by Tess Martens
I had the privilege of previewing Outfest (September 20-22) in Kitchener yesterday night. This is the fifth year of the show. It was a wonderful combination of musical performance, dance and theatre acts. Outfest pulled at my heart strings at times and other times, it was heartwarming. There were many hilarious moments in the acts which made the subject matter approachable. It placed me in other’s shoes while at the same time, left me feeling truly connected. I learned the challenges of society’s views on gender and identity. I was fortunate to sit down and have a Q&A session with the writers, actors, dancers and artistic director.
Martens: How can parents’ views affect their offspring’s feelings on identity?
Jeff Fox (writer): Sometimes the most difficult ones to overcome are the ones that are implied not necessarily statements from the other pieces, “you’re going to be this, you look better in a dress”. Sometimes the ones that weigh on us the most are the ones that are just assumed. We assume you want to go to college, we assume you want to get married, we assume that you want to get a house and a car. Especially as children we tend to internalize that and when we find we want something different than that; the first thing that comes to our mind is “What is wrong with us?” We assume that something is wrong with us because there is this path that has been assumed. When we discover that we don’t fit with that, we figure we have to go on the back roads. The idea of “you’re going to be a doctor, you’re going to be a doctor, you’re going to be a doctor” so that is not just implied, it is explicitly said. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In some ways, it was kind of the idea with the dinner with the doctor. It was implied. But you get the father in the room and you can tell that is assumed. There are clearly people who go through really really horrendous things; not just identity and gender, they run into someone who is really inflexible and not able to adapt their thinking and accept new ideas.
There is also that struggle with applied assumption of the conversations we don’t have but need to have. Already a tricky one because you don’t know where it is going to go but if there isn’t a recurring space to have that conversation, it’s hard to measure how much damage that does because you assume that your thoughts don’t have a space anywhere. Any aspect of your life that you are going to go after, there is this doubt that is what I am thinking about legitimate? worthwhile? does it fit? have I got it wrong? I have had some people who have really struggled with that. They have this underlying assumption that everything they come up with is wrong because it doesn’t fit the prevailing assumptions. It was never exclusively dictated to them. We’re talking about the more hetero normative model of getting married, having two kids and a car. When that shows up, even if they are not upset, they are still shocked.
We come by assumptions often. That is how we organize our thoughts. Assumptions are our way of navigating our world. But the minute they are cast in stone and they are not flexible enough, that is when real the damage kicks in, whether it leads to a direct conflict or it’s that silence and that conversation that was never had. So it doesn’t get spoken, embraced, and in the end silenced.
Martens: What makes conversations of gender and identity so important?
Kira-Meyers Guiden: I think it is really important because we don’t have a lot of representation on stage, on screen and in life. What I am all about is creating queer content for my community as a queer woman. What I really wanted growing up was to see someone on stage that resembled me. A lot of my subject matter collects stories from my community and personal stories. So a little me can see it. And I usually recreate academic texts including Judith Butler.
Martens: How do you perceive bodies in society? Define performative?
Erika Reesor: Performative bodies? Well I think of gender as a performative act. How we dress and express ourselves which can be very very different from gender identity. Society perceives bodies as heteronormative, as male and female. Whereas I think bodies in society as humans take on all kinds of different forms, binary, certainly more than two sexes.
In society, we expect the female form to be pretty, slender and curvy. People cannot meet that, quietly or not quietly like the mother in the play. We expect women to be hairless, wear makeup, pretty themselves up. If you do not fit the gender stereotypes, already you are different.
Musical and Dance Movement Pieces
Martens: In the dance, “Love is Love”, where did the movements come from?
Jeff Fox: In terms of the idea behind it, having this personal radar signal or sonar signal and when it bounces back, showing that we are all sending the same signal. We are all seeking connections. No matter tall, short, connection is what we all share.
Martens: In the dance, “Beautiful Things”, what does the glowing ball represent?
Fox: It’s a good question. The idea of something other. That we don’t always understand it. It captures glimpses of other people, that idea of beauty. There is an energy that goes through us and around us, it moves us around, sometimes we chase for it. But there are some things outside of us or inside of us and we need to be open to it.
Martens: What makes you love what you do as the artistic director of Outfest?
Isaac Mulè: I love just watching the end result. Sitting back and seeing everything come together and letting the actors and performers take centre stage with what they have worked hard on. I don’t sometimes think that people know how hard they work and how much rehearsal time and energy goes into it. That’s why I keep doing it and the stories keep getting better. When people think, “Oh, what else are we going to talk about?” There are so many more stories out there and it fuels my passion even more.
Thank you to everyone from Outfest for the opportunity to preview the show. I hope to be there next year! Go see the show September 20-22, you won’t regret it! Get your tickets HERE.
All photos by Tess Martens.
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You can spot Tess Martens performing with all her heart during karaoke night because she has to compensate for her singing voice or cracking jokes at a music open mic night. She is a performance artist and painter that exploits her vulnerabilities and humour. When she is not doing art, she is working with seniors. She recently received her Masters of Fine Art at the University of Waterloo. She now resides in Waterloo, Ontario. Follow Tess on Instagram.