Live—really live—theatre at faerie camp

Radical faeries, Breitenbush, why theatre matters

Helvetica Bold (my pal John) in action

 

As I listened to the gay trans man read his zombie porn, I realized that I was getting a hard-on under my dress. There is such pleasure in writing that sentence! And there was such delight in the experience.

This past weekend, I attended a radical faerie gathering in the mountains in Oregon. To do so, I had to miss seeing some big shows here in Vancouver—including Robert Lepage’s 887, which I’ll catch this weekend—but, let me tell you, talent night at faerie camp was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. 

To a huge extent, that has to do with the relationship between the performers and the audience. For everybody on that stage, performing was enormously important. And every member of the audience was wired to the nuances of every inflection and every gesture.

The first radical faerie gathering happened in 1979. This is not mainstream gay male culture. The faerie sensibility is too anarchic to define—thank the goddess—but, for me, it is, at least in part, a creative, heartfelt, often celebratory response to gender chaos and paradox. It’s an embrace of sissydom, sensuality, and transformation. It’s about saying, “Yes, I am an outsider! And it’s fuckin’ trippy out here!”

Some of the performers on the stage were very experienced. Others were not. And here’s the thing: every performance mattered in a big way. The delight wasn’t just about the skill level: it was also about the mutual recognition. It was about having company. Playmates!

My pal John does a character called Helvetica Bold, who showed up with some hilarious shtick about Antonin Scalia, the homophobic, misogynistic justice of the US Supreme Court, who died last weekend. Helvetica has blue skin and pink hair. She seems to be part goddess and part club queen. John’s skills as an improviser are through the roof.

And the guy who did the Carol Channing impersonation was to die for. But so was the older guy who lip synced in drag to the 40s double entendre song. That man had never performed before, but fuck me what he did was courageous and entertaining—and important. When I congratulated him afterwards, he beat himself up a bit because there was no monitor so it was hard for him to hear his music. But none of that mattered. In the audience, we saw ourselves in his steppin’ out. We got it. On a real level, we loved him.

The talent show was fantastic because it allowed us, as radical faeries, to express and celebrate sensibilities that are often ignored, derided, or co-opted in mainstream culture. And, beneath that, the talent show delighted and moved me in the same way that all good theatre delights and moves me: theatre sings when it allows us to embrace our complexity—in the company of others.

 

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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