INTERVIEW: Chris Craddock talks to Katherine Sanders about BASH'd: A Gay Rap Opera

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

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.

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