Arts and Culture Community Theatre

Montreal theatre opening the stage for an inclusive approach to live performance

Imago Theatre’s success at the META awards demonstrated their dedication to diversity and inclusion.

On Sunday, Nov. 12, The Quebec Drama Federation and the Conseil des arts de Montréal hosted the 11th annual Montreal English Theatre Awards (META) at the jaw-dropping Gesù Theatre—a repurposed Roman Catholic Church in the heart of downtown. For its acclaimed production of “Redbone Coonhound,” Imago Theatre received six  awards.

Amongst those awards, Imago won Best Pact Production, Direction, New Text, Costume Design, Emerging Artist, and Supporting Performance, highlighting their success in many different aspects of production. Their celebration showcases their success in pushing artistic boundaries and approach to live production with inclusivity.

Theatre and live performances are an experience many would consider a luxury, and yet, at its core, drama is a form of societal critique, utilizing the stage to provoke contemplation. Theatre itself has been an object of criticism for its rigidity and conservatism as it remains entrenched in traditional story structures, remaining limited in its representation and casting. 

Through its critical nature, performance art is changing from the inside out, opening its horizons through processes of inclusion. Indeed, theatre has always been a tool for socio-political commentary, and now it finds itself undergoing a systemic transformation, adapting to an audience that demands an increase in inclusivity, transcending performative diversity on stage. Stage productions like Peter Pasyk’s “Hamlet” starring Amaka Umeh, a Black woman as the lead, at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, highlight a change in theatre that embraces inclusivity, activism, and a commitment to positive change across Canada.

Adam Capriolo, a 31-year-old actor working at the Segal Centre’s box office, finds that there is a lot of inclusive performativity in contemporary theatre, but it  only focuses on “a person’s attributes, being mainly their sexuality, their ethnicity, their race, their religion.” “It’s almost like, look, we did it, we included the people, but how are we making them speak? What are their beliefs? What are they saying? Are they full people?” Capriolo said. He claims that inclusive performances are very identity based, categorizing individuals and only using their identities for political debates, instead of including them in day-to-day entertainment. This claim is not novel—inclusive art performances are often called out  for tokenizing actors or for being too political.

In contrast to Capriolo’s critique of performative inclusivity, the Imago Theatre stands out for its commitment to go beyond simple token representation. The theatre  believes in community building in their creative process, and actively works against backward narratives, ensuring that the inclusion of diverse voices extends beyond mere symbolism. . . According to EKOS Research Associates, 82 per cent of Canadians believe that engaging with the arts contributes to individual well-being, with 65 percent perceiving significant community benefits. Imago Theatre’s commitment to community-based productions echoes these beliefs, resonating with a diverse audience. 

Krista Jackson, Imago’s executive and artistic director, explains how  her artistic direction is not only focused on hard hitting topics. Jackson said “I’m looking for pieces that are feminist in their structure, in disrupting sort of patriarchal forms of playwriting,”. The theatre’s inclusivity focuses on the creation of their plays. For example, in trying to dismantle confining structures, Jackson explains how the Imago looks and rejects the dominant five-act structure, as a way to look beyond established structures in both form and content. This signals a departure from structural norms that dominate live performance, and aligns with a broader goal of diversifying theater. 

The theatre also addresses the economic disparities associated with theatre attendance today. The traditional theatre experience has become financially inaccessible for many, as the cost of tickets has risen after the halt in live performance brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Imago Theatre bucks this trend with a pay-what-you-decide model, making live performance accessible. This approach challenges the notion that theatre is a luxury, creating a space where economic barriers are dismantled.

The decline in performing arts attendance among the 15–29 age group in Canada stands in stark contrast to Imago Theatre’s demographic. National statistics indicate a drop in attendees from 51.6 per cent in 1992 to 27.5 per cent in 2023 for this age range. However, Imago Theatre receives an audience demographic that is almost entirely younger generations ranging from 20- to 35-years-olds. 

