Lovely ode to vaudeville in the bawdy, funny & poignant Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush

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Cathy Petch as Mel Malarkey in Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush

Fresh from a very successful run at The Theatre on King in Peterborough, Cathy Petch mounted Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush for a one-night performance in Toronto, playing to a packed room at The Cameron House last night.

Accompanied by Dickie the Pianist (director Em Glasspool), Mel (Petch) walks the talk when it comes to ‘the show must go on,’ for her heart is heavy with sad news about her Vagabond Theatre home: the theatre is closing to make way for a movie cinema. And she knows she must tell Dickie and the audience, but hasn’t the heart just yet. And so the intrepid impressaria carries on, introducing her vaudeville show line-up and regaling the audience with skillful musical saw numbers. Taking moments in her dressing room during the acts, she reminisces and read odes to the various loves of her life: her mentor Dr. Sweeney, who ran a travelling medicine show where she got bit by the acting bug while working as his assistant; her male impersonator persona Victor the Crooner, with whom she discovered the man inside; and the unique love she found in the unappreciated beauty of a side-show attraction colleague.

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Cathy Petch as Victor the Crooner

Petch brings a lovely, melancholy sense of mirth to Mel; saucy and entertaining in the shifts from Mel’s bits and introductions, to Victor (a suave lady’s man performer – and “Just a Gigolo” is a perfect song for him), to a Dietrich impersonation-driven spoken word performance on being called a “tramp,” to Dr. Sweeney (the charming rascal elixir salesman). And then, in Mel’s private moments backstage, misty-eyed with memory as she reflects on her history in vaudeville – a job she loves, working with colleagues she regards as family. While Mel’s inability to say the words “goodnight” or “goodbye” is hilarious – there’s an undercurrent of sadness there – and her ability to smile through the heartbreak is what Chaplin wrote and sang about in “Smile.” Glasspool gives one of the most hilarious drunk performances I’ve ever seen as the reliably drunken pianist Dickie; there’s a rhythmic quality to his staggering and swaying, and a child-like wonder on display, as he occasionally gets lost in watching the onstage goings-on while chugging back bottles of Dr. Sweeney’s elixir and needs to be reminded of his cue.

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Cathy Petch as Mel & Em Glasspool as Dickie

Through the 1931derful vaudeville laughs and cheek, there’s a reminder here that live performance brings a flesh and blood immediacy that watching onscreen can’t.

A lovely ode to vaudeville in the bawdy, funny and poignant Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush.

Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush was a one-night only affair at Cameron House this time around, but keep your peepers open for future productions at a fine performance venue near you.

In the meantime, you can catch Petch hosting the finals for Hot Damn, It’s a Queer Slam at Buddies in Bad Times on April 19.

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Hot Damn, it’s season 2 of Queer Slam!

queer slamBetter late than never. Due to the nature of this event, I need to confirm with the organizers that it’s okay to publish participants’ names. So, without further ado…

Hot damn, that was another fine Queer Slam at Supermarket on Wednesday night! I had the pleasure of attending back in December, when I was also invited to be a judge; I was asked to be on the judging panel again, and decided to focus on listening and taking notes – so no pics this time (except for the fabulous event poster image above).

Host Cathy Petch kicked off season two of the annual LGBTQ poetry slam with a whole lotta of love, support and energy – and played the queer national anthem “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the saw. Queer Slam will tour various locales across Ontario, and winners from each event will compete in the finals in the spring at Buddies in Bad Times – and the ultimate slam champ will win a spot at the annual Capturing Fire slam event in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday night’s slammin’ festivities included two sets of open mic performances, two rounds of slam competition and feature performer Johnny Trinh. Queer Slam attracts an incredible pool of talented folks – and open mic performers were no exception, including fellow judge, Duncan Armstrong aka TOpoet.ca. – socially aware, bold, funny and moving, these poets inform, inspire and entertain.

Slam competitors included Vanessa McGowan, Georgia Wilder and Shawna Dimitry, with judges calibrating their scores with the work of the evening’s sacrificial slam poet Kay Kassirer. Kassirer set the bar high, with some timely, astute and poetic observational call-outs about trans rights and how Hollywood fucked up the Stonewall movie; and personal experiences of pain and frustration as a person who identifies as genderless, and their struggle to navigate others’ assumptions of their sex/gender – building up a protective “wall as shield” to confront and just live in the world.

The three slam participants didn’t make it easy for us either, each with a very distinct style, voice and tone. McGowan’s work is beautifully raw, irreverent and moving – from her piece on a violation of consent, to “On Other Chunks” (from her collection Divine Cockeyed Genius). Wilder’s work went from lyrical, gothic and visceral in her first piece, to playfully erotic and comical in her final piece on desire and donuts. Shawna’s pieces were heartfelt, bittersweet renderings of childhood/teenage memories – and the complex relationship dynamics between BFFs, and coming to terms with the nature of attraction and object of desire. In the end, McGowan took first place, with Wilder coming in second and Shawna third.

Feature slam poet Johnny Trinh charmed, moved and informed with works that touch on the personal and the political. A meditation on the honesty of the breath segues into a reflection on the meaning of “home.” The first of two multidisciplinary collaborations was a longing, aching piece about the long distance relationships (featuring the work of a singer, dancer and actor), with Trinh speaking over a soundscape collage of lovers’ conversations with an R&B love song layered underneath brought to the fore in words and song: “you cannot edit my heart,” “call my name, invoke all of me, see me.” A rhythmic indictment of systemic abusive power, racism, oppression and slavery (from his new chapbook We Are Weary) – followed by an insightful reminder, as he addressed the audience afterwards, to not give our present-day bigots, haters and trolls more media time and space by referencing them. A poetic activist, Trinh also takes aim at the 1% and the outcome of income inequality and unemployment, raging against social injustice “knowing that life, let love alone, is a battlefield.” And a final collaboration with recorded acoustic guitar and cello accompaniment was a heartfelt, heartbreaking piece from the POV of the Chinese lover of a white man – a lyrical, dysfunctional love poem full of hurt, as racism presents as a dynamic otherness, stereotyped exoticism and servitude. You can also follow Trinh on Twitter.

