Some Peace and Community for Queer Ghosts: Queer Ghost Hunters Series

queer_ghost_hunters_538bde99d1e7f8bd0d8268ff34d2b4dd-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000

I’ve been charmed by a Youtube docu-series: Queer Ghost Hunters. It is unlike anything else in the genre of ghost hunting reality series.

Yes, it’s remarkably well-produced and edited.  It’s funny, and it’s poignant, deeply moving at times.

The Stonewall Columbus Queer Ghost Hunters accomplishes these things because it’s doing everything so differently than other ghost hunter shows.

  1.  They aren’t reacting to a disturbance or a sighting.  The ghost hunters don’t (so far) go to a place because they’ve been called by folks disturbed by ghost activity.  They are seeking out where they believe queers would have gone in cities and rural areas.  Theatres, prisons, convents.
  2.   The goal is not to get the ghost on tape, or to prove that ghosts exist.  The show takes as a premise that ghosts exist.  Their goal: to provide a safe space for queer ghosts to talk about what it was like living queer in different moments of history.
  3. They’re looking for QUEER ghosts specifically.  Their focus drives their narrative.  They are looking to bring a safe community to a group of queers who can’t move out of their places to find other queers. ( It’s not like ghosts can pack up and go to San Francisco or Greenwich Village.)  The show’s aim is to chat amiably with queer ghosts who may not have had anyone to talk to in their lives about being queer.
  4. All of the ghost hunters fall on the Queer spectrum: genderfluid, lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgendered, pansexual, even a bear. 🙂   This is about diversity in the cast as well as diversity in the ghosts, but they are talking about LGBT issues.
  5. This is MORE than just ghost hunting: it is an examination of the history of LGBT people and, in some ways, how people lived, hid, coped with being queer in different places.  In that, it is a reflection–and a chance–for people to talk about what it is to live as queer in any time.

Continue reading

The Yearning To Be Seen: a Review of Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata

Deeply touched by the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata.  Veda Hille and Bill Richardson have written a non-linear musical that uses actual Craigslist ads for its lyrics.  Craigslist, in case you’ve been in a hole, is an online one-stop-shopping for finding whatever it is you want— from someone you saw on the train that day, to an old trumpet, to homes for your cats.  It’s a pared down, non-glitzy site—just text–where you have to use words to sell what it is you want to sell, or get what you want. Ads are quirky.  I think with the number of them, people have to come up with newer and more outlandish ways to make their ad stand out.  It’s not a Tumblr site so there’s no pics in your subject line to make you stand out–just a line of text.  What is Craigslist anyway?

The musical is episodic, going from ad to ad, occasionally reverberating or repeating a motif in another ad, enough to make it stick together well.  There are a number of “characters” who have very specific and ludicrous (sometimes even strange) desires and wants.  It would be easy just to laugh at all of them–and we do.  Audience tonight was having a great time laughing it up at the woman trying to sell her 300 stuffed penguins, singing an alphabetical list of the different species of penguins and hoping to find a special child who might want them all.  Or the man who wants someone to sit in his bathtub of cooked noodles…  Or the wanderers who keep missing each other–though having a brief moment with someone they fall for.

It would be easy to laugh, except Hille and Richardson don’t let us off that easy.  They have found a way to make that search poignant, a statement on 21st Century technology becoming the medium for expressing our desires.  There’s a song though that Hille sings in the middle–a quite surprising song about Noah and the doves he sends out into the world to find land.  And this becomes the central metaphor that pulls the show together in a quite exposing, vulnerable, emotional way— that Craigslist is a collection of those doves, sent out–with no replies, really.  “No one learns how the story ends.  Did they find each other?  We don’t know,” Hille says in the Artist talkback tonight.  There are only beginning moments–story starters, if you will–but we don’t know if any of the missed connections actually connect.

Continue reading

The Guild’s Boston Marriage witty, fun, screamin’ good

Last Friday night I was banned from the Guild’s front row if I wear red and come to a comedy.  I couldn’t control myself.  The play is way too funny for me, and so I was laughing–and I plead my case to Artsnet.  Sometimes, laughing is uncontrollable. What is controllable, I’ll admit, is the color I’m wearing and where I sit.  But I was running late, and the front row has fantastic leg room.  I had no idea that I might be distracting to the actresses pulling off this coup of a play.  I certainly couldn’t tell; they were very professional at hiding their laughter.

