo? How did he die? Why all the fishing line around his ankles? Is that a paintbrush in your pocket or are you just… Do Thomson’s paintings evoke an authentic Canadian experience or are they just pretty canvases depicting nature? What the fuck is authentic anyhow? Was Lawren Harris really related to Lauren Bacall or was he just caught up in a frozen petrified forest of his own design? Is Steve Maritn funnier as a curator or a comic?

Enough already. Indeed, there is something starkly surreal, comical, and inexplicable about what Cole does in “HASHTAGGALLERYSLUT, and yet some of what he may be saying and doing might find substance in a simple and performative question for artists to ask themselves at the outset and then just carry on from there - why not just break all the rules and present whatever Thomson’s legacy makes you feel? Which is precisely what Cole seems to do in a truly immersive and relentless performance that defies easy access/meaning by reveling in queer identity’s most spare, elegant, and beautifully cluttered signifiers - drag, sex, sex & more sex, sex in drag - among others. Also, did I mention sex…

Through the use of a variety of simple landscape photos with accompanying erotic nude dude images, alongside painted portraits adorning small areas of the huge wall space available, Cole’s installation element gives the gorgeous clutter plenty of room to breathe in, and to also make room for very evocative video visuals designed by Raymond Helkio that suggest, in rapidly moving bright blurred tones, the Ontarian locales that Thomson inhabited when he began to create his beloved painted lakes, forests, and all that glorious  natural jazz. Just go to Huntsville for the day some random Fall and you will see it all over the bloody place -  from night lights to mugs to sweaters to murals to actual trees littering the expensive wilderness. It is all fabulous!

But long since Thomson met his  tragic demise in a tippy canoe near or in (I can’t remember) Algonquin Park in 1917, a great deal has happened in art, in painting, in performance, and in theatre - needless to say, but I said it anyway. And of course the root of the word theatre, bearing close yet marginalized kinship to performance - is theory, and Keith Cole pays indirect tribute to his own, and many other performance artist’s debt to fairly recent developments in Queer Theory in general and Queer Failure Theory in particular - developed by Judith Jack Halberstam (among others) over the past several years.

“Being taken seriously means missing out on the chance to be frivolous, promiscuous, and irrelevant. The desire to be taken seriously is precisely what compels people to follow the tried and true paths of knowledge production around which I would like to map a few detours.”
J. Jack Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure

Cole brings a well considered form of “low theory” to high places ("low theory is an actual term, google it, related to Queer Failure Theory) by taking part in the performance component of the AGO’s current show Tributes & Tributaries; 1971-1989  exhibit - currently showing on the fourth floor (until May) and displaying a broad overview of Toronto cultural practice (curated by Wanda Nanibush). 

And then there’s that all white clad sailor type (Ryan Russell), specializing in the kind of shame that fuels failure, traversing the playing space and always there to remind us at specific intervals during the show that shaming remains and has always been a part of queer experience, a part that we often spend our lives liberating ourselves from. By coupling an intense bodily performance (taking a great physical toll on the performer) with an open-shirted muscly male subject harassing him, Cole subjects himself to a kind of self-shaming, partnered with said well-built sailor type. Thus raising images that intersect with both misogyny and homophobia, and manners in which feminine identity, within both male and female bodies, is simultaneously celebrated and mistreated. 


Maria Del Monte’s beautiful performance opens the show, suitably shadowed and unaided by the flair and intimacy of a drag club - taking on epic proportions as clear succinct lyrics abound from speakers - defining (& misdefining) elements of gay identity that entertain, delight, and inspire awe. Del Monte, in a sense, ghosts drag as she takes it into an unlikely setting. Both like and unlike the intimate drag moments in a small bar on Church Street, or the striking cinematic gestures from drag sequences in an Almodovar film, Cole’s inclusion of drag allows the elegant Queen to leave the usual public/pubic space for ‘her’ display and enter a space that infrequently includes this kind of camp cultural consideration.
                                                     DROWNING IN CULTURE

