Opera gets inclusive at Queer Arts Fest

Georgia Straight by Janet Smith on June 12th, 2019 at 1:27 PM

Soprano Teiya Kasahara has always had a passion for performing opera, but the singer was feeling more and more conflicted about the two-dimensional, gendered female roles offered on-stage.

“I’m racialized, queer, tattooed, I have a shaved head, and I have to cover these things to be accepted,” the LGBT artist tells the Straight over the phone from home in Toronto.

It was during her eighth time playing the Queen of the Night, in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute, that Kasahara had finally had enough. The soprano was done with roles that portray women as either evil and strong or good, pure, and fragile. The conservative art form was feeling less and less inclusive.

“I wanted to critique that with an opera,” Kasahara explains. “And it was really important to me to comment on opera as a machine. I wanted to talk about this being beautiful work and amazing music. I love to sing and that’s the way I feel most free and most full. But the art form, in how it’s developed, also denies so much of who I am.”

The result is The Queen in Me, one of two shows at this year’s Queer Arts Festival that upend traditional opera in radical new ways.

Kasahara traces the frustration back about six years, to when the singer was again tackling the coloratura soprano part of the terrifying Queen of the Night. The character is introduced as a desperate mother whose beloved daughter Pamina has been kidnapped, but she becomes the villain of the story, demanding Pamina commit a murder to ensure her power. “It was just being plopped in at the last moment, where the whole team was overlooking the complexity of this character,” Kasahara recalls, pointing out that the Queen is on-stage for about 12 minutes total and sings what is probably the opera’s most famous aria, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (“The vengeance of hell boils in my heart”). But Kasahara struggled to find in-depth research or back story on the Queen. “She’s portrayed as evil and ambitious and willing to throw her daughter under the bus to get what she wants,” Kasahara says. “It’s very sexist and misogynist. So I thought I wanted to stop the opera so she could finally say who she was.”

That’s exactly what Kasahara does with the theatre-opera meld The Queen in Me, with the curtain rising in midperformance of The Magic Flute, as the Queen begins her well-known aria. Then the character rebels and refuses to finish the opera. Using a mix of spoken word, Mozart’s score, and other famous soprano music, the Queen reveals her own story.

“She starts advocating for all the sopranos that have played her over the last 200-something years and all the characters who have had to become mad or fallen,” says Kasahara. In opera, the artist points out, sopranos often either have to kill themselves out of madness (hello, Madama Butterfly) or have to die from illness (Mimi in La Bohème).

And then the character fades away, and Kasahara unpacks personal experiences of gender and racial bias in the world of opera. “My inspiration was having to discover my gender queerness over the last eight or nine years,” Kasahara explains.

Kasahara developed the work outside of the traditional opera industry, starting with an internship with Theatre Gargantua in Toronto, then in the emerging-artists unit at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

These days, the singer is devoted to projects like Amplified Opera. “Our mission is creating a space for equity,” Kasahara explains of the collaboration with director Aria Umezawa. “On an indie level my colleagues and I are having these conversations, and we’re trying to find opportunities to create conversations at the mainstream level.”

Response to The Queen in Me has given Kasahara extra motivation. “Colleagues were coming up to me—ones who aren’t even sopranos, who have complex identities too—and they were not feeling seen and not feeling that they could voice who they really are,” Kasahara says. “They were saying, ‘Thank you, someone is finally saying this.’ A lot of us are feeling these things and had not had the courage to stand up and say it.”

Landon Krentz and a creative team of hearing and nonhearing artists will give audiences a workshop reading of Jesse—An ASL Opera, with a libretto inspired by Krentz’s own experience of growing up deaf.

Vancouver’s Landon Krentz seeks to reimagine opera in an even more revolutionary way at the Queer Arts Festival.

There, he and a creative team of hearing and deaf artists will let audiences in on an early reading of Jesse—An ASL Opera. Its libretto is inspired by Krentz’s own experience of growing up deaf: the constant visits to what he calls the “black box of the audiologists’ department”, and his liberation through deaf culture and language.

