Three actors explore gay identity in The Gay Heritage Project playing at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
Three young gay performance artists take an in depth look at what it means to be gay and the legacy left behind from the trail blazers of queer culture in The Gay Heritage Project. In a 90-minute production of skits filled with a respectful combination of comedy and thoughtfulness, Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn and Andrew Kushnir explore gay heritage and if the idea of a heritage for the gay community actually exists.
Arriving at Buddies in Bad Times with my friend Momo and his partner Jamie, we took our seats in front of a stark stage, with a raised backdrop used for projections. The sides were lined with chairs — more than necessary for the three performers. When I considered how minimal the stage was, I realized that these actors would rely solely on themselves with the help of sound and projection to carry the length of the show without intermission.
Luckily, the guys are quite entertaining.
The skits are mimed, usually done solo and paired with well placed sound and projections. They’re high paced, energetic and stay within a length that maintains the audience’s interest. They’re categorized into a series of five acts that evolve from self-discovery to a retrospective look at gay history and then projections into the future – what can be left behind.
The idea of gay culture comes with its share of stereotypes — drag, show tunes, fashion, bathhouses, Lady Gaga, Cher, The Village People… they all play a part in the show and magnified to a degree that everyone can laugh at. I was particularly fond of the musical medly they threw in mid show — how much of a song can a performance get away with without having to pay copyright dues? — just enough for the audience to catch on before moving to the next. The guys have incredible voices that work really well in a capella harmony, quite hard to do when thrown into a long high paced show.
What stood out the most for me was the personal stories, especially from Kushnir in a progressive number of skits where he comes to terms with his Ukrainian roots and being gay — especially when he came out to his mother and was promptly told “there are no gays in Ukraine”. His initial search for gay culture and gay rights in the Ukraine resulted in nothing, of course not that there actually wasn’t homosexuality in Ukraine, just that no one talked about it. It took years of searching and trips back to Ukraine before he was able to connect with anyone and subsequently learned how drastically different their varying ideas of gay culture were.
Being a heterosexual cis-female, though a staunch supporter of gay culture and rights, I knew that I could only gather so much from a performance on gay culture having not lived the lifestyle myself. Therefore I was happy to bring my friend Momo along, a small-town transplant to the big city who often found himself at odds with the promiscuity and drug use which is prevalent in many gay environments. I knew that this was a show I wanted him to see if only to ask for his reactions. He loved it and was amazed at how it profoundly opened his eyes to a side of gay identity he hadn’t been aware of before.
What struck both of us was the revelation that the terms gay and homosexual are modern ideas and therefore the idea of gay heritage and ancestry can only go so far. Even though evidence of same-sex love existed throughout history, the concept of homosexuality had not.
The Gay Heritage Project is a production that has the ability to speak to different people in different ways regardless of orientation making it well worth exploring if only just to have something to discuss later.
- The Gay Heritage Project is playing until December 8th at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street).
- Performances run Tuesday to Saturday at 8 pm, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm.
- Tickets are $31 or $26 for art workers or patrons under 30, and PWYC at the door.
- Tickets can be purchased in advance online, over the phone by calling 416-975-8555, or in person at the theatre box office (12 Alexander St.)
Photo of Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn and Andrew Kushnir by Tanja-Tiziana.