We are lucky to have a rich LGBT2SQ+ community here at the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design. Ask any Winters College student and they’ll tell you that a sense of community and belonging is one of this school’s greatest strengths. It is a place where students can be themselves and be loved by their friends, peers and mentors. It is a community that is still growing, and with that growth comes a lot of listening and learning, but above all it is a community that’s thriving.
Pride Month 2020 will be remembered as a month of action. Without the big parade or shoulder-to-shoulder crowds on Church Street, we were forced to set aside the free swag, the “gay tourism” and the corporate sponsorships to reflect on why we celebrate Pride in the first place. We were reminded that it is a time to protest, to care for ourselves, care for those who live in the margins, and to make some noise. And looking back at this past year, it is clear that AMPD made a lot of noise.
Welcome Dean Sarah Bay-Cheng
On July 1st 2019, shortly after last year’s Pride, AMPD welcomed Sarah Bay-Cheng as our new dean. Sarah is a queer theatre artist and educator whose primary research is in the intersections of media technologies and performance. Since joining our team, she has promoted transparency through her “Views From Mars” intranet website for AMPD students and staff, she has released consistent statements in solidarity with the disenfranchised, and she has mandated equitable hiring practices as a goal for her tenure at AMPD.
I believe that as artists and scholars we must remain committed to efforts to end racism and to promote social justice and equality through education and action. This work must and will continue. Black Lives Matter. 2/2
— Sarah Bay-Cheng (@sbaycheng) May 31, 2020
We’re looking forward to our 2nd year with Sarah!
Designing Stories, Standing for Justice
For his graduating year, Jai Bhatia created “Truth & Lies”, an audio visual interactive poem that reveals itself to the user as the user walks towards a screen. Contrasting sound versus text, it is up to the user to decide which story they would like to believe. One story is presented through the point of view of Ben discussing his relationship with Maya, and the second narrative comes from Markus, who argues that Ben and him are actually dating. In his artist statement, Bhatia says “It demonstrates how stories can be easily fabricated without any basis of reality, and how these stories can then inform identity.”
Still from Jai Bhatia’s “Truth & Lies”
We asked Jai about what makes this year’s pride different:
Jai Bhatia: This year for pride, I will be standing for justice. Let’s remember what Pride used to be and what it has become. I want to highlight what happened in Toronto Pride 2016 and how much backlash Black Lives Matter got for doing what they did. Pride was always meant to be a protest for reform, a riot. I think it’s about time we get away from the commercial event it has become today and join forces to protest. There is NO Pride without Justice.
You can discover more of Jai’s work on his website: http://madebyjai.co/
Dance Alum Wins Empire’s Ball
Photo by Quinton Cruikshanks.
Empire’s Ball is an annual Drag and Gender Performance Competition held in Toronto and sponsored by Absolut Vodka. Our own alum Josh Murphy, helped take their troupe to victory as “Newfound Lad”, performing burlesque-inspired numbers and pulling from their collaborative background as a Dance major. We had a short Q&A with Josh about Pride, burlesque, and how their performance is informed by queerness.
AMPD: How does burlesque allow you to express yourself differently than other forms of dance?
Josh Murphy: Burlesque has expanded how I see my body and how I as an individual take up space and present myself on stage. Contemporary dance is an extremely collaborative art form whereas Burlesque is very solo focused. However, my entry into burlesque was in joining a touring theatrical burlesque company. It has been collaborative and influenced by others from the start. Burlesque has helped teach me that my queer body is enough. Both my Contemporary work and my burlesque work are influenced by each other and my identities as a queer person and as a Newfoundlander.
AMPD: What does Pride month mean to you?
JM: Pride month means celebration to me. Celebration of queer bodies taking up space. Celebration of Pride and Love in exactly who we are. My first forays into Pride activities in 2014 were centred more in fun and less awareness. But as my identity as a queer individual expanded and deepened it has transitioned to remembering who came before us and looking towards what we, especially white queers, need to do to elevate all queer folks.
AMPD: With so many Pride festivities cancelled, what should us LGBTQ+ folks keep in mind during social distancing?
JM: Pride festivities may be cancelled but that doesn’t mean we do not have Pride. As LGBTQ+ folks, during this pride month especially, we must be amplifying the voices of BIPOC Queer and Trans folks. Pride started as a riot led by Black and Brown Trans Women. We continue that fight today. With social distancing in mind, we keep connected via the Internet. As a young queer growing up in Newfoundland the Internet was where I found my representation and we will do that again during Pride 2020.