While it may be hard for hearing people to imagine an opera expressed not just through music but through sign language, the fit felt natural to this LGBT artist.

“Opera is rich in culture and history that I believe is parallel with deaf culture and history,” he explains, communicating with the Straight through email. “Our language, ASL [American Sign Language], is very much like music. It has a series of movements and rhythm that have a wide musical range. The ability to express music with ASL will be seen in the opera through the way I use signs, movements, and math. It is the perfect language to portray different emotional messages that are heard with the eyes.”

With the support of local company re:Naissance Opera, he’s experimented with a group of artists who have experience with deaf culture. They include Regina composer Paula Weber (the child of a deaf adult), opera singer Heather Molloy (who has a deaf niece), re:Naissance producer Debi Wong (who has taken ASL classes), and deaf elder John Warren.

Because this is such new ground, Krentz has had to invent a way of writing a bilingual libretto, using ASL gloss (the written form of the sign language, with notations to describe facial expressions and gestures) and English. Weber has been observing the movements of the ASL libretto as it is performed and then composing the music based on that. The goal is an opera that both hearing and nonhearing audiences can enjoy.

“Historically, deaf artists have had to adapt to music and English theatre in ways that diminish the quality of our language,” explains Krentz, who sought sign-language theatrical training in Scandinavia before bringing the approach back here. “The goal is to implement intersectional practices where deaf artists like myself are leading the artistic process in order to achieve better results. To do this kind of work, it takes an incredibly skilled deaf artist who understands the demands of deaf theatre, English and ASL, and the theatrical contexts. There are not many of us in Canada.”

The goal is to debut the full opera by 2021. In the meantime, Krentz hopes the peek at this hugely ambitious project will open arts fans’ and artists’ minds to the possibilities of opera and theatre.

“We hope that the audience will walk away with a new understanding of what is possible in deaf theatre and to inspire them to consider working with deaf talents,” he says. “Deaf theatre for the deaf is vital and necessary to improve the lives and safety of the deaf community, as is the willingness and commitment from hearing artists to learn to adapt to their practice and become allies.”

The Queer Arts Festival presents The Queen in Me on June 21 and 22, and a workshop reading of Jesse—An ASL Opera on June 24.

View original article here.

Queer Arts Festival tip sheet: Queer Songbook Orchestra, Technical Knockouts, Diaspora, 69 Positions

Georgia Straight June 12th, 2019 at 1:59 PM

With the theme rEvolution, the Queer Arts Festival celebrates forms from music to media art and everything in between, from Monday (June 17) to June 28. Here are just a few of the highlights.

Queer Songbook Orchestra

June 28 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre

Narrators tell personal stories alongside arrangements by some of Canada’s top composers, as the ensemble makes a much anticipated return to the fest. Afterward, make sure to hit Stonewall 50: Glitter Is Forever, a fete for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots that launched modern-day Pride, hosted by the Vancouver Pride Society, Zee Zee Theatre, and the Frank Theatre Company.

Technical Knockouts

June 23 at the Roundhouse

Mentored by beat masters Kinnie Starr, DJ O Show, and Tiffany Moses, the young artists from QAF’s multidisciplinary music lab rock the house.


June 25 at the Roundhouse

Discover how language, culture, and migration can affect queerness, as Frank Theatre presents an interdisciplinary evening of work by queer refugees and immigrants.

69 Positions

To August 17 at SUM Gallery

Brush up on your history with this fascinating project marking the 50th anniversary of the 1969 omnibus bill that legalized same-sex activities in Canada.

See original post HERE

Live show questions opera’s sour soprano note

Posted in the Vancouver Sun June 12, 2019

Queer Arts Festival highlight delivered by Abbotsford-raised classical singer.

Queer Arts Festival

When: June 17-28

Where: The Roundhouse Arts Centre

Tickets and info: queerartsfestival.com

Opera singer Teiya Kasahara has a special connection to The Magic Flute.

