Thursday, April 09, 2015

Luminato AND Large Canadian Presenters, PLEASE consider Canadian Cabaret Artists…and this is why...

Someone sent me this picture this morning...if you cannot see exactly what it is, it is a picture of a new Cabaret Festival line up for the Luminato Festival 2015.
All three of the cabaret artists, Taylor Mac, Bridget Everett and Joey Arias, are from New York City... Kid Koala, who is a DJ, Graphic Novelist and performance artist included in this cabaret festival, is from Montreal.
But the three artists who are being presented, who would claim their genre as ‘Cabaret’ (and all three of these artists are amazing, intriguing and diverse in their cabaret style) are from away, as it were.
Now, before anyone grumbles or rolls their eyes, I am not writing this because I think that simply because I am a cabaret artist that I should be included in every cabaret festival that there is.
Let us be honest...that would be nice, of course, but I do not think that.
But not one cabaret artist in this festival is from Canada.
I was at first frustrated...then talked myself down...then fussed up again...and then concerned...
So, I looked up Luminato’s mission statement...and found that there was a lot about being involved in the community...and then there was this...

Luminato Festival reflects artistic collaboration, bringing together local, national and international artists from different genres, disciplines and cultures to originate new and unprecedented creative expressions.

Yes, I get that. THAT is a wonderful mission.
And then I wondered...did Luminato endevour to look at any Canadian examples of cabaret performers to add to this initiative. 
In the spirit of collaboration. 
And I am not trying to be pithyI mean it.
We have many creative, thrilling, world class cabaret artists to choose from: Patricia O’Callaghan, Bryce Kulak, Patricia Zentilli, Jean Stilwell, Shawn Hitchins, Micheal Hughes, Judith Lander, and Brent Carver... to pick a few from off the top of my head...all perform cabaret with their own singular style and tops in the field here in Canada.
This moment...this text-with-the-picture-featured-above a watershed moment for me.
There have been two other moments in the last year when large theatre companies have presented and featured cabaret on larger stages. One was a one-off show for a huge arts event, and the other for decent long run with the backing of a major marketing machine. These artists were totally unknown to the market and audience here...these artists had to be built in the media and community with flags, banners, radio interviews and articles.
I looked at all of this press and marketing and money being spent on this campaign and wondered what it would have been like to have that artist or one of these artists, the artist that these theatre companies were introducing to the theatre going audiences of Ontario and Canada, commercial and otherwise...the artist they lifted up and a world class, acclaimed, internationally reviewed Canadian cabaret artist who, because of the way our country works and it’s knowledge of the genre, is unknown to the masses...AND you can pick anyone on that above list, by the way, who encompasses all of the above descriptors.
THAT also would have been a watershed moment...

Watershed Moment:
A critical point that marks a division or a change of course; a turning point 

I am truly excited that cabaret is being featured on bigger stages and in larger festivals in Canada, BUT there is no future for this art form in Canada, or for Canadian cabaret artist, if we cannot (and I certainly cannot) encourage young people to make amazing, endlessly creative, entrepreneurial form of artistic expression...THEIR artistic expression of choice if we do not lift up, feature or encourage our own performers. We cannot be considered by the festivals of the world as appropriate choices for their line ups if our own country and our own arts organizations do not feature or acknowledge our artists...who are, again, world class. 
I was dearly hoping that at this point, ten years after I dedicated my career to cabaret, that there would be a wider understanding and appreciation of the genre and a greater knowledge of the wonderful cabaret artists that populate our country, by the people who run the theatre companies and the general arts communities, of the cabaret artists that populate our country. 
Amazingly, in the last two years, after years of lobbying and grant writing, I have gratefully received funding support from the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts in the name of cabaret. 
I have been greatly heartened by this. 
THANKFULLY, there ARE many people and companies that DO sponsor and support cabaret in Toronto and across Canada.
BMO has been sponsoring me almost every year since I started touring in 2010. And, I thank BMO for that honour, I am very grateful for their belief. 
I am very thankful from the bottom of my heart that Buddies in Bad Times has been featuring my work for 15 years...and making me the first Cabaret Artist in Residence in Canada. 
I also want to acknowledge the hard work of Soulpepper on their seven year odyssey that was the “Global Cabaret Festival”, featuring ALL Canadian artists...and though this festival has completed it’s funding, Soulpepper continues to feature cabaret prominently in their studio series.
The Shadbolt Centre for the Arts in Burnaby, BC has been bringing me to their wonderful venue for four seasons in the name of cabaret.
Richmond Hill Centre for the Arts has been presenting myself and many other artists under the banner of cabaret.
There are rooms like the Flying Beaver Pubaret and Statlers in Toronto...rooms that feature cabaret artists young and old, new to the genre and/or established artists trying to work out or feature new shows and material.
This is all wonderful and also heartening.
There is support, there is belief...but, the Canadian cabaret artist still struggles for international recognition and, indeed, Canadian recognitionand I believe that we need to push to the next level. 
While I toured, I met and worked with other cabaret artists and because of those connections and the word of mouth they inspired, my work has been presented around the world, AND these connections are priceless. Watching other cabaret artists from around the world work and express themselves has helped my work evolve and the boundaries for what I believe I can try and accomplish have literally disappeared.
I found these relationships ENDLESSLY inspiring.
I believe that international collaboration is so important for cabaret to evolve in Canada...and that evolution will not happen if we don’t recognize the talent and hard work of our own artists and introduce them to other international artists. I remember talking to a cabaret artist in Edinburgh who said she didn’t think that there was a cabaret scene in Canada...let alone artists of note.
Shocking...and a bit cheeky, to say the least.
Now, I know there are many art forms in Canada...that need funding...that need support...but cabaret is a place where you can raise yourself don’t need someone to produce you, you can produce can produce your own vision...your own art. The cabaret artist is almost totally in charge for good or ill and learns to trust their own instincts and visions...and become a creator with no bounds.
Imagine what these artists could accomplish if they began when they were very young.
I believe cabaret can be the place where Canada’s next great artists can be fostered and found. 
When I meet and talk with cabaret artists from different countries, they began their work in their teens and early twenties...because they found a community to work in and a future in their art form and business. Their communities in the UK, Australia or the United States,  were created and flourished because many young artists saw what they could achieve as cabaret artists if they worked hard and long. 
That their work would be recognized on it's merits in their own country.
I know that not everyone loves or even likes cabaret as I do...but, I ask the Canadian presenters and the movers and shakers that are adding cabaret to their festivals and line ups...if you are featuring cabaret...consider featuring some Canadian artists as well.
I wish this for Canada...I know there are many other things in our country that need to be taken care of...but I, myself, am going to continue to focus on that. 
I am not saying that Luminato should NOT have Taylor Mac, Bridget Everett or Joey Ariasthey absolutely should!! Our artists should run out and see them if they can. It is amazing that cabaret is being featured at all....but Luminato, would you please consider picking a couple people from the list above to round out the groupif not this year, then they can connect with, work with and/or be featured along side the New York City or international  cabaret artists and breed collaboration and innovation.
It would be one giant step forward.
Peace out.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

