Our (gay) guide to Vancouver’s arts scene in January

Tucked & Plucked Vancouver DragThere is no better time than now to make your New Year’s resolution to take in some live performing arts in 2014 as we present our January guide to what’s happening on Vancouver stages.

  • Part of the 2014 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, this year’s Club PuSh includes Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon exploring their failed attempts to fit into gender binary in Gender Failure (16 & 17 Jan) and Isolde N. Barron and Peach Cobblah unearth the history of the drag movement in Vancouver with Tucked & Plucked: Vancouver’s Drag Herstory on Stage (24 Jan).
  • Metro Theatre presents its annual family-friendly holiday pantomime, Jack and the Beanstock (closes 4 Jan).
  • It’s a Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious holiday season as Mary Poppins flies in for a visit with the Banks’ family in this jolly holiday treat (closes 5 Jan).
  • James Bond has provided not only some of film’s most thrilling moments in his fifty year screen history, but some of the most thrilling music, too.  The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra presents Fifty Years of James Bond featuring the most memorable songs and music from past and more current James Bond films. (10 & 11 Jan).
  • The inaugural Italian Film Festival will showcase five new films from Italy and five films from Italy’s historical repertoire of cinema (10 – 16 Jan).

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The best of Vancouver theatre in 2013

Best Theatre Vancouver 2013Just shy of last year’s record-breaking number of shows seen and reviewed, my list of the best shows of 2013 is another eclectic mix.

As always I remain grateful to the theatre companies who invite me to see their shows and I once again encourage everyone to make a new year’s resolution to experience some live theatre in 2014.

#10- “Glee-fully” blurring the lines – Speech & Debate (Twenty Something Theatre)

While at times laugh-out-loud funny, it was Claire Hesselgrave’s performance as the quirky Diwata that made this show so memorable.

#9 – All hail the Fringe ensemble – 5 Lesbians Eating Quiche (Black Rook Theatre)

Not the first time a Vancouver Fringe production has made my list over the years, but it is the first time it hasn’t been a one-person show.  It totally got overlooked as one of the best of the Fringe.

#8 – Buckle up for this hilarious ride – Boeing-Boeing (Arts Club Theatre Company)

Never mind the new Dreamliner, the trio of McNee, Wheeler and Lipman were the new Dreamteam in an absolutely hilarious production that rarely flew below 30,000 feet.

#7 – Just what the doctor ordered - Hotel Bethlehem (Ruby Slipper Theatre) 

It’s no wonder this one is now into its third year.  Irreverent, funny and not a trace of sugary sweetness found in the shows normally found during the Christmas season.

6 – A cacophony worth experiencing – Balm in Gilead (Studio 58)

What makes Langara’s Studio 58 standout as one of the best theatre training grounds in the country is its willingness to take risks.  Gritty, provocative and real, this one pushed both actor and audience.

#5 – The summer of women – Elizabeth Rex (Bard on the Beach)

Ironically this was not one of the Bard’s plays, but Colleen Wheeler’s gripping performance as the Queen made it impossible to ignore.

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Our (gay) guide to this year's New Years Eve parties

New Years Eve Party VancouverAre you looking for something to do this New Year’s Eve?  Here are the LGBTQ parties in Vancouver to help you welcome in 2014.

  • RuffNYE –the 2nd annual RUFFnye features DJ Shane Stiel (San Diego) and DJ Nick Bertossi (Vancouver) and the crowning of Mr Ruff 2014.
  • New Year’s Eve with Queer As Funk – ring in the new year with Vancouver’s only queer Motown/soul/funk band.
  • Cream New Years Eve – a New Year’s Eve party for girls who like girls who like with DJ’s Tracey D and Kasha Kennedy.
  • Magic NYE – Big Roger Events presents DJs Dreaddy, Del Stamp and Nick Bertossi.

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Queer As Funk wants you to dance your ass off

Queer as Funk VancouverWith its New Year’s Eve show nearly sold out and the buzz it has received since forming just eight months ago, Queer As Funk is quickly developing a reputation for its relatable and danceable music.