The 1975 Ingmar Bergman film version of the 18th-century Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart masterpiece was the first time a-then-12-year-old Kasahara saw opera. Two decades later that same opera became the inspiration for the one-person show The Queen in Me that Kasahara will perform June 21-22 as part of Vancouver’s Queer Arts Festival (QAF) at the Roundhouse Arts Centre, June 17-28.

Kasahara, who identifies as gender queer and uses the them/they pronoun, experienced that operatic eye-opening via a summer singing workshop at the UBC Summer Music Institute.

“I was blown away. I had never seen opera before,” said Kasahara, who grew up in Abbotsford. “I was amazed what the human voice could do in combination with an orchestra. To see the sets and the lighting and how it was filmed — I was, ‘Wow.’ Even though it was in Swedish it just blew me away.”

Soprano Teiya Kasahara, who studied at the University of B.C. and was raised in Abbotsford, brings The Queen in Me to the Roundhouse Arts Centre during the Queer Arts Festival on June 17-28 in Vancouver. HANDOUT / PNG

After giving up on a career as a rock singer — the rest of her friends weren’t as “committed” — Kasahara decided on opera and went on to earn a Bachelor of Music in Opera Performance degree from the University of B.C.

Then, at 22, Kasahara moved to Toronto and worked with among others the Canadian Opera Company.

But while Kasahara took to stage after stage to sing classic opera, the singer felt increasingly aware of the sexist confines in which the sopranos exist in classic opera. Think about it: the usual script is the soprano sings beautifully about unrequited love, forbidden love, finding love, losing love and then they usually die (methods vary from madness to execution).

Flash-forward to 2016 and Kasahara, 34, had played the Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute eight times and increasingly she felt the character of the famous fallen woman was lacking in complexity, something Kasahara saw as an issue for soprano characters throughout opera.

In a bid to embolden the sopranos, Kasahara took the Queen of the Night out of The Magic Flute and gave her a backstory and a voice outside of the famous arias. Using music from Mozart and other famous pieces, as well as the spoken word, Kasahara dug into her own experiences as a biracial, queer, feminist and created The Queen in Me, a cheeky look at gender, race and opera’s love of an over-the-top trope.

“I extract her from this opera and take her out of this make-believe world and I stop the opera and I’m giving her a platform to speak to finally voice her story, which she never gets the opportunity to do in the opera itself,” said Kasahara, who is joined in the show by pianist Rachel Iwaasa. “She kind of unpacks the really sexist and misogynistic way in which we represent females, female characters through opera and on the stage, and how we still perpetuate that today you know by putting on these old operas.”

Kasahara sees the Andrea Donaldson-directed The Queen in Me as just one step toward reforming the rigid opera form and opening the curtains to a less-constrained and narrow world.

“To maybe somehow see opera that isn’t so bound by voice types and sex and or gender. We could be a bit more flexible with wanting to create stories that allow for that flexibility and range and be able to hire artists because of their artistry and not because you need a tenor or a baritone or I need this person to be taller than this person. You know that kind of thing — to be less rigid in casting. To be less rigid in how we are composing and creating these operas. That would be really cool to see that. That is down the road but I think in the meantime we can see a lot of re-imagination of the works in the cannon right now. (We can) be more playful with that and not hold all these works on a pedestal so much.

“Why not break them open and use the technology we have? Why not electronic instruments? Why not an electric guitar? Mozart was a rocker I kid you not,” added Kasahara. “You hear is stuff and you think that would be so cool to hear that on an electric guitar.”

Using opera to take a stand about opera may seem kind of like inside ball, but when you look at the history of opera it began as and has always had a whiff of the underdog, looking for change.

“Opera has been a place where composers, poets and librettist writers have used this medium to comment on what’s going on in their culture in that time period. People have been censored by governments and monarchies. People have lived and died for this work, for opera,” said Kasahara. “I think it is what we are lacking now. We’ve become so complacent with it being this elite art form. It was initially made for the people by the people, then it was kind of taken over by these monarchies and controlled and censored. But no, music is for all and music connects for all. If we can do that with different stories like opera, which is music and words together then why not? It’s a great art form that I love to do. It makes me feel whole singing this kind of music in this capacity and making it even truer by creating my own works like The Queen in Me and talking about the issues that we were just happy to hush away.”