Let me back up:
Photo by Cathie Archbould

Friday evening, through with a long string of shows at YAC, I got to go on a mini-vacation.  I went to Boston Marriage at the Guild.  You’d think you’d be “show”ed out, with all the cool things happening in Whitehorse, but Boston Marriage doesn’t feel as if you’ve gone to a show.  It feels like someone snuck you into someone else’s living room to watch.  And it’s refreshing and touching and funny.

The Guild, after a few plays where characters yell at each other, comes up with a love story, where the leads may bicker at each other a bit, but who resoundly care for each other at their heart–and their sniping isn’t just regular sniping.  It’s David Mamet sniping.  That’s like the Caviar of sniping.  Okay, for comparison, Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was hot salsa sniping. Sharp, angled, hook-like and a bit cruel.  Mamet’s language is so rich and perfect–it tastes way too expensive for your mouth (which is why hearing it from Katherine McCallum and Moira Sauer makes it even funnier–they know how to wrap their tongues around every word-morsel).

So I laughed, and laughed and laughed…(cringing) and couldn’t stop.  I was surprised that they didn’t stop the play to let me finish.  But they couldn’t–and when they went on, well, it compounded the laughter–and now I was laughing at new stuff, on top of the previous funny lines, and my laughter got worse.  I was very lucky I didn’t pass out, though I think Moira and Katherine both probably would have liked it if I lost just a teensy bit of oxgyen along the way.  Not that I ever covered up a line.  Not that I ever was so loud others couldn’t hear the jokes.  In fact, in FACT, others were laughing just as much as I was.  (But, they weren’t wearing red and they were sitting farther away–hence a more acceptable laughter.)  The whole room shook like puppies in Christmas box.

Continue reading

Gross Heart: Much to Love about Mump and Smoot

Canadian clowns, Mump and Smoot (with Thug), were in Whitehorse tonight in a revival of their first show together, Something.  I was led to believe it was going to be scary, or disturbing--but these were not scary clowns.  While there are some grotesque moments, there’s a charming show beneath the grossness.  It stems from the deep friendship between characters Mump and Smoot, developed more than twenty years ago by John Turner and Micheal Kennard.

On stage, there is a sense that Mump, a bit rule-bound and dictatorial, is trying to be a mentor to Smoot, or a father-figure.  Smoot, on the other hand, is young, innocent, full of whim, silly even, more uncontrollable–like a child.  His voice even sounds a bit like Elmo from Sesame Street, though he can easily scowl at the audience and berate them just as much as Mump.  But the two clowns cry together, miss each other, play together, and are true friends–even if they play doctor and (unintentionally) hurt each other.  It’s not Laurel and Hardy I think of but Abbot and Costello.  Or even George and Gracie.

Our audience was completely charmed by these two–and I laughed through the whole thing—there’s really only a few moments that you can stop laughing.  Sometimes you are laughing at what the clowns are doing to other members of the audience.  The Audience serves as the fourth member of the show, and completely unpredictable.  John and Mike, afterwards in the talkback, referred to what the Audience does at their shows, as “gifts.”  They don’t know how the audience will react, but they take whatever the audience does and uses it in the show.  This is why the show is different every night.  Sure there are several “acts” they go through–but the audience determines paths they will take in the act.

Yes, there are some grotesque moments, but comedy and the grotesque have often gone together.  Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein comes to mind as comedy exploring inside Horror.  We all still laugh–in fact fear makes us want to laugh all the more.  Movies that play with death, or that use a dead body as a running gag, or that find humor in zombies (see Sean of the Dead). Saturday Night Live’s spoof on Julia Child severing her own finger while doing a live cooking show–this is what they mean by grotesque, or even horror.  Mump and Smoot really don’t go beyond that barrier towards horror.  There is nothing so realistic that it makes you gag.  Thug, played by Candice, is perhaps the scariest of the three, and she doesn’t say a thing–which is why she’s kinda scary.  She’s completely unpredictable.

Continue reading

The Truth and the Narrative in Beauty: Compagnie Marie Chouinard’s “The Golden Mean”

To the slow, pounding, pulsing kettledrum, its waves of sound hitting the audience, the two sheen-fabric wrapped shapes on the stage slowly writhe and discard their stiff shimmering sheaths.  So begins Marie Chouinard’s The Golden Mean, restaged for another amazing tour.  I would have a hard time describing what happens.  It’s modern dance, but the performers are all wearing golden wigs, masks, and tassles that run down their legs, at first.  They resemble fauns.  But this isn’t Prelude to “the Afternoon of a Faun”—the music sounds a bit like a science fiction chorale, voices, drums, chorus, building, sustaining, crashing, wincing and dodging, always aching with long-note beauty.