But that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since Motown is Queer As Funk’s de facto band leader and trumpet player Alison Gorman’s go-to music.  “I love Motown,” she says.  “It is what I love to listen to and what I find myself listening to at home.”

Keeping their audience in mind, Gorman says that the reason the band chose Motown (with a little soul and funk for good measure) was its desire to get people dancing and an eye to the potentially lucrative wedding business.

“People like to dance to Stevie Wonder and Amy Winehouse.  It is very danceable music.  Besides, in the back of my mind I wanted to corner the gay wedding market,” laughs Gorman.

“It’s also very accessible music that most people are most familiar with and can sing along to,” adds lead singer Connie Buna.

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Theatre review: It’s Snowing on Saltspring is silly holiday fun

It's Snowing on Saltspring Vaancouver TheatreBill Millerd reaches deep inside his Christmas stocking as the Arts Club Theatre Company presents Nicola Cavendish’s It’s Snowing on Saltspring this holiday season.

Last seen in 1985 on the now closed Arts Club Seymour Street stage, It’s Snowing on Saltspring has thankfully been updated with some current references (guess which Russian president is on Santa’s naughty list this year?) but its basic story remains intact.

Saltspring tells the story of the Bannisters who have given up life in the big city for a quieter existence on the Island after Bill, a dentist, has a breakdown from having worked at a job with one of the highest suicide rates.  With an overdue baby and a lack of direction in his life, Bill relapses to his days of stress shoplifting and starts to get a major case of cold feet about the possibility of parenthood.  In his current funk Bill gobbles down boxes of Viva Puffs, wishes for pizza rather than turkey and proudly unveils one of the oddest crèches this side of South Park.  Ending up on the couch on Christmas Eve after a fight with his wife, it takes an overnight trip to the North Pole for Bill to finally realize the true meaning of the holidays.

With the exception of Andrew McNee, who wonderfully flips between the droll and depressed dentist to the wide-eyed enthusiasm of his inner child, the other actors in Cavendish’s story play double-duty, reminiscent of Dorothy’s encounters on her visit to Oz and where the bulk of the silliness takes place.

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Filmmaking without a net: improvised Afterparty realizes genuine moments

Afterparty Improv VancouverAsk most actors and they will tell you that  improvisation is the equivalent of a high wire act performed without a net.  By not being able to rely on a script, it is the actor’s skills that will ultimately determine whether they make it to the other side.  Up for the challenge, a group of Vancouver 30-somethings have taken on this death-defying metaphor, with Afterplay, an improvised feature-length movie.

Afterparty tells the story of Charlie who, on the night of his brother’s wedding, gathers his old high-school gang for a post-reception party to help him forget about his own marriage.  Over the course of the night Charlie must decide if he gives into his husband’s ultimatum to return home, while the rest of the group discovers that revisiting the past doesn’t always prepare you for the future.

Proving once again that art does indeed imitate life, the story for Afterparty comes partly from gay actor Graham Coffeng’s real-life story, having moved to Vancouver in 2011 after separating from his husband.  Like the character Charlie he plays, Coffeng was housesitting for his brother when he first arrived out west and recognized the empty house as an opportunity to make a movie.

“The film was inspired by some true life events, but a lot of ‘what ifs’ came into play,” says Coffeng.  “I definitely had a strong emotional force to draw on and I was able to draw on my own experiences to create a scenario of why the character of Charlie was coming to the end of his relationship.”

“The house came first,” laughs director Michelle Ouellet.  “We had this fabulous location and this reunion film came from the wonderful house that Graham was staying in.”

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Theatre review: Except In the Unlikely Event of War is complex

Robert Moloney in a scene from Sean Devine’s Except in the Unlikely Event of WarGood theatre can entertain or make you think.  Really good theatre does both.  Sean Devine’s Except in the Unlikely Event of War is really good theatre.

Once again proving himself as a master of political theatre, Vancouver playwright Sean Devine abandons the American politics of his 2011 hit Re:union to take on the politics of fear and, by association, the Harper government in Except in the Unlikely Event of War.