For QAF artistic director SD Holman The Queen in Me is a “perfect fit,” for this year’s theme of rEvolution. The festival will be showcasing 100-plus artists and 20 different events.

The Queer Songbook Orchestra takes to the stage at the Queer Arts Festival on June 28. The orchestra is one of 20 shows on the slate at the Roundhouse Arts Centre, June 17-28. TANJA TIZIANA / PNG

“The evolution of the revolution. We have big anniversaries this year, right? We have the Stonewall anniversary, which is the launch of prides around the world. Then of course the omnibus that also happened 50 years ago, which was a partial decriminalization of sodomy. So talking about that. Revolution is not just a one-time thing so looking at that and what hasn’t changed. So we wanted to recognize that and work with that,” Holman said.

The 11-day festival offers a wide variety of performances and events, but sitting squarely at its heart is the annual curated art exhibition. The Relational rEvolutions show is guest-curated by Elwood Jimmy, Thunderchild First Nation from Saskatchewan artist, educator, curator and gardener.

“It is a wide variety of work that I am hoping that when people walk through they will make some connection between the work,” said Jimmy about the show that highlights work from artists across Canada. “(I’m) asking within this exhibition: ‘How do we create and generate environments and relationships that can withstand conflict and withstand crisis and withstand things like scarcity or climate change?’ ”

Jimmy, who identifies as queer male, says festivals like the QAF are paramount for queer artists.

“I think it is important to create and cultivate spaces where everybody can feel safe,” said Jimmy. “I’ve been doing this work for a half a lifetime now and you can see very tangible shifts in terms of spaces opening up and I think sometimes we might tend to think, ‘OK, we’ve done the work now we can relax a bit and kind of step back,’ but I think it is always important to be very rigorous about the work that comes after we have cultivated the space. To maintain them.”



Posted in the Vancouver Sun June 12, 2019

69 Positions

Georgia Straight by Staff May 15th, 2019 at 12:49 PM

May 14 to August 17 at the SUM gallery

On May 14, 1969, the Canadian government decriminalized same-sex sexual activity. To mark the 50th anniversary of Bill C-150, the Queer Arts Festival brings you this fascinating cross-Canada exhibition (shown here). Presented in conjunction with VIVO Media Arts Centre and the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, the show takes a critical look at history, transporting you back to a time when the sexual revolution and gay liberation were hitting their peak, with media, memorabilia, artifacts, documentary films, and more.

To see original article, click here.

Georgia Straight :: Queer Arts Festival expands repertoire

WHILE WE’RE TALKING about the Queer Arts Festival, let’s get one thing perfectly straight: it is not an official part of Vancouver’s annual Pride celebration. Although it grew out of an earlier community-based visual-arts exhibition, Pride in Art, after five years Queer Arts has become, as director of operations Rachel Iwaasa notes, a stand-alone event of considerable depth and diversity.

“A number of the artists involved—and a few performers who hadn’t been involved in the past—sort of went, ‘It would be really great to provide an outlet for queer arts that’s beyond the outdoor stages and bars and parties that are provided in Pride,’ ” the pianist explains from her Vancouver home. “Really, in many ways it exists to show a facet of the queer community that’s kind of beyond what Pride has been able to offer.”

This year, the queer creations on view include dance phenomenon Noam Gagnon’s autobiographical Thank You, You’re Not Welcome; transgender activist and monologist Kate Bornstein’s On Men, Women, & the Rest of Us; Jan Derbyshire’s new play Turkey in the Woods; and Boulez Contra Cage, Felix Culpa co–artistic director David Bloom’s theatrical take on the long-running and well-documented aesthetic dispute between Zen trickster John Cage and serialist pioneer Pierre Boulez, two of the many gay men who advanced music during the 20th century.

