I try really hard not to hate Mormons. But with events in the US over the last few years it’s pretty hard not to. I was in California for the Proposition 8 decision this past spring and knowing that the Church of Latter Day Saints donated more money than anyone else to the cause of reversing marriage equality in that state got me pretty riled up. The LDS was also responsible for quashing marriage equality in Hawaii back in 1994 and is currently hard at work trying to overturn laws in Maine and Vermont by placing constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2010.
Their religious view is best summed up in a sign that I saw during the demonstration at the San Francisco courthouse: ‘“Gay Marriage” is not a Civil Right. Religious Freedom is’, the inherent statement being that gay marriage is not in fact real marriage (as suggested by the quotation marks around it) and that “Religious Freedom” equals forcing other people who do not share your religious views to follow the teachings of your church. While I understand the fundamentalist nature of their faith, it’s perplexing to me that a group of people who have been persecuted so much throughout their history would take such an active role in denying another group of people their rights.
I spent about three years living in the Bloor and Ossington neighbourhood of Toronto. Anyone who frequents this area will know that it is a hotbed of Mormon activity. I think it may have something to do with the number of churches close to that intersection (more churches equal more potential converts from other faiths!), but every day year round rain or shine, those freshly scrubbed boys and girls in their white shirts and long skirts were out on a mission to save souls for their cause. Since I had to cross this intersection on a virtually daily basis I had a lot of interactions with them, and I have to admit that I had a grudging amount of respect for these kids. Not for the fact that they stand by their beliefs, but for the fact that they were possibly some of the best salespeople I’ve ever met in my life.
I used all measure of tactics to dissuade their advances in the hopes that they would allow me on my way to buy tofu and rent porn. I tried telling them flat out that I’m gay which, for anyone pondering a similar response when dealing with religious fundamentalists, I can say is definitely the wrong answer. When you tell them you’re queer, you go from being a random soul who needs to be saved, to a tarnished soul doomed to eternal hellfire that needs desperately to be saved. A couple of times I told them I was an atheist, which I think is almost as bad in their books, and did nothing to curb their advances. A few times I lied and said I was Jewish, hoping they might have some respect for a faith about 6,000 years older than theirs. No dice. Apparently Jews need the love of Jesus Christ in their lives as much as anyone else.
On one particular day I’m walking briskly along Bloor and this freakishly cute blonde boy steps directly into my path, forcing me to stop. “Do you have a minute to talk?” he asks. “I’m in a rush to get somewhere,” I reply and continue past him. He immediately follows me in lockstep. “So where are you rushing off to today?” he asks. “I’m going to meet my boyfriend and we’re going to get high on drugs and have sex,” I say, hoping this statement would shock him into a catatonic state and leave him paralysed on the sidewalk, like that time on Star Trek: The Next Generation when Commander Data tried to disable The Borg by sending them a paradoxical computer program that they would be unable to process and would lead to their ultimate destruction. To my dismay, Mormon boy is completely unfazed. “Do you have any plans for this evening?” he says. “Um… no. I guess not. Why?” “My friends and I are showing a film about “family” at a house around the corner,” he says. “Can my boyfriend come?” I ask, trying a meeker version of the shock tactic. “Of course!” he says, flashing his flawlessly white teeth in a smile. “Everyone who cares about family is welcome.” He hands me a flyer with the address on it and shakes my hand. Oh God, he’s so fucking cute! I have a brief vision of ejaculating on his face and then I shake myself out of it. “Okay thanks,” I say. “I’ll try to make it out.” I walk past him and toss the flyer in a garbage can half a block away.
I thought about that Mormon boy again on when the B.C. Supreme Court threw out charges against Winston Blackmore and James Oler, two residents of the Mormon community of Bountiful who were charged with polygamy for each having multiple wives. I wondered what he would think of the whole situation. Would he be in favour of the “one man, many women, and a whole pile of children” vision of what a family should be or would he oppose it the same way he would opposes my idea of what a family is?
I’ve been following this story since the two men were arrested earlier this year and it’s been interesting how often gay marriage has come up in discussions on the subject. At the time marriage equality was being debated here in Canada back in 2003, opponents said that it would pave the way to allowing polygamy, incest, and bestiality. Based on the comments sections of various news websites, it seems that a large number of Canadians believe just that. Yes indeed, gays are the ones to blame for polygamy being legal in Canada. While I have serious issue with the notion of underage girls being forced into sexual relationships with older men, as long as the parties entering a polygamous relationship are above the age of consent I have no problem with it.
