Welcome to Queerberta: a review of “Queering the Way”.

Queering the Way: The Loud & Queer Anthology by Darrin Hagen

(Brindle & Glass, 2012; $19.95)

Queering the Way, an anthology of pieces performed as part of and written for the Edmonton-based Loud and Queer (L & Q) Cabaret, showcases Albertan artists that are varied and as controversial as the language used to cue identity. The anthology is edited and in a sense, curated, by Darrin Hagen — a founding member and long time of host L & Q, and knows of that which he speaks we it comes to queer theatre culture in Alberta. He is one of the first self-declared queer artists to debut in a major theatre festival, the Edmonton Fringe Festival, as well as an outspoken artist and activist in the Edmonton scene.

Hagen allows the pieces to not only reflect on the struggles LGBTTQ communities in Alberta have faced, but also the personal stories of those community members. The L & Q has been out in full force since 1991 and in this anthology’s introduction Hagen eloquently, without sparing feeling or impact, describes the genesis of this community driven theatrical outlet. From its humble beginnings of a one-night, eight-act show — giving a home to the many artists who were very much marginalized as “queer” artists, to its present day: a full two-night cabaret celebrating not just pride and equality activism, but also in the progression of artistic expression in Canada.

In the 22 pieces Hagen chose to be part of this anthology, there are representative of the diverse experiences and personalities of the many artists that have graced the L & Q stage. As with all artistic expression, these pieces not only represent a moment or a collection of moments for the artist — they also pull something out of the collective memories and experiences of their respective environments.

Many of the pieces — acutely so in acclaimed Canadian filmmaker and musician Trevor Anderson‘s “The Island,” deals not just with the sexual identity and finding a place in a community but also the collective conscience of the environment that the community exists in. “The Island” directly explores the oft muttered off-handed comment of sending “them” to an island. “A homo utopia,” as Anderson puts it. This theme is echoed in many of the pieces — the other’ing that takes places without thought or consideration by members inside and outside of any given space. In Susan Jeremy‘s “Touring and Scoring: Tales of a Stand-Up Comic” — this other’ing took place within her professional community, but also within herself. “Comics don’t get on TV shows unless they appear straight. That’s what I do on the road: let the guys flirt with me while I fantasize about the girls…”. The search for self-identity, for a reasonable idea of who and what is wanted.

Queering the Way reveals the depth to which queer artists have taken the art forms they have chosen to express and reflect their own reality. In T.L. Cowan‘s poetic monologue, “This is a picture of me,” a new literary exploration emerges. Pushing the boundaries of spoken word, Cowan explores the simple act of growing up. Not excluding the driving force of discovering sexual identity — but merging it and letting it unfold with each new moment of discovery. Another particularly striking inclusion is a written version of Beau Coleman‘s video installation “continental divide.” A difficult piece to translate to paper and ink, yet it unfolds with ease and allows the reader to view each page — in a similar fashion as a viewer would take in each component of an installation.

There are also pieces of great humour throughout this anthology. Rosemary Rowe‘s “Anne and Diana Were TOTALLY DOING IT” leads the reader to titter knowingly as they imagine the beloved hometown heroine’s engaged in passionate lesbian embraces. For anyone who grew up reading the Anne of Green Gables series, this new insight into the “bosom friendship” of Anne and Diana leads the mind to wonder about other childhood hero and heroines. “STANDupHOMO,” Nathan Cuckow‘s fantastic semi-monologue explores what the public perception of what a “gay” man is with wit, grace, darkness but also a great deal of humour.

Throughout this anthology Hagen pulls together the disparate and diverse cultures, perceptions and experiences that have formed queer artistic expression in Alberta for decades. Sadly, there has been few decades where this artistic reflection has been publicly out. The works presented in Queering the Way represent a multitude of works from the past 20 years of the L & Q. As Hagen acknowledges — to narrow down such a body of work is a difficult task, however this anthology well represents the evolution of artistic expression as well as the diverse formats these expressions took.

You can order Queering the Way here.

First published online at rabble.ca, June 15th, 2012.

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