Burlesque and drag lovers, clear your schedule Saturday night.
A collaboration between Gwaandak Theatre and Queer Yukon is bringing a cabaret show to the small screens, featuring 12 performers who have spent the past while being mentored — form a distance, of course — by veterans in the scene.
The Indigi/Queer Cabaret, as it’s being called, is part of Gwaandak Theatre’s online Awaken Festival, which has been offering online workshops, programs and presentations since May 1.
As the name suggests, the cabaret, in particular, focused on pairing Indigenous, queer and two-spirit drag and burlesque performers with seasoned mentors, culminating in an online show the day before the festival ends.
“This has been a really sweet partnership — this is the first time we’ve really, as far as I know, that Gwaandak Theatre has partnered with Queer Yukon, which is really, really incredible,” Gwaandak Theatre artistic director Colin Wolf said in an interview May 7.
He compared the mentorships to a mother grizzly bear teaching cubs how to live off the land — in this case, the “new land of the internet.”
Like many other events, the cabaret and Awaken Festival were originally planned to take place in-person, Wolf said, but physical distancing measures and restrictions on gatherings due to COVID-19 derailed that plan.
“We decided rather than cancelling everything and not paying our artists … we put this whole festival online and it was a little bit of a quick turnaround for, ‘How do we learn all the programs and things?’ but it’s gone quite well I think and is getting some good traction,” Wolf said.
One silver lining to moving Indigi/Queer online, he noted, was that Gwaandak no longer needed to pay venue fees, meaning it was able to bring on more mentors and mentees than originally planned, and the ability for mentors to travel to the Yukon was no longer an issue.
Mentoring sessions having been taking place over Zoom, which Vancouver-based burlesque performer Sparkle Plenty — one of six mentors, said posed some challenges that wouldn’t necessarily arise during in-person sessions.
“There’s a lot of things that are communicated that aren’t necessarily done through a screen and with words — there’s body language, there’s energy, there’s all that stuff, Plenty said.
“It’s a lot easier to, obviously, walk a performer through some movement and help describe things a little more clearly when … (you’re) in the same room with the person.”
Another thing to consider, she said, was the access to technology.
“Not everyone has a reliable internet connection or you know, a laptop, tablet, or whatever, to be able to connect with someone who’s able to walk them through developing a new act — if your connection is spotty, it’s really hard to go back and forth and have that dialogue without being like, ‘Wait, wait, you go, you go,’” Plenty said. “So there’s been like a couple of instances of that, but so far it’s been really great.”
Plenty described herself as a “dinosaur” in the burlesque scene — she’s been performing since 2008 and is “crawling up there in my 30s” — and said she saw mentoring as an opportunity to pass on the art form to the next generation.
“It’s so meaningful to encourage others, particularly like Indigenous and other people of colour, to participate in an art form that’s traditionally been coined as like a ‘white’ art form,” she said.
“Representation is absolutely important, it’s important that these young people can join in this art form, that they can be visible, that they can say, ‘This is still queer Indigenous art because I’m a queer Indigenous person presenting this art,’ and to really reclaim your own body sovereignty, that their body is something they can choose to tell a story and share on their own terms. There’s a lot of empowerment in that sense, so I would love to foster a million baby cubs and we’ll all be parading naked down the streets and telling our stories and banging our drums.”
Whitehorse resident and drag performer Beau Ryder, one the 12 mentees that will be performing on May 9, said the opportunity to mentored by another Indigenous drag performer was something they haven’t had the chance to do before.
“For me, drag has been something where I could explore my gender, my body, the ways that I want to present or the things I want to experience,” they said. “And I think through this experience, being able to connect with another Indigenous drag performer… has been really powerful, and being able to talk about how the performance intersects with both Indigeneity and also gender or like presentation and how all those things can come together in a really powerful way.”
Ryder said they were excited about their performance, and although the details are still to be determined, it’s been “interesting” to figure out how to move on-screen and for of a digital audience — instead of being on-stage in front of a cheering, adoring crowd, everyone will be performing at home, with some doing it live while others having recorded their sets.
“So far I’ve been thinking about (my performance) as a bit of a music video,” they said.
Anyone interested in watching the Indigi/Queer Cabaret can register online at https://www.gwaandakawakenfest.com/indigi-queer-cabaret.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org