“This idea that we’re speaking to a young demographic that wants to go and see a live performance is unbelievable to me because most theatres around the country are saying, ‘How do we get the young people? Everybody’s so old.’ It’s the plays and it’s the topics discussed,” Jackson explained. This demographic shift goes against the narrative that young people are disinterested in live performances. The theatre’s commitment to align with the changing preferences of the new generation sets the stage for the new forms of art production.

When it comes to participating in live performance, Imago seeks to be accessible to performers, casting over 130 people for a six-person show. Indeed, open auditions, diverse casting, and a commitment to dismantling predetermined roles, define the theatre’s inclusive artistic direction. 

The Artista mentorship initiative, currently celebrating its 10th year, serves as a testament to Imago Theatre’s dedication to empowering young women and gender-diverse individuals in their journey through the world of theatre. The free mentorship program is available for women, gender-diverse, trans, and non-binary people, aged 17–22. It is a 15-week program held every Monday night 5–9 p.m. from January through May, with dinner included for participants.  

Imago is looking forward to staging Leah-Simone Bowen’s production of “The Flood” from Feb. 15 to 25, at the Centaur Theatre. The play explores the ways the legal system has failed women, based on the true lives of women that were incarcerated in the 1880s under the St. Lawrence market in Toronto.


LGBTQ+ sports leagues exist and are here to stay

Volley Boréal is one of the many LGBTQ+ leagues aiming to provide a discrimination-free space

Every Monday, the players at Volley Boréal gather at Collège de Maisonneuve for their weekly game night, a tradition that has been alive since its foundation in 2004.

Volley Boréal is a not-for-profit mixed-gender LGBTQ+ volleyball club. It was created following the fusion of two gay volleyball clubs that existed in the ’80s and served different purposes: competition and socialization. It encompasses 12 recreational teams and 12 semi-competitive teams with a total of around 200 members.

“A lot of players have a need to come socialize in a safe place, to play without any fear of discrimination, and to be themselves,” said Karl Côté, president of Volley Boréal.

Côté joined the league in 2008 when he was looking to connect with the LGBTQ+ community while staying physically active. He found the league through a friend — like most players do — and was immediately welcomed, even though he had never played volleyball before.

Warm welcomes and inclusivity are what Volley Boréal thrives on, according to Côté. Their website emphasizes that “any form of discrimination based on sex, age, ethnicity or sexual orientation is prohibited.”

Volley Boréal is an extremely diverse club, which is immediately noticeable during their weekly games.

“We meet people of all types of backgrounds,” said Mia Beaudoin-Dion, a transwoman who has played with them for two years now. “It isn’t reserved at all to queer people, we have a lot of heterosexual people, allies, that join us.”

When Beaudoin-Dion joined the league, she had just started her transition.

“I was looking for safe spaces in my life that would accept me for who I was,” she said. “I felt no judgment from the other players, unlike with family and friends, where it was more difficult. The volleyball club made me feel better because it wasn’t a big deal. My transition was just accepted and normalized.”

Jean Gilbert, another member, has been with the club for 16 years, as long as he’s been in Montréal. He saw the recreational league grow from six to 12 teams and he witnessed more women starting to participate. It was important for him to be a part of an LGBTQ+ group, but as a 66-year-old man working from home, there was more to it.

“I don’t necessarily see a lot of people,” he said. “By coming here, I can meet people, I’ve made friends. It’s important for me to have a space that can break my isolation and make a change from being at home.”

The need to socialize is also the main reason Sébastien Shah, now vice-president of Volley Boréal, first joined as a member back in 2019.

Even though Shah didn’t join the team with no intention to find a partner, he ended up meeting his current boyfriend of three years. Since then, he’s had the club engraved in his heart and that’s why he decided to join the board of directors: to give back to them like they had given to him. It isn’t even conceivable for him to leave the club.

