Illustration by Brian McLachlan/Torontoist.
Show off your orthographic skills, or show off your body.
It’s a bold choice for those who want to take part in Toronto’s first-ever Strip Spelling Bee, going on at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, May 6 at 9 p.m. (Eighteen and up. Door cover is ten dollars. Prospective spellers get in free and must sign up at 8:30 p.m.) Fifteen brave souls will take to the theatre stage for a night of education and lecherous exhibitionism in front of a raucous crowd itching to see some skin. The winner gets a bottle of wine, an hour-plus-long recording of a cat purring, and a DVD with “over an hour of my friend sleeping in a sexy tank top,” says organizer Sherwin Sullivan Tjia, as does the winner of the best striptease.
Perverts need not apply, says Tjia, as the intent of the bee is nothing but good clean fun in the birthday suit.
“If it wasn’t, I’d have to refund everybody’s money,” says the Scarborough ex-pat (who now lives in Montreal). “We want participants to feel really safe and comfortable. We try to encourage and not pressure, because if someone feels bad about participating, we haven’t done our job.”
So, the rules are as follows: you’re asked to spell a word. If you get it right, they move on to the next contestant. If you’re wrong, you get your first strike, which means you have to take off a third of your clothing to a brassy burlesque soundtrack under red floodlights. And so it goes, until you get down to either your undies or complete nudity—the option is left up to the speller. The more skin you show, the louder both the music and crowd get.
If you plan on competing, do pick up a thesaurus or even the Oxford Canadian Spelling Bee Dictionary, advises Tjia. Words (an example being “gneiss”) are carefully selected based on their ability to befuddle the hapless nude-to-be.
“We want to see skin as soon as possible,” he says. “The first one we ever staged in Montreal, we used easy words, so people stay clothed for, like, at least an hour. The audience wants to see at least a leg or cleavage, at least something. So, yes, the words will be very hard. We also pick words that are deliberately designed to trip people up. They’re just clever in that you think you know them but you don’t. Or we’ll choose something like ’embarrassedly,’ and you’ll be like ‘Oh fuck, how many of each letter is in there?'”
Tjia does worry that the bee won’t go over as well in Toronto as it has in Montreal, where it has become something of a recurring fixture since the first one was held in March of last year. While Hogtowners do throw a smashing Pride Week and can boast some of the best sex boutiques around, Toronto the Good has never been known for its sexual openness—it certainly doesn’t have as liberated a reputation as Montreal, in any case, where he says participants love to go the full Monty.
“I can tell you that at least two-thirds of spellers in Montreal will go completely naked,” Tjia says. “I’m not sure how people will react here. It’s a different city, so you can expect a different crowd, but I do hope people who feel they are very smart and sexy come to this event. It’s a test of skill as well as a fun show.”
It was bound to happen. This article misspelled something, and something important: organizer Sherwin Sullivan Tjia’s last name (we spelled it “Tija”). Our apologies to Tjia; we’ve accordingly removed some of our clothing.