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Friday, August 14, 2009

I Dream of Madonna

Hello fellow insiders. Let me tell you about a dream I once had. I was at a swanky New York cocktail party, drinking one of those fancy highballs you see on Sex and the City, and chatting about art and culture with Manhattan's high society in the Upper East Side. Out of the corner of my eye I see her. The Queen of pop. The grande dame provocateur. Madonna. She sidles up next to me and fixes her sea foam eyes on my Valentino suit, smiles and we talk. Our conversation? It is about her music catalog. I insist certain songs of hers are her best work. She disagrees. I prattle on about how I know what her best work is. She makes a face. And we argue for the rest of the night. I think I am done for, but when she is about to leave she spins around on her four inch Manolo, looking impossibly fit in her black Gaultier bustier dress, and tells me how much she enjoyed our conversation. "Not many people have the balls to tell me to my face what they really think of my work. Thank you for your interest in my art." With another spin on her heel she vanishes. I wake up.

So goes the major theme of award-winning director Terry Costa's Madonna in My Mind, which just finished a two night run at The Roundhouse Community Centre Theatre in Yaletown. Costa attempts to showcase society's bizarre obsession with the pop icon. We are treated to a lot of graphic dreams and fantasies supposedly pulled from real life people. (I can only assume that Terry Costa did a great deal of research on this matter or perhaps he conducted polls regarding people's fantasies about Madonna.) What follows in the show is a pseudo-Freudian interpretation of Madonna-Fantasy. Hey, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes a whip is just a whip.

What I described to you above is real. That was a true dream I once had a few years ago about Madonna. So what is it about her that has driven universities across North America to dedicate entire courses to her? What has inspired countless feminists and intellectuals to write essays about her? These questions aren't necessarily answered in Costa's production, but he does give us a glimpse into the psyche of the person enamoured with Madonna...in other words us. You and me. We are represented in the show by a talented ensemble cast.

My friend and I sat in our seats not knowing what to expect. Was this going to be an hour of drag queens wobbling around in size twelve pumps, badly lip syncing to Madonna's music? Not exactly. The show began with DJ Landon James spinning some remixes of Madonna's biggest hits. Then the ensemble cast arrived on stage performing some interesting modern dance moves, not unlike what you'd see in a Madonna concert. A dominatrix arrives on stage next, brandishing a long hard whip, chases the cast off the stage and proceeds to address the audience. The dominatrix gives us a long winded testimony to the feminist power that is Madonna. We hear how Madonna is "sex-positive" and how she has used her brains and feminine charms to climb to the top of the pop culture heap. The speech was intelligent, if not entirely academic, but unfortunately the dominatrix read from cue cards, which held her back too much. I felt if she had the speech memorized she would have more freedom for movement, especially when she grabbed her whip and gave the audience a feisty stare-down.

Parts of the show felt a bit disjointed. Terry Costa seems unsure whether to make his production a feminist dialogue about his favourite pop star, or to move into a more surreal escapism revolving around the cast's portrayals of dreams and fantasies involving Madonna. The pacing was off, as were some of the actors, but they still managed to hold it together for the next hour. What I found particularly disappointing was the overdramatized monologues that seemed to drone on without mercy. Costa needs to cut the monologues down by half and add more dance performance.

Some standout moments were from actors Joey Bothwell and African-born Samora Mpulu. Samora's movements were deeply engaging and captivating. I have not seen someone move so sensually in a long time. Samora also brought some much needed humour to his monologues. Similarly, dancer Joey Bothwell was amazing to watch. From the very beginning of the show she stood out to the audience with her interpretive dance moves and girl-next-door looks. Costa rightly gave Bothwell her own solo dance break halfway through the show. The whole time I thought to myself, she should be on So You Think You Can Dance Canada.

Unfortunately, there were some let downs. The very beautiful Jeanettea Antonio kept speaking in a forced lowered tone that made her part in the show unappealing. My friend and I thought her vocal delivery was awkward and unnecessary. So too were her monologues. Way too dramatic. She wasn't the only one.

Although actress Trilby Jeeves is a very strong actress, I felt she was also too serious, and her voice was a bit shrill, making it painful to listen to her speeches. Costa should have kept the entire mood light and fun. At times his show felt like a rollercoaster ride, but not in a good way. The mood was all over the place and unsteady.

The climax of the show had the diva herself come out to entertain us. "Madonna" (aka: drag performer Trixie) strutted out onto the stage with her background dancers and brought the house down. One of her dancers was frightfully out of sync with the rest of the performers, but she did her best to catch up. And what better way to exit for the queen of all divas than to have artist Shaira Holman literally ride on stage on her Harley Davidson and whisk "Madonna" off the stage before her adoring fans had a chance to mob her.

