Agokwe has been on Queer Acts Festival director Adam Reid’s radar since 2009. That’s the year that the Ojibwa playwright and performer Waawaate Fobister’s solo show took the Toronto theatre scene by storm, racking up six Dora awards.
“I knew right away that Agokwe would be a great fit for Queer Acts,” recalls Reid. “It’s a beautiful show that I think will resonate with the queer community as well as with our local Aboriginal community.”
In fact, Halifax’s Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre has bought a block of tickets for the show. A post-show group discussion at the Centre has also been scheduled; a move that Reid says is important with a work like this that covers a lot of heavy issues that may be a trigger for some.
Fobister based the play on events from his own life growing up on a reserve in northwestern Ontario. It tells the story of two young men from neighbouring reserves, one a dancer, the other a hockey player, who struggle to express their attraction to each other. It’s a story about homophobia, but also a story with a hopeful message.
“The aboriginal culture expresses queer identity in a unique and interesting way,” says Reid. “Agokwe is the Ojibwa word for two-spirited—someone who possesses both male and female characteristics. It’s been lauded as a thing of beauty for a person to carry male and female within themselves.”
This year’s Queer Acts line-up includes five other shows from both emerging and established artists.
The Emerging Queer Artist Program has funded works by Toronto’s Rory Jade Grey and Halifax’s Mary Fay Coady. Reid says Grey’s work Chimera marks the first Queer Acts show to explore transgender identity. It’s about two fetuses having a conversation in the womb. One begins to take on the traits of the other, who then begins to disappear. Reid describes Coady’s piece, Tender Beast, as “a remarkable, poetic work” about heartbreak and heart-healing.
Stewart Legere has drawn on the death of gay activist Raymond Taavel to create an unusual techno-dance party called Let’s Not Beat Each Other to Death. “It’s a real celebration of queer identity,” says Reid. “I’d call it a not-to-be-missed event.”
Reid describes Redheaded Stepchild, written and performed by Johnnie Walker, as a “real crowd-pleaser”. The play, which has been a fringe-hit at numerous festivals, deals with bullying in a tender, funny and accessible way.
While many of this year’s plays give voice to young queer artists, the festival is also offering a different perspective. Chris Aucoin is doing a workshop performance of A Boy and his Dog, a series of connected stories about love and loss from his perspective of a gay man in his 40s.
“Sometimes it seems like the queer community has been robbed of a generation of elders.” Reid says. “We’re lucky to have opportunities like this to have elders talking to our youth.”