#HASHTAGGALLERYSLUT is not always an easy performance to watch, or listen to, and that is possibly part of the point, if there even needs to be one. Allow me to suggest - or not - that one may choose to approach, enter, exit - whatever - this particular event without any pre-meditated expectations. Wander about the space, enjoy the expansiveness, make unfunded small talk in big subsidized places, watch the gorgeous flickering videos that at times move hauntingly into the floor space creating a Group of Seven’ish aqua-infused arboreal texture for Cole’s hardworking, deliberate, and self-effacing escapades. Listen very carefully to the opening sung/synced words and try to decode their many misleading, dramatic, & delightful meanings. And in doing so, if it pleases you, or not, discover and/or re-discover that there is a great deal more to the history of Canadian Art (& by association, Performance Art) than a bunch of painted trees clothed in nature’s colourful autumn drag, resplendent and breathtaking in their simplicity, resistant and seasonal in their dying grandeur - and spiritually performative in their utter lack of obvious textual meaning. 
unrelated New Yorker cartoon


- photos photos and more photos -

Sunday, October 9, 2016

World Premiere of queer monster story unleashed on Kensington in October!

Tire Swing by Curtis te Brinke
World Premiere of queer monster story unleashed on Kensington in October!

Kevin has gone missing. Three children are left to grow up in the spaces he left behind as a strange shadow consumes their town. Tire Swing is a queer science fiction horror story about the things we leave behind, and the things that go bump in the night. 

Set in an intimate transformed space in Kensington Market, Tire Swing plunges audiences into a new kind of coming of age story about a monster, a missing boy, and a mystery bigger than the town in the middle of it. 

Tire Swing is led by a queer team of artists. Written by Curtis te Brinke (Strangeness and Breath, BINGE) and directed by Sadie Epstein-Fine (Brantwood, Eraser, Freda and Jem's Best of the Week). It features Dora nominee, Francois Macdonald (Zinspires de Puissance, Our Town), Patrick Fowler (Antigone), Jocelyn Adema (Molly Bloom, You Know I Know) and Nikki Haggart (Being Human, Fatal Vows). 

Tire Swing is the fifth play produced as a part of Filament Incubators 2016 season, including its sister show Swan, dark coming of age fable,Paradise Comics and recent Toronto Fringe Festival hit Rowing. Featuring dramaturgical work by Cole Vincent and Andrea Romaldi, this fall join Epigraph Collective and Filament Incubator as they unleash a monster on Kensington Market. 

Filament Incubator in association 
With Epigraph Collective Present... 

by Curtis te Brinke
Onstage October 13th-October 22nd. (Dark October 17th) 
56 C Kensington Ave 

Directed by Sadie Epstein-Fine 
Starring Francois Macdonald, Jocelyn Adema, Patrick Fowler and Nikki Haggart 

Dramaturgy by Cole Vincent and Andrea Romaldi 
Set, Costume and Lighting Design by Jason Thomson 
Promotional Video by Andrew Pieroni
Promotional Photography by Jordan Laffrenier
Location: 56 C Kensington Ave 

Opening Week: October 13 - 16 / $15  7:30 PM 
Closing Week: October 18 - 22 / $18  7 :30 PM
Curtis te Brinke - playwright/ Co-AD
Curtis te Brinke is a playwright, director and producer. He is the Artistic Director of Epigraph Collective, a theatre company creating bold new works from millenial voices. Curtis recently directed and produced their Toronto Fringe debut BINGE by Joel Edmiston, as well as his own script Pogo for the 2016 playGround Festival. Curtis was a playwright in residence for the 2016 Paprika Festival. He produced Love Me Forever Billy H Tender by Jesse LaVercombe for Videofag’s storefront season as well as Hillary Rexe’s This is the August for the 2016 Summerworks Festival. 

DB How is the use of a non-traditional theatre space in the Kensington Market area affect the staging, acting, design, etc.?

CTB Using a nontraditional space in this sense has allowed us to create an immersive experience. We've transformed the hall into the world of the play, creating a dark and viseral viewing experience. Our designer Jason Thompson has found a way to bring a forest into the middle of the city, and to bring TIre Swing's surreal sci fi to life in front of the audience. This isn't going to be like anything you've seen in a black box before, the audience is really in for a strange and intimate ride.  

DB Do any of the characters and/or general narrative plot points have specific 'messages' or takes on being queer in contemporary culture? For example, does being queer in a science fiction/thriller narrative environment shed light on any contemporary issues around being queer (e.g. - relationships, queer marriage, etc.)?