But that's the point isn't it? Madonna will always be just out of our reach. Like the dominatrix in Costa's show alluded to, Madonna is like Aphrodite, Artemis, Athena. She is a myth, a legend, a mystery. Is she real or is she just a fantasy? We all feel like we know the real Madonna, but we aren't sure the famous pop chameleon even knows who she really is. Most of us will only experience her through our stereos and ipods; through the television or on youtube. And if you're truly lucky you might see her live in concert. If Freud was alive today he could probably build an entire career out of psychoanalyzing Madonna. After all, Madonna is pure id. The pleasure principle as corporeal form. For the rest of us, she is only a dream.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Juicy Wet Pussy

Hello fellow insiders. Well, this is my first blog for the month of August and where did our heatwave go? I think it rightly ended with gay pride last weekend. What didn't end with gay pride weekend, however, are the events taking place in the city this month. Most are queer related. I was hoping one event in particular would keep the summer heatwave going.

Last Thursday my friend "X" and I went to Queerotica 2009. This took place at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown. The event was hosted by Zena Sharman, who seductively teased and stripped for us throughout the evening, and had a slew of presenters and readers from all walks of queer life. Okay, perhaps that was an exaggeration. Most of the readers were artists-cum-writers-cum-performance artists-cum-directors-cum-actors. Phew! It's amazing any of these people have time to have a sex life to write about in the first place.

Perhaps that is why the erotica fell short of expectations. All but a few of the readers went for comedic effect. Not good when you're trying to turn me on. One guy, Dane McFadhen, had a promising story consisting of deviant sexual escapades with his partner in various public places in Montreal. Tres raunchy! He chose to end his story with a rather unpleasant scene in a public bathroom involving an ill-timed bowel movement in the stall next to his. His story literally stinks. Moving on.

One person came decked out in top hat and tails, and I knew this was bad news. Cheesy, non-erotic outfit, equals bland storytelling. To my surprise her story was high end pornography, involving episodes of fisting, spanking and kink. I felt like she used too many "volcano" and "fire" metaphors, but all-in-all, her story wasn't half bad. Where she faltered was in her clumsy delivery. "X" leaned in close to me and whispered, "will she take those cotton balls out of her mouth!" Note to readers: if you are going to read your work publicly, learn to read. Meow.

I'm afraid the other stories were simply too comical to be considered erotic, or they were written too stylistically intricate and therefore bored the audience (one lesbian sitting next to me hissed crankily to her partner, "I thought this was supposed to be erotic"). Yes I know I am being a bit harsh, but when you go to an event designed to turn you on and it comes up short, you leave with a limp dick and not even so much as blue balls. A tad disappointing.

Only one reader had my ears perked. Elaine Miller. Dominatrix. Techie. Writer. Sex goddess. With a creamy tone in her voice she ejaculated, "she had a juicy wet pussy". The audience percolated and shifted in their seats. Elaine cooed and oozed sensuality and sexuality for the next five minutes. No stilted oral deliverance; no raunchy toilet humour; no misplaced humour at all. Just hot erotica, like what the event promised us.

I do need to talk about the artwork on display at the Roundhouse. "X" and I had had enough and got up to leave, but I insisted we take a quick scan of the artwork. The works are done by local queer artists and a re-imagined version of Botticelli's Birth of Venus stood out immediately. Pride in Art runs from late July to August 14 at the Roundhouse. Some events are by donation or have a small admission price. I believe to go and view the art on display is free. So please take the time to support local artists. In fact, the art is what stood out to me at Queerotica more than the, ahem, erotica. Frankly, I got more turned on watching old episodes of Sex and the City.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Like a Virgin

Hello fellow insiders. Well your resident culture vulture had the fortune to be in the right place at the right time last Friday. While I was at work I was given two free tickets to the Virgin Music Festival, which took place at Deer Lake Park on July 25th and 26th. My tickets were for the Sunday show only. Now I do admit I had no prior intention of attending this concert, but as the saying goes, why look a gift horse in the mouth.

It turned out that Lady Fortune was shining down upon me. As most of you know, Saturday's thunder and lightning storm was quite spectacular, but it did rain out the festival that night. Sunday, however, was perfect, if not a tad too hot. Since I wasn't familiar with most of the bands performing, my friend "D" and I decided to show up late and skip the first few acts. We showed up at the right time.