I doubt there are any members of the Mormon community reading this website, but if there are, let me say this; I will happily support your right to have the kind of relationship you want if you’ll stop trying to prevent me from having the kind of relationship I want. How’s that for a deal?
Chris Dupuis is a Toronto-based artist and writer. For more information about his work go to www.chrisdupuis.com
The Crossing Guard
Written by Daniel Karasik
Directed by Anthony Furrey
Presented by Tango Co. and Peanut Butter People at the Tarragon Studio Space
Playing: October 13-17 8pm, Saturday 2:30pm
Tickets: 416-531-1827 or www.tickets.tarragontheatre.com
The Walworth Farce
Written by Enda Walsh
Directed by Mikel Murfi
Presented by Harbourfront Centre
Featuring: Michael Glenn Murphy, Tadhg Murphy, Mercy Ojelade, and Raymond Scannell.
The Fleck Dance Theatre is hard to find. It’s kind of hidden in a mall on the second floor of Queen’s Quay Terminal. It is also completely blue inside, which I really like. It is both comforting and fancy. The Walworth Farce written by Enda Walsh and directed by Mikel Murfi opened there last Tuesday and it drew lots and lots of people to its blue box office.
The play begins gently, with the Irish Toura-loora-loora song playing on a tape deck in an awful apartment. Three men, Dinny (Michael Glenn Murphy), Sean (Tadhg Murphy), and Blake (Raymond Scannell), sporting varying degrees of baldness tend to an acrylic wig, attempt to cook a large sausage, and massage thick creams into their scalps. Very abruptly the music stops with the click of a tape deck. Then things get very hectic. The men are, I gather, acting out the story of their departure from Ireland. There are two cardboard coffins on either side of the stage. Everybody is yelling for a very long time. If I sound fuzzy on the details, it's because I am fuzzy on the details. For almost the entire first act, the three men frantically tell and retell the same story at a very high pitch presumably led by Dinny with the other boys in his frightening command.
I don't have the enviable ability to force myself to focus when things get atonal. This is why all of math is mysterious to me. Audience members sharper than I found the activities on stage hilarious. I saw that they were doing funny things, but the consistent ultra fast pace and high volume lulled me into a sort of trance. It's not an entirely unfortunate place to be and I think it was completely intentional.
Helpless repetition is also at the heart of Daniel Karasik's new play The Crossing Guard, directed by Anthony Furey. In it, seventeen-year-old Timothy (Karasik) makes a daily routine of showing up at the crosswalk where his sister went missing seven years ago. The play is staged in the Tarragon studio space which is neither blue nor fancy. I liked this space just as much as the Fleck. I like places that are small. Karasik's crosswalk is and has always been governed an elderly crossing guard named Jim (Gary Reineke) and he guides Timothy back and forth across the same street with his stop sign, whistle, and fluorescent orange vest. The two have light conversation and it becomes clear quickly that neither party is especially happy with Timothy's continued visits; it is a compulsion rather than a decision.
The Walworth men's frenzied routine comes to a halt rather abruptly with the appearance of Hayley (Mercy Ojelade), a young female supermarket employee. She is helpfully (flirtatiously?) bringing a bag of groceries Sean had forgotten at her checkout. She is so normal, so much a part of the outside world that she brings to the attention of the characters the strangeness of their actions. It is clear that she might love Sean a little bit, and in this lays hope for his escape from Dinny.
Similarly, Timothy's routine comes to a halt rather abruptly with the appearance of Miriam (Monica Dottor), a young female crossing guard filling in for Jim. She is so normal, so much a part of the outside world that she forces Timothy to question the health of his street-crossing, sister-seeking practice. It's unclear whether her interest in him might bring hearts to his eyes, but it seems like a possibility. Women can be so refreshing.
Initially, both Walworth's Hayley and The Crossing Guard's Miriam could be taken for a sort of “Vestal Virgin” in their respective stories; the young woman who through her vitality and sensuality awakens and renews the tired soldier/statesman/lost guy. This is still a consistent theme in Western story telling and I remember seeing trailers for a treacherous looking Jennifer Aniston movie called Along Came Polly in which she plays a free spirited bohemian who convinces a downtrodden businessman to do a bunch of dumb stuff that includes him climbing to the roof of a skyscraper and screaming at the top of his lungs. I think the conclusion of the movie shows that he has some kind of break through that leads him to become an artist. Aniston’s character dies of cancer, but the businessman learns his lesson and doesn't need her anymore, having grown as a person. There are so many billions of movies and plays and books like this, I know the story so well that I could watch it in my head.
