Gender Reveal Party, presented by Flamingo Rampant at the 2019 SummerWorks Performance Festival, is a work-in-progress, much like the gender identities of many of its participants. Created by Mooney on Theatre senior writer S. Bear Bergman, it riffs off the idea of the “gender reveal party” that has become a major social media fad in the past decade, starting with a fateful 2008 blog post -which the blogger reportedly now regrets. In these parties, as a baby sits in utero, its parents, via the inside colour of a cake, piñata, or some other intricate ritual, communicate to their guests the assigned gender of the child.
Something else we’ve become more and more aware of in the past decade and beyond, however, is that gender isn’t quite that simple, and that someone’s assumed gender might not match their gender identity. In that vein, while this celebration may have the trappings of a chic, Pinterest-ready garden party, it features a more complex beating heart underneath.
Nine artists are on the Gender Reveal Party roster, with Bergman serving as host and toastmaster. Only three tell their stories per show, so who you will get is a constant surprise – much like one’s gender can be. The event takes place on the lovely, postage-stamp-sized roof garden at the Theatre Centre, which provides a beautiful backdrop for tales of gender discovery; it also provides occasional cheers from the neighbouring condos when things get particularly theatrical. “The [strategically placed patio] umbrellas won’t protect you!” declares a performer to the surrounding urban jungle, as they strut their stuff.
Entry to the garden party provides us with glorious straw hats – mine, decorated with butterflies, drew the attention of neighbouring bees – and flutes of sparkling lemonade to toast the upcoming gender revelations.
The three performers are wonderfully balanced, giving us moments of insight into their gender journeys through, respectively, musical theatre, metaphor, and movement.
Avery Jean Brennan, a transfeminine musical theatre artist, performs a Sondheim-esque song trilogy that cautions us against putting all our eggs in one basket, and hilariously swaps the definitions of musicals and gender. It’s heartfelt and sharp, with some powerhouse belting. Jaidyn Jasim, a nonbinary transguy, gives us a poetic reading about his love for his body and the difficulties he’s found embracing his identity within the Muslim community. His shyness is countered by his resolve, and his descriptions are evocative.
Finally, Chy Ryan Spain, a black, queer, non-binary artist, delivers a rousing movement piece, representing three different layers of identity with fabulous costume changes, including a killer pair of red platforms. Taking up much-needed space, their layered performance is both joyful and sobering, including statistics of the reported life expectancy of a black trans woman in the US. Spoiler alert: it’s low. Look it up.
Through it all, Bergman provides rousing toasts in celebration, plus a thoughtful meditation on the importance of the preservation of language, story, and identity.
If I could wish for anything from Gender Reveal Party, it would be for it to be longer; it was all so fascinating and complicated and human, and I just wanted more. The presentations were a scant half-hour, leaving the rest of the time for mingling and eating cakes. I very much enjoyed that, mind you, including the thoughtful suggestions for appropriate responses when a person chooses to include you in their gender reveal journey, but I’d also be interested to see a more directed conclusion.
Overall, Gender Reveal Party is a fine antidote to the concept that you can be defined by others before you’re born. I’ll definitely raise a glass to that.
This review is a snapshot of the first performance of a work-in-progress. The production is one of several pieces at the festival presented as part of the SummerWorks Lab programming introduced in 2018. The participants in SW Lab are still in the development process and will continue to evolve throughout the festival.
Gender Reveal Party is playing at the Theatre Centre Green Roof (1115 Queen Street West)
Saturday August 10th, 5:00pm – 5:50pm
Sunday August 11th, 6:30pm – 7:20pm
Wednesday August 14th, 6:00pm – 6:50pm
Sunday August 18th, 12:00pm – 12:50pm
Sunday August 18th, 5:00pm – 5:50pm
Warnings: Audience participation and mature themes
SummerWorks tickets uses a Pay What You Decide system for every show: $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level.
Advance tickets are available up until 3 hours before show time and can be purchased as follows: Online, using the Buy Ticket link found on every show page; In person at the main SummerWorks Festival Box Office the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) – open August 8-18 from 12pm-8pm. Tickets purchased in advance are subject to a convenience fee of $2.50/ticket. Any remaining tickets will be made available for sale at the performance venue starting 1 hour before show time. Venue box offices accept cash only.
Money saving passes are available if you are planning on seeing at least 4 shows.
Photo of Chy Ryan Spain and S. Bear Bergman provided by company