First off, I do have to talk a bit about the ridiculous "airport" style security at Virgin Fest. Although our line up was not that long, it took forever to get in the park. Every person was searched. Every bag, nook and cranny was investigated. Ladies and gentlemen, your culture vulture was afraid he'd either get the Robert Dziekanski treatment or strip searched with rubber white gloves poking in places that should only be reserved for one's partner! I was asked if I had drugs, alcohol....or weapons of mass destruction. (No, really. In an attempt at humour the guard asked me this.)

Okay, once we got into the park our ears were immediately treated to De La Soul, a hip hop trio from New York. De La Soul worked the crowd in between songs. Using a mix of humour and candor, the guys had the audience laughing, dancing and jiving. Three people dressed up as bushes and one woman on stilts dressed up like a princess were brought up on stage to jive with the guys and helped to keep their set lighthearted. I have to stress that these guys can bring the house down. Powerful beats thumping and syncopating punctuated by the lead vocalists' rich baritones had the crowd rocking.

After their set was over "D" and I decided to check out the grounds, which had a variety of tents set up and we were inundated with tents for food, drinks, yoga, fake tattoo parlours and pole dancing. Yes, pole dancing. Tantra Fitness had a mini pole and stage set up off to the side of the main stage. The girls were swinging around and managing acrobatic positions reserved for an Olympic gymnast. This of course attracted too many douche bags. Allow me to elaborate. You know the type. These guys are usually in their twenties, have pumped themselves up with enough steroids to kill a bull and have the IQ of a gnat. These guys are attracted to pole dancers like a bee to a spring flower!

"D" and I hit up the beer garden, begrudgingly paid seven dollars for crappy beer and checked out the acts on the smaller stage. What a mistake. I apologize if I offend, but bands like Future of the Left, Thermal and Gomez were hardly aural treats. Future of the Left was downright atrocious. The lead singer did not so much sing as screech like a banshee in heat for his entire set. The poor ladies manning the Jamaican food tent kept making faces every time the singer squealed. I kept thinking "his poor vocal cords are shredding!" The lead singer of Gomez (or maybe it was Thermal. Does it really matter?) did make fun of all the naked men walking around. Yes it was like gay pride come early in Vancouver. More naked sweaty man-flesh than a Falcon porn video!

After suffering through bad side stage bands, it was time for Jarvis, Sonic Youth and Metric, the main headlining acts "D" and I went to see. I admit I prefer Jarvis Cocker's work with his former band, Pulp; but he was working the crowd. Jarvis chatted to us in his funny British accent, threw candy into the crowd and climbed the scaffolding in his high heel boots. Lots of energy and a good segue for the next act.

I have been waiting fifteen years to see Sonic Youth, a band that helped to define my generation and bolstered the alternative music genre in the early 90s. The one Lollapalooza show I did see in my teen years did not have Sonic Youth on the roster. The second time I had the chance to see them perform was at The Commodore Ballroom. Unfortunately I had to cancel last minute and did not end up seeing them. Well let me tell you, this time I finally saw them perform and I was not disappointed. My only critique would be their set list. Sonic Youth has been around for 30 years and have released about 20 albums. Naturally I could not expect them to play all the songs I love, but their set list seemed comprised of mostly newer material, which I am not too familiar with. Kim Gordon and her husband Thurston Moore are in their 50s, but looked great and had the energy of people a third their age! Honey child, Ms. Gordon is a MILF. Mmmm hmmm.

The second to last band to perform was Metric, a Canadian band. Emily Haines could be the daughter or sister of Kim Gordon. A sexy, feisty blond who swings back and forth between coy school girl playfulness and coquette goddess. Although her voice is slim, she uses what she has to maximum effect. And it was crystal clear Metric was the band the 10,000-strong crowd was there to see. They performed a good mix of older hits and new material from their latest studio album. Unequivocally speaking, Metric was my favorite of the entire day. "D" agreed wholeheartedly, proclaiming the band's performance "one of the best live shows [he's] seen". And "D" has been to a lot of live shows in his 32 years of living. The last act of the night was a Mr. Ben Harper. Never heard of him. Wasn't interested. Two lesbians sitting beside us got up and decided to leave saying, "we don't want to see this old man!" I looked up Ben's age on wikipedia -- he's 39. Go figure.