Fortunately, in neither of these plays do the women have the redemptive qualities that we think they will. In fact they contradict the Vestal Virgin paradigm. Though they both show up with hope written all over their faces, neither Hayley nor Miriam can affect any kind of positive change. Hayley becomes a captive of Dinny; forced through her tears to participate at knifepoint in the reenactments. Rather than waving flag of redemption, her helplessness reinforces for Sean his own captivity, and though she finally escapes (after Dinny and Blake kill each other and lie dead on the floor), Sean is unable to follow her, feeling instead more destroyed than free.
The Crossing Guard's Miriam manages to convince Timothy that he should break his back and forth across the street habits, move on with his life, go to college, and possibly meet a girl. On the day he decides to quit, Jim the original crossing guard shows up and practically wrestles the young protagonist into a fluorescent orange vest, passing the ceremonial stop sign into his hand. Before Timothy can argue, Jim crosses the street and gets hit by a car leaving Timothy in crosswalk purgatory.
At the heart of both of these plays is the fear that we are powerless to change our own fortunes. If we are stuck in a routine, we probably deserve to be stuck. It's no co-incidence that two different plays in different styles by different theatre companies on opposite sides of the world opt for the choice of no escape. Neither Karasik's Timothy nor Walsh's Sean is bound to repetition for any reason other than their own misplaced sense of duty. Both have a clear way out and a willing helper, but feel utterly beaten and helpless by circumstances larger than themselves. It's surprising, because now that “God is Dead”, it would seem as though there are no circumstances larger than ourselves. We should be free to walk but it seems as though what all of these characters need is someone to save them. We still (as Jennifer Aniston movies would indicate) believe in the redemptive powers of love. It's just that we haven't seen any proof. Theatre, not having the spectacular funding that Hollywood does, feels free to point a finger at this. There are no Vestal Virgins anymore so we're all on our own. We have to change our own circumstances, though sometimes we can't.
BASH’d: A Gay Rap Opera
Written & Performed by Chris Craddock & Nathan Cuckow
Directed by Ron Jenkins
Music by Aaron Macri
Presented by Theatre Passe Muraille
Playing October 15th to 31st
Tickets and Information: 416-504-7529 or www.passemuraille.on.ca
I can’t remember when I first met Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow – as a theatre artist in Alberta, you pretty much know everyone else. In January of 2008, I had the pleasure of performing in the Toronto Fringe’s inaugural Next Stage Festival and had a chance to watch fellow Albertans Craddock & Cuckow at work in their smash hit, BASH’d: A Gay Rap Opera. Now, fresh from a successful off-Broadway production, the show is back in Toronto for a three week run at Theatre Passe Muraille. I caught up with Chris Craddock to talk about gay rights, climate change, tar sands, and pretty much every other hot button issue. Oh, and theatre.
How did your creative partnership with Nathan Cuckow evolve and how did you come to collaborate on this project?
Nathan and I met back in 1997 and became fast friends. Nathan appeared as an actor in a few of my plays and I got to see his work as a writer in a solo show: StandUpHomo. I knew that we could write together, and we did, in a queer head-banger piece called 3...2...1, which remains one of my favourites. It was while we were rehearsing 3...2..1 that we started joking about gay rap, which Nathan was already doing. He had a performance coming up at the Loud and Queer Cabaret. I joined him and with composer Aaron Macri, we dropped a track that sort of blew everybody away. We were flushed with pop-star pride and eager to do more. We started talking about a full piece.
As a straight man, what is your relationship to this material and what motivates you to address it in your work?
Well, there's straight and then there's straight. But leave that aside. I was awarded my honourary wings long ago. And even if I wasn't, I like to think that human rights are something we're all concerned with. Gay rights in my mind is ground zero for humanism, and humanism is what we need right now. It’s like the human rights canary in the coalmine. It elucidates the question: are you allowed to love who you love or would your government prefer you love someone else? I was raised in a very religious home, and in that home and many other places, like lots of artists, I felt different from other people. From a young age I felt that making people suffer for being different was very wrong. Denying gay people the right to marry is the adult version of pushing the fat kid down in the schoolyard. It’s plain wrong and we should be beyond it. For Prime Minister Harper, the head of our whole country, to say that gay relationships are invalid and that therefore gay people are inferior should be horrifying to all in this modern time. Leaders should be more mature than the rank and file, not less. And people are dying. Gay teens kill themselves 1500% more then their straight counterparts.
Was there anything about the political climate of Alberta that motivated you to create BASH'd? Have you had any negative feedback from political groups or right-wing people in Alberta or elsewhere?