The word "fat" and the people who wield it, need to f**k off.


“The reason these people do not want to see a fat body in a bikini is because traditionally, that garment is something a woman earns by proving herself attractive enough to exist.” - Jenny Trout
I have had a number of epiphanies so far in this life time. AND not all of my BIG life discoveries have been good news...
But a couple of days ago I had a rather huge epiphany. And I will NOT make the joke  around the words “big” and “huge” that would actually (for some) work really well right here...I will not...don’t worry, I am not leaving you out in the cold, you will see what I mean as you go on.
That fateful day I read an article posted on Facebook, written by a lady named Jenny Trout.
The title of the article was: What Happened When This Fat Woman Wore A Bikini...
I almost didn’t read it simply because of the title. I hate the word “fat”. I hate the power it has...over me...and over is a strong, negative, conversation ending OR STARTING fucking word.
Usually wielded in terribly shitty ways.
Not many people have ever used the word “fat” to compliment a person...unless they  are being extremely passive aggressive.
AND I have seen this happen.
I have written about this topic a number of times...but this time...this time I really felt the upcoming epiphany.
I will say now what I say every once in a while when pressed.
I have been many sizes in this life...and...if I am lucky enough to live a long life...which I hope to, as I get a clean bill of health every year at my physical (for some reason I feel the need to say that here) ...expect to probably be many more sizes as I grow older.
I was never the kind of gal who stayed in the same 5 pounds either way.
Much to the chagrin of my doctor and a lot of people I don’t really know...and some I will never probably meet.
And it not a crime.
THIS was my epiphany. 

It is NOT a crime to be big.

