Over the course of this week we’ll be talking to members of Toronto’s queer community about what pride (and Pride) mean to them.
Torontoist contributor Johnnie Walker’s alter ego Ginger Darling with his co-host Balonia Wry. Photo by Greg Wong.
The question comes to me sometimes. Maybe I’m attaching carpet tape to someone else’s nipples, or telling a too-enthusiastic audience member who’s jumped onstage to keep his underwear on, or saying “spin to the left, then drop your pants” to one of the boys who wants some help with his routine. How did this happen? Specifically, how did I wind up co-founding Canada’s premiere all-male burlesque troupe?
It was an accident, friends.
I knew my friend Ben was into burlesque. We’d seen some shows together, and he was always saying things like “We should go to another burlesque show,” and “I want to found an all-male burlesque troupe,” and “you should help me do this,” but I paid him little mind. Burlesque? I was a Serious Theatre Artist. Also my body was paler and skinnier than I assumed anyone would want to see in a stripping context. But he wore me down. First, I agreed to sit in on auditions. Then, come to the first rehearsal. The next thing I knew, I’d choreographed my first striptease, assumed the stage name “Ginger Darling,” and co-hosted BoylesqueTO’s inaugural show with my Serious Theatre co-artistic producer Morgan (aka “Balonia Wry”) in between rehearsals for a remount of our SummerWorks play. Oops!
Ginger Darling and the stars of BoylesqueTO. Photo by Kaila W. Montanna.
I’ve now hosted burlesque shows as a circus ringmaster, a cross-dressing priest, a Weimar German fancyboy, and (my personal favourite) Pierre Trudeau in our Canada Day spectacular O Manada: True Patriot Lust. I like to think BoylesqueTO has become something of a Pride tradition. Though not an exclusively gay troupe—Ben (a.k.a. James and the Giant Pasty) is flamboyantly heterosexual—BoylesqueTO has always been very queer. And while there’s no shortage of events featuring scantily clad men at Pride, I like to think we offer up something different. Burlesque is about tease, not sleaze, and for me the tease isn’t just about tickling your fancy; it’s about making fun of things that need to be made fun of.
It’s a weird time for sex in Canada. We’ve arguably got more gay rights than any other country in the world, but we’ve also got a prime minister who tried to kibosh marriage equality, and a mayor who has decided Pride is less important than the Beaches Easter Parade.
Which brings us back to our show, in which we find we can’t help but look nostalgically back to the 1970s and Trudeaumania. From a political standpoint, Trudeau decriminalized homosexuality, which was obviously a huge victory for gay rights. From a camp perspective, you’ve got a stylish PM who once dated Barbra Streisand, and his much-younger, hot-mess wife who went dancing at 54 on election night and boned Keith Richards. The jokes write themselves! And since it’s a Canadiana show, we’re bringing out all the stereotypes: mounties, igloos, lumberjacks—the whole nine yards. It’s silly, it’s satirical, and it’s sexy, which is always a winning combination.
Becoming a burlesque MC was definitely an accident, but it wasn’t a mistake. Ben hounded Morgan and me to get involved with BoylesqueTO so we could bring a touch of our Serious Theatre know-how to the tear-away pants and pasties. And now, three-and-a-half years later, burlesque and cabaret have crept into the corners of just about every piece of Serious Theatre we’ve produced. I’m so proud of everything the troupe has accomplished, and grateful to have met such amazing people with whom it has been a pleasure to stay up late writing dirty puns, learning group choreography to Missy Elliot, and giving advice as to when to drop trou. And I hope that anyone who comes to celebrate Manada Day with us leaves feeling proud of their body (even if it’s pale and skinny), proud of their sexuality, and proud of their country.