There are maybe twelve dances in the 80 minutes, and each one provides a chance for the viewer, the audience, to participate by bringing their own meaning to the dance.  Perhaps this was intentional; perhaps not.

The dancers, part ballet-part something deeply, bodily organic–they tiptoe, launch, lurch across the stage, always flowing in rhythm to the music.  They are all lovely to watch.  For the first few numbers we feel as if we’re seeing the birth of a civilization, a whole society; toddlers walk across the stage, learn to laugh and cry together, have first few sleeps; ensemble pieces involving the whole company break up the solo, duo and trio dances.  I was most captivated by the two dancers who seemed to be acting out a first relationship—a man who dates the pliable woman, the one he fits into any shape he wants; he is aggressive, demanding, sexual, and she is passive, not quite even awake in the dance.  He discovers how wonderful it is to slide her hand down his face, his chest, his groin; and she starts to fight him, pushing away, and they twist each other back and forth, as she starts finding her own inner aggressor.  They have tortuous sex, or the dance version of it, always moving, stretching, twisting and flexing those dancers’ bodies.  I was captivated too by the narrative I was creating out of the dance–the story I gave that dance, that I’m even giving that dance now in this essay.

We can’t help it.  Human beings, when we see two or more humans interacting with another, we come up with a narrative, a voice over, maybe, but at least a set of actions, reactions, motivations, based on the expressions, the movements that we see in front of us.   Try it at your local mall.  Watch people for any length of time and you give them a narrative.  You can’t help it.

Continue reading

Is there no Sincerity in a Marketing Director?

Do you trust this man?

I was lucky enough to get a dream job: being a marketing director for the Yukon Arts Centre.  The Arts Centre is a venue for a lot of non-local acts (and does host lots of local acts and artists as well) that come through Whitehorse, and into the communities.  It encompasses not only the actual Arts Centre, up on the hill, but the Old Fire Hall, the Yukon Arts Gallery (adjacent to the mainstage), and various venues for workshops and talks around town.

Before I got the job I was a Waterfront Trolley interpreter, a guide for the Beringia Centre (our ice age/mammoth museum), and a vaudevillian.  I told you about some of these jobs.  Mostly, I talk about writing, and I talk about the cool things that happen in Whitehorse.  I always have.  Most of those arts centered events happened at the Yukon Arts Centre.  And I raved about them because I thought they were good.  I wanted to share what I’d found.

As it happens, I now get paid to promote the Arts Centre.  Does that change my sincerity?  Not in the least.  If you got paid for what you love to do would it change the way I view what you say or do?  No.  I just happen to love what I do.

For the purposes of this blog, my thoughts are still my thoughts.  I intend to still tell you about all the cool things that I find, and I don’t think that should stop suddenly because I get paid to promote one organization.   I’ll critique movies, talk about writing.  I’ll still promote good local plays, from local playwrights.  And I’ll still find great things from the Yukon Arts Centre too.  I probably won’t be negative about a Yukon Arts Centre event, but you would expect that.  I’m not really into being negative anyway.  There’s too many good things happening here–I want you to see them.

Continue reading

There Are Stories You’ve Never Heard, Brilliantly Told: a review of The River

I went Saturday night to The River, a Nakai production, with Michael Greyeyes directing a play written by David Skelton, Judith Rudakoff and Joseph Tisiga.  To be frank, I wasn’t sure if I was interested in what I thought would be a sermon on homelessness.  I just didn’t want the guilt.  (And yes, I’m ashamed I actually said that—but I’m human and honest, and homelessness seems so much larger than I can comprehend–and I don’t know how to react “properly” or have any effect on the problem.  I suspect avoiding the issue is part of that problem–and yet, it’s the easiest thing to do.)

But local playwright David Skelton co-wrote the play, and I’m a huge fan of David and Nakai.  So I went.

I was blown away.   It wasn’t a sermon.  It wasn’t a guilt trip.  It was eye-opening, and it was riveting, and it was brilliant.  

For more of my review of The River at What’s Up Yukon

In a nutshell, brilliant writing, directing and acting take you into the vulnerable world of the homeless in Whitehorse.  Inspired by first person stories, collected by the writers through interviews over several years, that interviewing technique gives this play a realistic quality you won’t find in stories about homeless people.  You want to catch this play fast.  It’s here for a limited time, limited seating.  You won’t be disappointed.  I predict a long life for this play, and many, many performances across Canada.

(For more stunning photos of The River by photographer Richard Legner, visit this page.)