CTB The queerness of the play acts as an extension of one of the anchors of the script, which is the duality of discovery and loss. Being queer is still a dangerous thing. As far as we've come, things like the Pulse massacre are reminders that our mere existence is still revolutionary, we're still consciously trying to take up our own spaces. We still stand to deal with violence just by living our lives. So who better than queer people to explore fear and loss? If anyone gets to tell stories about living under the shadow of a violent monster, it's a team of women and queer people.
Nikki Haggart 
Actor: Ellen
Nikki Haggart is a Montreal born actor who has recently relocated to Toronto. She is a 2013 graduate of John Abbott’s Professional Theatre Program, where she was the recipient of the Karla Napier Award and the Jason Panich Memorial Scholarship. Her favourite theatre roles include Cheddar in ‘In Memoriam: The Wake of Cheddar Fandango’ (Sermo Scomber Theatre/Montreal Fringe), Plug in ‘Captain Aurora: A Superhero Musical’ (Kaleidoscope Theatre/Centaur Theatre), Thea in ‘Spring Awakening’ (Persephone Theatre/Centaur Theatre), Myfanwy Price/Mrs Beynon in ‘Under Milk Wood’ (John Abbott Theatre/ Edinburgh Fringe) and Friar Lawrence in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (John Abbott Theatre). She has also been seen on Syfy’s ‘Being Human,’ Investigation Discovery’s ‘Fatal Vows,’ Teletoon’s ‘Cartoon Gene’ and in Black Box Production’s ‘Misogyny/Misandry.’ 

DB How is the use of a non-traditional theatre space in the Kensington Market area affect the staging, acting, design, etc.?

NH I think starting with a non-traditional venue has given the creative team, and in turn the performers, the chance to really examine a lot of theatrical conventions. What is necessary? What is useful? And what can be thrown out completely? I am personally really excited, and a bit nervous, to play around with some of the ingenious design elements that are being incorporated and see how it informs my performance. 

NH Not to name drop, but this seems pretty relevant: I once got to ask Patrick Stewart at a Comic-Con panel how his approach to projects like 'Othello' or 'Waiting for Godot' differed from projects like 'Star Trek' or 'X-Men.' He said it didn't, because the goal was the same, to be true to the character and the story. I definitely took that to heart when preparing for this role. It definitely helps that the characters feel very real even just within the text. They're going through these fantastical, horrific things, but they are still these totally relatable teenagers.

DB Do any of the characters and/or general narrative plot points have specific 'messages' or takes on being queer in contemporary culture? For example, does being queer in a science fiction/thriller narrative environment shed light on any contemporary issues around being queer (e.g. - relationships, queer marriage, etc.)?

NH The themes of being alone and being an 'other' are very prevalent in this story and are themes that have appeared in sci fi and horror since the very beginning (Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' springs to mind.) Including the experiences of queer characters in a small town certainly brings a very real, very topical element to this theme that I think most audiences will appreciate.

DB Do any of the characters and/or general narrative plot points have specific 'messages' or takes on being queer in contemporary culture? For example, does being queer in a science fiction/thriller narrative environment shed light on any contemporary issues around being queer (e.g. - relationships, queer marriage, etc.)?

NH The queer characters' journeys are definitely going to resonate with a lot of people, especially those in the queer community who come from smaller, conservative towns. However, one of the things that feels very real to me about the story is that by the end of it, the characters don't have everything figured out, either as soon-to-be adults or as monster hunters. I don't think we are making specific statements as much as we are asking questions; about how we treat each other, about how our past informs our future, etc. 

imagineNATIVE film Festival - Madison Thomas' EXPOSED NERVES

Saturday, October 1, 2016


Isn't it rich, isn't it QUEEEEEEEER
Losing my timing this late in my career
And where are the clowns
Quick send in the clowns
Don't bother, they're here…

Sondheim, from A Little Night music

David Benjamin Tomlinson as Mathieu (photos are not from the opening night performance)