Loosely based on the 1967 bestseller “Report From Iron Mountain” which told of a secret government think tank that concluded war was necessary for governments to stay in power, Devine uses the book, which would later be revealed as a satirical hoax, as a basis to weave his own complex satire.  In a trio of stories, Devine flits between the government think tank, a radio show host who discovers a Chinese submarine has arrived at the shores of the Arctic and a meta-theatrical self-awareness in which the actors rehearse the show itself.

And while it all may sound a little too complicated, thankfully Devine is skilled enough to structure his play into largely logical chunks. But even when the story devolves as it jumps incessantly between ideas, Devine is the first to acknowledge its complexity during some very funny scenes where his actors acknowledge their own confusion.

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'Oddly Normal' confirms it gets better for parents too

'Oddly Normal' Book CoverWhat “It Gets Better” has done to help LGBTQ youth, author John Schwartz is looking to do for parents of those same kids with Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality, one of the featured books at this year’s Vancouver Jewish Book Festival.

“Dan Savage has done miracles through the It Gets Better Project, but my wife and I felt no one was telling parents that,” explains Schwartz.  “For my wife and me [writing the book] was about telling a parent of any kid who is different, and who is miserable about being different, that we can embrace, support and help them to be happy with themselves.”

Embracing and supporting their own gay son came through a near tragic 2009 suicide attempt by their then 13 year old son Joseph and with it a need to understand and heal.  As a reporter for the New York Times, Schwartz turned to the best way he knew how.

“Writing the book helped make everything gel for us,” says Schwartz.  “Everything we had been through was still very raw: the problems that Joe had in elementary and middle school, the incidences of bullying, not fitting in, but then also the upswing as things got better, as he started to find himself and feel more comfortable about who he was.”

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New biography explores Svend Robinson’s life and career

Graeme Truelove, author of the biography Svend Robinson: A Life in Politics.It’s been nearly ten years since Canada’s first openly gay MP left politics under the cloud of a bizarre scandal.  Now a new book, Svend Robinson: A Life in Politics recounts a sometimes controversial career as one of Canada’s longest serving federal politicians and his fall from grace.

Written by biographer Graeme Truelove (photo right), an intern in Svend Robinson’s Ottawa office from 2002 to 2004, the book explores Robinson’s difficult childhood, his growing realization of his own sexuality, and the bipolar diagnosis which followed his baffling, career–ending theft of a diamond ring.

In our Q&A, author Graeme Truelove talks about the process of writing the book and the discoveries about Robinson he made along the way.

When did you first start working on the book?

I first started thinking about it in 2009, and began in 2010. The bulk of the work was completed in 2011-2012, with updates in 2013.

It’s been a number of years since Robinson was in the public eye – what makes a book about his life relevant now?

He was one of the most well-known, most polarizing, and most effective MPs in Canadian history, with a painful and dramatic personal life. And yet, his full story had never been told. There was a bit of a gap in our Canadian political archives. And his career ended in such a baffling way that people still want to understand what happened. This book gives people that chance. Despite the years that have gone by, I don’t think there’s been anyone quite like him. He really did politics differently. Who else goes to the front lines like he did? Who else is as fearless? His story shows what an MP can do. That’s as relevant now as ever.

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John Apple Jack is full of sex, food and passion

Two Actors from John Apple Jack in VancouverWith the Vancouver Queer and International Film Festivals now over for another year, it’s time to get a little “naughty or rice” with the Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF) and the world premiere of the locally shot gay film John Apple Jack.

“Over the past few years, VAFF has continued to grow and this year’s theme, ‘Naughty or Rice’, invites our audience to challenge their own perceptions about Asian film, and has brought in an interesting array of talent,” says Grace Chin, festival director.

Along with over 40 feature-length films, documentaries and shorts screening over four days, the 2013 VAFF line-up includes John Apple Jack, a feature length movie that definitely fits within the festival’s naughty spectrum.

The semi-autobiographical film from Vancouver writer Rick Tae, John Apple Jack tells the story of a glamorous playboy who realizes that his dream guy is about to get away and how his life turns upside down in a mad rush to confess his love.

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