All in all it was a fun experience. I enjoy music festivals, especially in outdoor venues. Taking in an outdoor concert is the highlight of summer for me. Perhaps one could argue that the Virgin Music Festival isn't exactly the epitome of "high culture". True, but I would argue that bands like Jarvis Cocker and Sonic Youth are important pieces of artwork -- especially in our time of musical decline. (Read: Miley Cyrus and Jonas Brothers now dominate the music airwaves and charts.) Like I said before, I had no prior intentions of attending, but I am glad I did. I don't think I would have paid $80 for tickets, but when you're an insider, getting free admission to certain events comes with the territory.


Friday, July 24, 2009

A Day Not Like Any Other



Hello fellow insiders. Yesterday I had the pleasure of being invited to the book launch party of a local author, Addena Sumter-Freitag. Now last year my friend "X" handed me her book Stay Black & Die, a one-woman play about growing up Black in Winnipeg's North End during the 1950s and 60s. Although billed as a comedy, the play is autobiographical (I believe we now term this 'creative non-fiction'), and oscillates between humorous moments and harrowing scenes of racism, segregation and violence.

The event took place at The Rhizome Cafe in South Main (SoMa), and this was the perfect setting for the evening. The Rhizome has a rustic feel to it with its wooden interior and leather sofas. Ms. Sumter-Freitag gave a reading of her latest book, Back in the Days, a mixture of poetry and creative non-fiction. Most of her readings were set to musical accompaniment with a cool Kat playing the percussion. Ms. Sumter-Freitag is delightful to listen to. She is cool, eloquent and bleeds intelligence and sophistication from every pore. Again the subject matter swings back and forth from comedy to devastating realism. One gets a real sense of what growing up African Canadian during the 1950s was really like.

As an insider I had, well, the "ins" with the Sumter-Freitag family. Ms. Sumter-Freitag's daughter works with a friend of mine, and so I had the distinct pleasure of meeting her daughter and having a nice chat with the author herself. She graciously signed my book and we spoke briefly about her play Stay Black & Die. (Sorry fellow insiders, what we talked about shall remain private.) I also unexpectedly met the author's publishers who were on hand for support. After asking one of the publishers if Ms. Sumter-Freitag would be giving anymore readings, she replied, "oh we aren't that organized I'm afraid. Perhaps we should start an e-mail list." I responded by saying how that would be a good marketing and public relations plan. She immediately got up, sauntered over to the table where the books were stacked ready to be sold and signed and got that list started! Now how's that for having good support. My friend and I wedged ourselves onto the dusty leather sofa with the two publishers, proceeded to get drunk on white wine and scotch on the rocks, and enjoyed an evening of captivating reading.

About the author: Addena Sumter-Freitag is a seventh-generation Black Canadian with roots in Truro, Nova Scotia and Columbia, South Carolina. She grew up in Winnipeg's North End, has lived in the Canadian north, and now makes her home in Vancouver. She won Theatre BC's National Playwriting Award and Centaur Theatre's People Choice Award at the Montreal Fringe for her autobiographical play Stay Black & Die. If you would like to learn more about this talented writer you can visit her website at www.addenasumterfreitag.com and if you wish to order any of her books you can visit her publisher at www.wattleanddaubbooks.ca




Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Not Just for the Cultural Elite

Vancouver is a tough city. No, it isn't an exceptionally large city, nor is it hard to navigate. Vancouver is often referred to as "bland", or by it's unofficial title, "no fun city". As a true-blue Vancouverite -- born and raised -- I can attest to the city's unfortunate lack of stimulation.

I have spent time in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto. These cities are truly places that never sleep, chock-full of gallery openings, trendy nightspots (where you couldn't get in even if you sacrificed your first born child), festivals, book launch parties, hot new restaurants. Here in Vancouver we tend to affect a snide, hip posturing towards those cities. We view them as cold, upper-class, part of the high culture coterie. In other words, those big fancy cities are for the cultural elite.

Well folks, I am going to dispel this idea that Vancouver is void of anything other than Canucks hockey games and pot smoking rallies. When I said this is a tough city, I meant that it is tough to find events to take part in. Culture is hidden and you have to dig deep to find it, but it is there. So ladies and gentlemen, my new job is to hit up all the places you have not been to, may have thought about going to -- but were afraid your Birkenstocks and dreadlocks wouldn't fit in -- and create a little space here in the Vancouver-blogosphere solely for high culture and medium culture (and perhaps a little low culture too if you're good).

Follow me as I attend book launch parties, poetry readings, night clubs, plays, art galleries, film festivals. All these events can be for everyone. Trust me, you do not need to be a Park Avenue Princess to infiltrate and enjoy something culturally stimulating. So stop being an outsider and be a cultural insider. Your city awaits!