The presence of the clown provides a mask for us to lose our sense of seriousness within, ultimately revealing just how hilarious our emotions can be when we let down our guard and try to relate in an honest way to another individual. And then, add sex - or even the possibility of sex - and the red nose becomes a throbbing red nose, and all - well, it all breaks loose.
In the man on man version of Blind Date, following last weeks woman on woman segment of Rebecca Northan’s smash hit improv ‘romanticomical’ play, there is a remarkable sequence that turns Sesame Street into Sexame Street and  Avenue Q into a boulevard of x-rated wet dreams. But perhaps the most curious and complex moment comes when the two men approach, well, we want no spoilers here. Suffice to say that the two male members were at an uproarious loss when a traditionally woman centred act occurred on stage, and it made for hilarious and unsettling theatre attesting to age old stereotypes around bodies and . . . well, again, no spoilers here. It of course will be different each night as the audience member is selected and moves through this very revealing enterprise in queer theatre and queer romance.
After seeing three instalments of Northan’s meta-creation (straight, lesbian, and gay) what becomes crystal clear is the tendency to flirt with an attractive person on one’s first encounter in a French restaurant with wine and attentive staff. Quell Surprise!. Everyone is lovely and handsome and butch and femme, the whole 69 yards. Some participants may be somewhat tentative, and as Northan suggested in a brief conversation before last week’s opening, some straight men tend to be somewhat more ‘terrified’ when it is a decidedly heterosexual date. Indeed, the one straight instalment I saw last year at Tarragon Theatre had a charming and affectionate young fellow who was very sweet and very funny and very well behaved. Which begs the question; how much would any given spectator like to experience an evening of Blind Date when things go terribly wrong? Part of the dramatic tension is created by this possibility. The very casual and social cocktail party ‘auditioning for a date’ section pre-show can only cover so much ground. Ultimately, in an age of reality television, there really needs to be a documentary of this play with segments from many performances, revealing some juicy ‘out takes’ from what few theatregoers are able to take part in due to the wonderfully unpredictable improv nature of this enthralling premise. BRAVO and HBO where are you?

From a traditional perspective, well, the two queer dates these past two weeks have been a little less well behaved than the straight date I was privy to at Tarragon last year, and they certainly don’t seem terrified. A little bashful at times perhaps, but that quickly falls away and the real fun begins. Is this what queer can do, at the best of times? Strip us of certain inhibitions that the straight dating world sometimes hinges on? One doesn’t want to generalize, but this does seem to occur, by degree, when the bent clowns are sent in and it is rich and it is queer.

One can speculate upon how oppression of the sexual kind can force individuals into more ‘out there’ personas after having to deal with the closet scenario for much of their lives. And when it is two women the oppressive notion that a woman must be more demure and less aggressive - well, that fell away quite quickly when Mimi had her opening night Bind Date last week at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre. And when Matthieu, played with six feet four inches (did he really say six foot four to his a date? - it was thrilling? I was in a scotch coma? thanks Patricia xo) of stature and charm by David Benjamin Tomlinson at the second opening of this alternating queer exercise in semi random dating, well, there was no attempt at demure. It was all style and grace of the skilfully charged kind - (reminding me of my favourite sung line from Funny Girl - “isn’t this the height of nonchalance, furnishing a bed in restaurants”).
Beginning with coming out stories and moving into hilarious sexually charged scenes, both Tomlinson and his momentary paramour were vastly entertaining. There was light sarcasm, clever wit, and lips on lips/hips on hips action throughout, coming from both sides, with one delightful moment when Mathieu’s very long legs straddled the couch and the date in a flexible & enthralling manner. 

There was also a fascinating cross border Chicago/Toronto exchange that makes one more curious about being blown in the windy city. I only address this oral fixed-destination because, needless to say, sex is the thing that seems to come to the forefront in a way that did not occur in the straight version. This perhaps happens in some het instalments. And yet, the gender games that have dominated the last century and beyond would suggest that there would be a very different dynamic between opposite sexes, if there even is such a thing.

And forgive my slight academic denouement, but as Foucault suggested in his history of sexuality, when we look back on our preoccupation with all things sexed and gendered over the past few centuries we might laugh - and cry - a little at how much time we spent on the rigorous rituals of lust. And that is precisely what Blind Date does - in a fun provocative manner - as it masks the seriousness by putting a big red nose on the lightheartedness and allowing us to laugh uproariously at our own behaviour through the lens of a blushing, throbbing single date. 

Julie Orton and David Benjamin Tomlinson as Mimi & Mathieu

Alas and hooray, Blind Date makes beautiful clowns of us all - lovely, charming, flirtatious, femme, butch, risky, dangerous, playful, and and possibly, only the performing clown knows for sure, on one stormy night, filled with all kinds of risky romantic potential.

running in rep 
at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre 
with Julie Orton as Mimi 
and David Benjamin Tomlinson as Mathieu 
until October Ninth