“It’s been thrilling to watch David distill this down into a script,” says Iwaasa, whose Tiresias duo with flutist Mark McGregor will provide the live soundtrack for Boulez Contra Cage, which stars Bloom and fellow actor Simon Webb. “When you read the letters, there are elements that are really quite dry and very theoretical. But David’s done a remarkable job of pulling out the human element. He’s really managed to make it into a very engaging show.”

Iwaasa has equally high hopes for another festival production: a workshop performance of When the Sun Comes Out, billed as “Canada’s first lesbian opera”.

“It’s remarkable,” she says of the new work, a collaboration between composer Leslie Uyeda and poet Rachel Rose. “As a measure of that, as I was writing grant proposals for it I found myself weeping, just weeping, out of the beauty of the libretto.”

Uyeda and Rose’s premise does indeed have great dramatic—and emotional—potential. Set in the fictional country of Fundamentalia,When the Sun Comes Out explores the love triangle between Solana, a Canadian teacher; Lilah, a closeted lesbian; and Javan, Lilah’s equally repressed gay husband.

The complexities of love, Rose says in a separate telephone interview, are her main focus. Even so, it’s impossible to discuss desire in a fundamentalist country without getting political. “I can see where one might draw conclusions, but I do want to resist that,” she says when asked whether Fundamentalia might be a stand-in for Afghanistan. “In fact, I was just looking in the Pride brochure about the seven different countries where there’s still a death penalty for homosexuality. So if it’s a specific country, then all those other countries are off the hook, right?”

More alarming, perhaps, is the notion that Fundamentalia is everywhere—but Rose, Iwaasa, and other Queer Arts Festival participants are doing their best to keep it at bay.

The Queer Arts Festival presents When the Sun Comes Out at the Roundhouse Performance Centre tonight (August 2), while Boulez Contra Cage is at the same venue next Sunday (August 12).

Article by Alexander Varty. Link to Original Article.

Vancouver Sun | Alien Sex: a transgressive work of the Oscar Wilde variety

Alien Sex: a transgressive work of the Oscar Wilde variety

BY ART SEEN Published Thurs, May 22, 2014ORIGINAL ARTICLE: http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2014/05/22/alien-sex-a-transgressive-work-of-the-oscar-wilde-variety/

ALIEN SEX has met its goal of $10,000 on Kickstarter. In fact, it raised a little more than that as the fundraising team persuaded 200 donors to pony up $10,297. It’s a tough way to bring performance to the stage in the contemporary world. Congratulations.

My previous post is below.

(Updated Thursday, June 5.)

* * *

David Bloom was on the phone. He sounded harried.  After saying hello, his first words were: “I’m just composing an email about Alien Sex to beg a friend to ask him for money.”

Then he added, really quickly: “I can’t tell you how much I hate doing that.”

Bloom is in the middle of raising $10,000 to stage the first performance of Alien Sex during the Queer Arts Festival later this summer. It’s the first time he’s been involved from the start in a crowd-funding campaign for the performing arts.

Some people have a knack for raising money. He admits he doesn’t.

“I’m much more comfortable performing,” said the actor and co-artistic director ofFelix Culpa.*

As of today, he’s not doing too bad as a fundraiser: with 10 days to go in the Kickstarter campaign, he’s already at $3,300 (That has increased to $3,882 as oftoday, Wednesday, May 28).

What Bloom and his team have going for them is a great name. Alien Sex is transgressive and naughty. It made me think of pushing boundaries on gender and sexuality which is pretty much what the project is all about. In fact, the title is so good it convinced me to write this blog post about it.

At this point in its evolution, Alien Sex is a title in search of a work. Led by Bloom who is described as the “instigator,” Alien Sex plans to be a collision of “speculative fiction that fearlessly explores, the strange, beautiful, and sometimes inexplicable territory of human sexuality,” according to the Kickstarter description of the project.

