This summer, I had the privilege of volunteering for the SummerWorks festival in Toronto. Being brand new to the Toronto scene, I had no idea what type of theatre was going up. Often times, I’ve enjoyed walking into a new performance or experience completely blind to avoid assumptions and expectations. And when my first assignment was titled, “queer slow dance with radical thought”, I was thrust even further into the realm of ignorance.
I met Heather Hermant (she/her) and Alvis Parsley (they/their) and the two explained to me that I was to be their “librarian” for the night. The two of them would act as living documents that could be “checked out” by each individual guest. The “document” would then take them on a one-on-one experience somewhere in the surrounding area and then return to my desk to be checked out again.
As soon as Heather and Alvis emerged in costumes of bright pink and sparkling articles of clothing and helmets, we began. People would approach my desk, I would politely and energetically explain how everything worked and they would choose 1 of 7 selections prepared. All selections were part of the queer community in some way whether it was about queer art, societal struggles, identity, or by a queer author. As the librarian, I was not directly involved in the experiences so I merely laid witness to the single audience member before and after their journey.
And it was breath taking. Each guest, who was so varied in their own way, came back glowing. They were either silent in their wonder or they wanted to talk about what they just took part in, and continue the conversation. Or grab the directory and pick their next piece. Rarely, if at all, did I have someone who wanted to see one piece and leave it at that. Before the night was even close to over, I committed myself to returning to experience what they did for myself. Because any theatre that left such a lasting and beautiful impact on their audiences, was something I wanted to see for myself.
At one moment, I sat alone with Heather and Alvis. I turned to Heather and asked, “So why the helmets?” To which she simply responded, “Intimacy is Scary.”
Intimacy is Scary. Capital “S” scary. It is vulnerable and frightening and can be one of the biggest obstacles that people face in their own relationships. Not to mention what it takes to ask or be asked, to share an intimate moment with a stranger. It is no wonder that live theatre keeps the audience in the dark. Typical audience members are used to being part of a larger group, a small section of a whole. What was so special to queer slow dance, was their embracing of the bravery it might take some guests to fully experience this type of theatre. Queer slow dance completely removed the anonymity that one can feel in an audience and gently invited a single person into a one on one experience that would be completely unique to them.
And it was magic. Beautiful, simplistic, truthful, magic.
queer slow dance has another performance with M:ST in Southern Alberta this October. Click Here for details.