“I have four classes at university, I’m preparing for internships, my head is barely above the water and everyone around tells me to cut somewhere, to cut in volleyball,” Shah said.

But for him, the volleyball club is a way to decompress from his busy life and to cope with mental health. Being on the board of directors might be demanding for Shah, but it’s fun and gratifying. It gives him his energy for the week, and he counts the days before each Monday.

Shah emulates the feeling of most — if not all — of Volley Boréal’s players. There is an unequivocal and contagious joie de vivre in the gym when they play. Volley Boréal is the proof that inclusivity and sports make for a match made in heaven.


What the Academy’s new eligibility standards say about Hollywood

This attempt to inspire inclusivity doesn’t strike the root of the diversity problem

On Sept. 8, 2020, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a new series of eligibility standards for the category of Best Picture. As expected, this caused a storm of conflicting emotions.

Personally, it led me through a wave of frustrating questions.

Here’s a brief summary of the new eligibility rules: there are four standards, and a film must meet at least two to be considered. These rules won’t be imposed until 2024.

Standard A has to do with representation on-screen, meaning either one lead actor must be from an underrepresented group, OR 30 percent of the ensemble cast must be from an underrepresented group, OR the main subject matter of the film must concern an underrepresented group.

Although the Academy has a different definition of “underrepresented group” for each standard, it is generally defined as anyone from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, women, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities.

Standard B concerns creative leadership and project teams. So, at least two creative leadership positions or department heads must be minorities (director, writer, editor, casting director, costume designer, set, director, cinematographer, VFX supervisor, etc), OR six people in technical crew positions must be minorities (gaffer, first assistant director, script supervisor, etc), OR at least 30 percent of the crew must be minorities.

Standard C concerns industry access and opportunities, which requires the film’s distribution or financing company to provide paid apprenticeships and/or internships for underrepresented groups. Also, there must be training opportunities and skill development for crew members of a minority group.

Standard D concerns audience development. The film studio must have multiple in-house senior executives from underrepresented groups.

Realistically, it wouldn’t be hard for a film to reach these standards — the issue is the fact that they had to be made in the first place. According to Variety, some Academy voters, who consist of people who work within the film industry, skimmed through the rules and assumed it would be the end of their creative dreams; people felt that they were being told what to do with their art. Actor Viggo Mortensen said that he felt it was “exclusion, which is discrimination” and said that films like 1917, which is about two British soldiers during WWI, wouldn’t be eligible. Neither of these statements are true.

The Oscars is the most widely known and respected film awards ceremony, and these rules may encourage major studios to produce films that are more inclusive to women, people of colour, disabled, and LGBTQ+ people, on and off-screen. However, it only highlights Hollywood’s failures even more.

In the last few days, a year-old video of Viola Davis came to my attention, where she expressed her frustration with “inclusion riders,” which is a term in a filmmaker’s contract that requires a specific level of diversity in the cast and crew. Davis says, “I don’t want to be a part of any piece of paper that has to force people to see me,” explaining that if you’re not putting minorities in positions of power while also having an inclusion rider, then all of the minorities will continue to be sidelined.

“You’re saying ‘accept the bone,’” she continues. “Why is there a resistance to inclusion and diversity?”

Even though this video is a year old, Davis is absolutely right. Why can’t major studios support films that are authentic and good, that also happen to be inclusive? Why were they so resistant to the idea, that other organizations had to set new policies?

I believe that these new rules, although made with good intent, are only a quick fix that don’t solve the root issue of systemic racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism present in Hollywood. We might be getting more representation, sure, but there won’t be any real change until minorities have the chance to be in positions of power, such as presidents of major studios. It also reduces POC, the LGBTQ+ community and disabled people to a checklist, numbers on an inclusion standard form rather than creative, strong individuals who are wanted.

This brings us back to Davis’ question: why is there a resistance to inclusion and diversity?