The cast includes a mix of performance poets, visual artists, writers, dancers, actors and performers. Taking part are Olivia B, Floyd VB, Eileen Kage, Sammy Chien, Robert Leveroos, and SD Holman. As well, it will include the writing of Linda Smukler/Samuel Ace and David Mamet.

The Alien Sex performance in August will be a presentation of a work-in-progress meant to evolve over time.

“This epic yet intimate collaborative project weaves together an original and contradictory collage by artists creating in words, images, movement and sound,” according to the Kickstarter description.

Queer Arts Festival 2014: ReGenerations takes place July 23 to Aug. 9.

Alien Sex

*Edited Friday, May 23.

For regular Art Seen updates, follow me on Twitter @KevinCGriffin

Georgia Straight | Artist Shaira Holman nominated for YWCA Women of Distinction award

BY JERICHO KNOPP Published Fri, May 23, 2014
ORIGINAL ARTICLE: http://www.straight.com/arts/650806/artist-shaira-holman-nominated-ywca-women-distinction-award

Queer art has always been underrepresented in the mainstream art world, but things might be starting to change. Vancouver artist Shaira (SD) Holman has been nominated for YWCA Metro Vancouver’s Women of Distinction award in the art, culture, and design category.

“I really give the YWCA kudos for nominating a Jewish, butch, bearded dyke for the Young Women’s Christian Association award,” Holman says. “That’s pretty special. So, you know, I guess we’ve come a long way.”

Holman is a photo-based artist and the artistic director of Vancouver’s Queer Arts Festival. She recently took a yearlong sabbatical from the festival to focus on her own art, and her bookBUTCH: Not Like the Other Girls will be launched on June 19.

BUTCH features a series of black and white portraits of women who identify as butch, meaning masculine in appearance or behaviour. The idea for the project came from her late wife Catherine White Holman, as well as from her own desire to show people that they could be beautiful as themselves.

“There’s a certain view of how men should be masculine and women should be feminine,” Holman says. “And you know, masculinity has never been the sole domain of men.

“I wanted to make butches feel good about themselves and also just to show beautiful pictures of these people, not as sort of undesirable and ugly.”

For her, the project is intensely personal, since she has struggled with society’s expectations of who she should be for her entire life.

“I’ve been a performer most of my life, and I was told in no uncertain terms that I needed to conform to some sort of mould of feminine acceptability,” Holman says. “I tried to for a while, until I was just like, ‘No, this isn’t me and I’m not comfortable in this role.’”

Since then, Holman has embraced who she is, and through her art hopes to help others do the same. She reasons that if queer artists gain more mainstream recognition, the world might become a safer place.

“I don’t do my work to get recognition,” she says. “I do the work because I have to and I’m compelled to, and hopefully to change the world.”

Holman is nominated alongside Susan Van der Flier, board director of the Vancouver Opera. The winner will be announced June 3 at an awards ceremony.

Queer Songbook Orchestra Workshop

Thur Jun 27 | 6 – 8 pm room B 

This opportunity is for emerging artists to work with the celebrated Queer Songbook Orchestra, and use your own personal narratives as an entry point for creating music. Young artists of all disciplines welcome – bring your songs, poems, stories, dance, images, or just your fierce self. This is a drop-in workshop, no registration necessary.

In Room B of the Roundhouse.

Queer Songbook Orchestra

Fri Jun 28 | 7pm | Concert | $40 – $30

Celebrated national chamber ensemble Queer Songbook Orchestra unearth the queer backstories and personal narratives inspired by musicof the past several generations, weaving together stories told by local narrators including Monica Meneghetti, jaye simpson and Marv Houngbo with arrangements by Canada’s foremost composers.

Alex Samaras
Chelsea D.E. Johnson
Stephen Jackman-Torkoff
Joshua Zubot
Peggy Lee
Sam Davidson
Shaun Brodie
Ellen Marple
Thom Gill
Veda Hille
Daniel Fortin
Barry Mirochnik

Continue reading “Queer Songbook Orchestra”