This concept...this idea...this epiphany...well, I know, it seems pretty obvious.
BUT to some people...some people seem to feel that it IS a be a big person.
I WILL NOT say fat.
Will not.
I am not sure if you know BUT the aforementioned “some people” are really concerned about what others weigh. It is a big topic of conversation online and off. People who have no business sticking their noses in the business of others feel that it is their job (and, you betcha, well within their rights) to “help you” by telling you how unhealthy you are, that you are setting a bad example for young people, that you are going to have a heart attack, or that “maybe you would like to skip dessert”.
Last month, someone I had JUST met told me to “make sure you get something healthy” as a ran into a corner store. Can you fucking believe that? And, though I know who I am, I love who I am...I strive to love myself whatever way I first feeling was shame.
And I hate that SHAME was my first feeling. NOT anger...which came right after,  don’t you worry. This person just sat there, like they were fully justified to say this to me. The group we were with just shut up.
I turned and I said, “What the fuck did you just say to me?”
And they said the same thing...again.
This world is something.
(I paused here for a week....)
I had to put this piece...this writing down, in the recesses of my computer for almost a week..I almost did not write made me too...too...too everything.
But, yesterday, someone lent me the fourth season of “Homeland”. In the first couple episodes (don’t worry, no spoilers here...nothing that will wreck it for you) they introduced a beautiful young red headed actress...and she is a big girl.
When she walked onscreen my whole body tensed. AND I became worried.
So many thoughts ran through my head...why did they pick a big does she figure into the story line...are they going make fun of her...and as all of these thoughts flew through my head...she was revealed in a sex scene. Oh fuck. All of my worry came rushing in. I actually almost had to stop watching.
AND THEN I had this very tenuous hope inside... where I thought maybe...maybe...they might just introduce a big woman character...just as a character. Without rhyme or reason.
Then, after the sex scene, she goes to breakfast...and, my to my great disappointment, she talked about how badly she ate...and then someone called her “Shamu”...and a main character ended up getting in a fight about it.
Her character was introduced...and I am going out on a limb here and making a grand that I don’t think is wrong...she was introduced because she is the polar opposite of the Claire Danes character.
Which is... what it is.
Can you imagine a world where writers had to come up with a plot reason to introduce a thin character? I cannot.
All those thoughts that ran through my head, the above mentioned thoughts...are all the thoughts that run through my head when a script is sent to me for an audition. My agent is wonderful and knows how I feel about those kinds of characters...but every once in a while a casting director will soften the breakdown (the character description) but the ugliness with present itself in a word in a is usually one word...last year it was the word “waddles”.
I don’t know about other big girls...but this lady has never waddled a day in her fucking life.
Do not get me wrong...I want to be fair here...I get to audition for and play a lot of characters that are just...characters...and I am glad of this...but those other characters...the waddlers...are quite plentiful.
It is frustrating.
It is disheartening.
It is not right.
For years, after I changed a size or two...I wore clothes that I did not like...because I was too ashamed to look for better clothes. I would have never imagined that they were out there. Because the world is not comfortable with big people.
The world assumes or thinks that we are always on our way to being thinner...always in transit to a smaller size...always dreaming of size zero...why would we want to clothe ourselves in beautiful things?
Size zero = Nothing.
The fashion industry is literally making woman wish to disappear.
I had one of my first epiphanies before I started working on the TV show, Canada Sings. The wonderful, talented and creative as all hell, stylist, Lisa Williams, came to my house to work on a look for me for the show.
I had just gained some weight...and none of my clothes fit...and I was terrified.
BUT I was in this body size when they had hired me.
Which was heartening.
Still, I was a big girl...and I was going to be on fucking TV.
Embarrassed and...again...ashamed.
AND I was very worried about how I would be portrayed.
Lisa was very supportive. We talked at length about how I might like to look...and I turned to her and said (and I know I have said this on my blog before...but it bears mentioning again...) “Please just make me look awesome. I want people to say, “She looks awesome...” and not include the words “for her size” in the sentence...”.
She took that serious as a heart attack.
And I loved how I looked on that show...I love my styling...and my world was opened.
I looked around online for stores...there were so many... beautiful clothes... wonderful designers. 

I started to be ‘matter of fact’ about my size.
It still shocks me that more designers don’t want to make clothes for a “plus sized” market.
I also hate the words “plus sized”...but I am slowly getting over it.
I may have a whole closet of clothes in a number of different sizes...BUT I am living in the moment. I am not waiting for the scale change before I allow myself to look nice. Before I allow myself to cloth my body in beautiful things.
I deserve to look AND feel good no matter what size I am.
I am sincerely SICK of being ashamed of my form...which I have not been for a while...mostly...let us be honest.
BUT I am SINCERELY SICK of other people caring so fucking much.
I ask you, please keep your prejudices to yourself...and start your health, mental and otherwise, at home...and look for beauty in all it’s forms.
BACK to the Jenny Trout article.
It was wonderful...truly wonderful.
Jenny wanted to wear a she did.
But the baggage around that want and the realization of that want was almost to heavy to carry.
Why why why why why why?
Here is my favourite paragraph from Jenny’s article:

“If fat women begin wearing them [bikinis] without shame or fear, what’s next? Will they have self-esteem? Will they demand respect? Then what will keep them in their proper place? How would conventionally attractive people judge them?” - also the amazing Jenny Trout

I put forward that we can take “bikinis” out of the above sentence.
And maybe fat.
And put in these words.

What if women begin wearing their bodies without shame and fear, what’s next? Will they have self esteem? Will they demand respect? Then what will keep them in their proper place? 

It is not a crime to be big...or small...or any fucking thing.
It needs to stop being okay...or funny (controversial, I know...unbelievabley...) to shame people because of their size...people like that horrible woman (I won’t even say her name) in London who took to twitter to insult Kelly Clarkson. When asked about her terribly comments she said this:

I wish this woman an eye opening of grand proportions. I wish her kindness. Though it is fucking hard to wish it...I do.
I am me. AND I will continue to strive to be, THRILLED to be me...and I will continue to work everyday to take the instinct of “shame” out of my body and mind.
No matter what fucking size I am. 
And I will do my very best to NOT GIVE A SHIT what anyone else thinks.
HERE is the bikini I bought online yesterday. I can’t wait.

AND here is the Jenny Trout article.
Thank you, Jenny Trout.
Also, sadly, I noted that the first byline on the article did NOT have the word FAT in it. It was added later. Boo.