We haven't had much backlash, I think because theatre is just not mainstream enough. We're all freaks anyway, so why dignify us with a response? Maybe now that we're the Albertan contribution to the Cultural Olympiad in Vancouver, we'll rate some picket signs, but probably not.
That said, the cultural climate of Alberta was most certainly an inspiration for this play. We wrote it during the equal marriage debate, when then-Premier Ralph Klein was threatening to use the not-withstanding clause, for the second time in an anti-gay stance. This is an easy formula for stoking up a rural base, and is popular amongst politicians hoping to be elected by the ignorant. During this period, we saw a statistical jump in anti-gay street violence, commonly known as bashing. Some, Murray Billet for example, who was the Edmonton police department’s liaison for the gay community to the hate crime division, was encouraged by Ralph’s language, as he finally capitulated to federal authority in this matter. He said things like, "We used every weapon in our arsenal." He acted like a righteous general, laying down his official arms, almost hinting that perhaps people out in the street could do better. They took him at his hint. As artists and fans of basic human rights we were angered by this.
I saw your interview on Fox News, which is posted on your website. Watching this guy who was interviewing you, it almost made me cringe – your show was clearly not subject matter he was comfortable with. What was it like doing an interview with people who don't understand you and don't really want to?
Being in the Fox News headquarters was like being black at a KKK rally. We couldn't help but think, “Bill O’Reilly spews hate right from that chair!” I regret deeply that I didn't say anything more YouTube worthy.
What was the off-Broadway run like? The musical is such a revered theatrical form in New York City. Did people judge you more critically there as musical theatre artists?
We had a good time in New York. We were blessed with some very good reviews. Some locals told us we were one of the best reviewed off-Broadway shows in ten years. Obviously we were thrilled and flattered by this. As Canadian artists, who often feel inferior to our Yankee counterparts (and worse, Edmonton artists who often feel inferior to say Toronto or Montréal artists) it was a nice to feel that we were as good as anybody. Recently we made the Village Voice Top Ten list for NYC theatre that whole year. People responded to our politics as well. We were honored with a GLAAD Award and a Courage Award from the anti-violence project. New Yorkers thought we had something important to say.
As a performer I've done a few long runs of shows and I've found that it's difficult when you've grown as a person and an artist to continue performing old material. Has your research and writing in the last couple of months given you a different perspective on this show?
Being one of the playwrights, if a portion feels old to me or feels different then how I feel now, I look at changing it. I am grateful to have my work reach a large audience. Many new Canadian plays run for ten days in their home cities and disappear forever. I am glad BASH'd is not one of those.
I recently read a note you wrote on Facebook about the state of the world and your depression surrounding climate change and the refusal of big corporations to change the way they operate. What do you think we as artists can do to combat our own feelings of helplessness?
That was what I was asking everybody and I am still not sure. I don't think individuals are going to fix this anymore. We need government and industry to do so. And industry is not going to spend money on greening up when it's cheaper to spend money on pretending to green up. Therefore, government regulation is our only hope. With Harper in charge, how do you like our chances?
Beyond personal conservation, the most vital thing is to add strength, time and talent to put pressure on our government and all the other ones too. We could eliminate a hundred mega-tonnes of carbon emissions a year, simply by making the oil companies operating in the tar sands of Alberta fix the leaks in their pipelines (see “Tar Sands,” by Andrew Nikiforuk). This does cost a little something, but it needs to be done. Solar and wind power can be improved, undoubtedly, if only anyone tried.
I call for the founding of a crown corporation that builds and supplies green energy to Canadians. What a job builder! People scoff, but in my lifetime I remember when there was no internet. All the people who now work on the internet would not have had jobs, except for the dawning of a new industry. I understand that the market may not be ready to make such a corporation profitable at this time. That is why the government needs to fund and run it until it does. I suggest we could do this with a fraction of the money currently set aside for the fantasy technology of carbon capture and sequestration, which is at about the same level of readiness as light-sabers.
I read that you're researching a play on the tar sands in Alberta. Do you feel that as artists we have a responsibility to address those things in our work? And do you think it will make a difference?
Nothing I do as an artist makes enough of a difference for me. But what else can I do? I march, I sign the petitions, and I vote with my dollars and in elections. I try to get young people to vote. I wish I was godlike, and could make sweeping changes but I am just one man. It seems appropriate to do what I do well for the struggle, rather then what I do poorly. Everyone has a responsibility to try to make the world better, and shame on those who instead spend their time making the world worse.