The likely answer is that those in positions of power wouldn’t benefit from it. Presidents of large corporations only benefit from inclusion when it makes them money. Why do you think Disney made 17 Marvel films before they made Black Panther?

The Academy has no control over what movies are made, but they do have control over which movies are praised at their awards show, which ultimately garners that film more views and more money. Audiences have been fighting for representation, but Hollywood isn’t changing fast enough, so the Academy implemented rules to encourage that change.

This is only the first step, and this won’t magically make Hollywood care about women, POC, the LGBTQ+ community, nor disabled people. I believe they came from a good place, but it doesn’t feel good to be reduced to a checkmark on a list in some executive’s hands. Are minorities only in Hollywood to meet a quota, or do you really want us to be there?


Graphic  by @the.beta.lab


Queer pop icon King Princess brings the thunder live on tour

King Princess redefines angry queer pop at MTELUS

Drag queens, young queer couples heavily making out, bitter and angry love ballads; this is what defines a typical King Princess concert.

Even though the LGBTQ+ icon performed at Corona Theatre only months ago in May and later in August for Osheaga 2019, she returned to Montreal on Oct. 29, just days after the release of her debut album, Cheap Queen, on Oct. 25.

The night began with a special performance by local Montreal drag queen Denim Pussy, who wooed the crowd with their stage presence to the beat of Charli XCX’s “Vroom Vroom.”

The drag portion itself was enough for audience members to agree with the commonly-used phrase, ‘We are here, and we are queer,’ referring to those in the LGBTQ+ community. Indeed, we were all in the right place.

“All my pain becomes songs for the gays,” KP slurred, with a cold beer in one hand and her trademark green electric guitar hanging from her shoulder; a giddy smile plastered on her face.

She started off her set on the piano with “Isabel’s Moment,” a slow interlude-turned-intro track for the purpose of the concert, right before she jumped into “Tough on Myself.”

As soon as audience members heard the low guitar strums of the more sensual track, there was a shift in atmosphere at the venue. I’m not just referring to the young couples eating each other’s faces like it was the end of the world. No, rather I’m talking about the message Mikaela Straus, a.k.a. the “King” herself had for fans: “Listen to the album, bitch! It’s f*cking good!”

After a melodic transition from “Useless Phrases” into the title track, “Cheap Queen,” the tone was set for the singer to express the string of emotions behind most of the songs from the album. It was pretty clear that the performer was, for a lack of better words, bitter and angry towards her ex-lover.

“It’s fine guys. I’m better now.”

Could’ve fooled me KP.

Photo by Laurence B.D.

After the way she delivered performances for songs like “Talia,” “Trust Nobody,” and “You Destroyed My Heart,” it seemed like the artist was projecting the heaviness within the lyrics. The dim lighting, angry guitar solos and head-banging beats definitely said otherwise.

Nice try KP, but you aren’t fooling anybody with songs like these. If anything, your Sagittarius was emanating more than ever before.

If the title of the song “Pussy Is God” doesn’t scream dramatic enough, then rest assured, because its performance brings it to life. A stand-alone single released in late 2018, the anthem was a hit moreso live on tour.

“1950,” the song that launched KP’s career to stardom, began with a few off-beat conundrums, showing audience members that anything can happen during live performances.

“So, Montreal, who wants to hit my back?” she snickered as she addressed the crowd.

With “Hit the Back,” a lively and electric performance full of shuffling light effects and colorful flashes, the audience was jumping and dancing, even fist-bumping the air to close off the concert with a loud and energetic ambiance.

All’s well that ends well. A foot-stomping encore as demanded by the crowd brought the singer back on stage to deliver a finale with Cheap Queen’s closing track, “If You Think It’s Love,” and a performance of her unreleased track “Ohio” as a little homage to fans.

One thing is for certain: King Princess knows how to keep her audience on their toes. Judging from the attendees’ enthusiasm, Montreal is looking forward to her inevitably epic return.


Photos by Laurence B.D.

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