AMPD: What is some advice for younger queer and non-binary artists who are still discovering themselves?
JM: Know that it’s okay to take your time. We as artists are constantly learning, evolving, and taking things in. Your opinions will change, your practice will change, and your identity very well might change. Don’t be afraid to try new things. When I was in my first year at York I could never have imagined how queer, wild, and wonderful my life would be post-university because of the opportunities I said yes to.
Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh. Set Design by Jessica Balyk. Costume Design by Kalina Popova
How are contemporary artists revising the classics to question and critique notions of gender? Theatre@York posed questions like this and many more with their theme for their 2019-20 Season, “Performing Gender” .
The season began with Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald, a revisioning of two of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays. By playing with the gender of characters in Shakespeare’s cannon, director Jennifer Tarver and our York Theatre community at-large were able to breathe new life into old texts and explore themes of queerness and sexuality. The season concluded with Elizabeth Rex by Timothy Findlay, a play that draws deeply from theatre’s roots in gender-swapped performance to challenge notions of gender in society.
Nora Likes Girls
In her 3rd year of the Film Production program, Marlee Druker made a statement with her short fiction film Nora Likes Girls, which has just premiered on our online film collection YorkFlix. The film follows a young woman who is still grappling with her own identity. The titular Nora struggles to connect in her love life and in her career as she tries to meet her family’s expectations. We asked Druker about her work and how it relates to Pride.
AMPD: Why do you choose Film as a means to express yourself and explore themes of queerness?
Marlee Druker: When I was first coming out, film was what came natural to me. Some people write letters, or they bake rainbow cakes to come out. I wanted to make sure I could express everything, and the medium that I know best and feel the most comfortable with is film. There is a level of safety in speaking through fictional characters, and it also allows for more people to relate.
AMPD: What has Pride traditionally meant to you? Has the meaning changed over time?
MD: For me it’s just a time to be outwardly and openly queer and proud. And to celebrate the right to do so at all the festivities. This year it’s very different. It has now evolved into a time to remember how Pride began, to turn back to those who were left behind, and to continue fighting for equality for the marginalized groups that gave us Pride in the first place.
There are still many ways to celebrate pride, and this year I think the best way is to forgo the parties, and take to activism instead. Helping LGBT2Q+ businesses and organizations survive this time is so important. And reaching out to other struggling communities, especially BIPOC communities, right now is also imperative.
AMPD: What is some advice for younger LGBT2Q+ filmmakers?
MD: Everyone has a different voice and point of view, and there is no wrong experience worth expressing. You are what makes your voice unique, and you should lean into that.
AMPD’s First Fashion Exhibition Investigates Gender
Re:Framing gender was an exhibition curated by Jason Cyrus in the Joan Goldfarb Study Centre in Winter 2020. The exhibition was touted as AMPD’s “First Fashion Exhibition” as it explored how fashion has historically framed our view of gender. It featured a collection of gendered outfits from various cultures around the world, and contrasted them with video interviews on a projection screen featuring trans men and women who recounted their experiences with fashion, and shared their own stories of navigating a binaried world.
From curator Jason Cyrus’ artist statement:
Jason Cyrus: Clothing has a powerful effect on our understanding of self, as well as how we interact with the wider world. It is a means of protection, identity formation, and social distinction. Our entire world, specifically within a fashion context, is ordered towards male/female binaries. But what of identities that sit beyond these constraints? What if you are also a person of colour? How does race factor into the equation? How is clothing used to reflect such intersectional identities?… This dynamic is important as such voices have historically been edited or erased completely from many institutional narratives.
Interviews from Re:Framing Gender. Click here to see more.
Drag Queen Storytime Goes Online
Photo by Quinton Cruikshanks.
Lucy Flawless (also known as Acting alumni Eric Rich) is a is a drag queen of many titles: Warrior Princess, Neighbourhood Ho, Canada’s Sweetheart, current reigning Queen of Halloween and Queen of The Drink. She is a Dora-nominated actor who is now starring in CBC’s newest series Queens. While in isolation, Lucy has brought her drag online for Drag Queen Storytime, a recurring family event on Facebook Live. You can catch her offering wholesome family fun every Wednesday at Toronto Drag Queen Storytime.
Lucy offered these words for our York U LGBT2SQ+ community:
Lucy Flawless: TREAT YOURSELF this Pride. Treat yourself to a new book, documentary, a new voice in our community. Each layer you add to the cake makes it that much sweeter. TREAT YOURSELF, and TREAT your Queer, Black, Brown, and Trans family with love and respect. We can have our cake and eat it too. Happy Pride York U!