Keep an eye out for these remarkable artists. Queer Slam goes back and forth between Toronto (at its home at Supermarket) and the other cities – check The Circuit page for details; next Toronto show was confirmed as November 18 today.

Hot damn, that was one fine Queer Slam!

Hot damn, that was one fine Queer Slam! I had the great honour – and pleasure – of being on the judging panel at last night’s Queer Slam at Supermarket. Hosted by hot damn slam poet Cathy Petch, with assistance from Brock Hessel, last night’s festivities included performances by Petch and Hessel, and fellow judges David Bateman and Duncan Armstrong, and a feature set from Regie Cabico – with sponsors Canadian Cancer Society, who reminded us to Get Screened, and LGBTOUT, who lead us in an acknowledgment of World AIDS Day, which was marked earlier this week on December 1. The fabulous Lizzie Violet and a trio of guys dubbed “The Cutie Patooties” rounded out the judging panel.

Sharply attired in a fedora and mustache, Petch (who also performs with Bateman and Cabico in The Dildettes) is an awesome fun host, cheeky and frank, and making sure everyone was included and appreciated. She read a piece from David Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration (Part 1) and Brock shared AID/I/SAPPEARANCE by Joan Retallack.

David Bateman gave a sardonically edgy, darkly comic scathing social commentary in his performance of “What’s it Like?” – a piece about the experience of living with HIV, and dealing with the insensitivity and dumbassery of the curious.

Duncan Armstrong – who really does have the best t-shirts in the business – performed three of his pieces: a rhythmic and comic piece about getting it on; “Last Will and Testament,” a moving and pointed piece inspired by his experiences as a palliative caregiver of HIV/AIDS patients; and a sharply funny commentary on the art world with “Art Abstracted.”

To kick off the slam portion of the evening, Petch played the queer national anthem on the saw: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” then introduced a sacrificial slam performer (to give the judges a baseline score to work with for the competition). Shouts to Barbara Erochina, who gave us a raw, real and humourous confession of youthful desire set in a religious camp.

Three performers came forward to compete in last night’s two-round slam – the winner moves on to the finals in the spring, for the ultimate battle for the prize spot in Capturing Fire, Regie Cabico’s queer summit and slam in Washington, D.C.:

Tanya Neumeyer is a mercurial, rhythmic performer, playing with the ideas of experiencing the body – one’s own and that of others – and the dichotomy of desiring closeness and space in her first piece; and a socio-political, historical, philosophical queer anthem in the second round.

Mind the Gap has a quirky, fun nerd girl vibe – riffing on falling in love with straight girls and unrequited feelings in round one, and a quick futuristic, playful narrative in round two.

Jed Mimnagh-Kennific is an adorable baby slam performer, serving up a sweet, funny and lyrical love remembrance for her first piece. She brought a more complex narrative arc in her second piece, opening with the first flutterings of attraction, Catholic school sex ed, Bible readings and the message that the body is a temple, then shifting into a heart-wrenching account of childhood abuse – taking the audience along on this emotional journey.

Feature performer Regie Cabico is where stand-up meets spoken word in slammin’ fabulousness. Combining the divine and profane, he gave us a sensual and sexual observational piece featuring the sense of smell, an ode to an older lover from his younger days (which included a Fosse dance pose break) and an irreverent fun tale of Lucifer doing stand-up (inspired by an early morning stand-up gig after a very late night of debauched fun). And he does a wicked Tina Turner. Several of us were trying to convince him to move to Toronto; he lives in Washington, D.C., loves T.O. and visits regularly.

Results from the slam: Mind the Gap took third place, as well as the Queirdo prize for the weirdest poem; Neumeyer placed second and Mimnagh-Kennific took first place. With shouts to our score keeper Michelle Darby.

Big fun times was had by all. Look out for the next Queer Slam event next month – at Glad Day Bookshop. In the meantime, you can check out some pix I took at last night’s event:

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Some December happenings

While I’m taking a bit of a break after all the recent theatre-going and set work, thought I’d shout out some ongoing and upcoming December fun.

Red Sandcastle Theatre is cooking with music, comedy, drama and holiday fun all month long! Check out their website to see what A.D./actor Rosemary Doyle (who’s appearing in Escape From Happiness till Dec 17) has happening for December.

Alexander Showcase Theatre (formerly the Alexander Players and Singers) remounts their 1940s radio play version of It’s A Wonderful Life for a very short run, from Thursday, December 6 (that’s tonight, folks) to Saturday, December 8 – please note the early curtain time of 7:30 p.m. – at the Papermill Theatre.

The December edition of The Beautiful and the Damned poetry cabaret is coming up next week, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 13 upstairs at Glad Day Bookshop. Hosted by Duncan Armstrong, and featuring Rocco di Giacomo, Melissa Benner and Ameoba Starfish, plus open mic performers.

Songwriters Circle of Jerks – featuring the amazing sounds of Melting Pot, Big Name Actors, Nick Verona and David Hustler, and maybe even a guest or two – at Free Times Café, also on Thursday, December 13 – 8 p.m. in the back room.

Set Those Sails – A Night of William Finn with new arrangements by Tara Litvak on Friday, December 14 at the Tranzac Club (292 Brunswick Ave., Toronto) at 7:30 p.m.

Animator/filmmaker/artist Patrick Jenkins and photographer Pamela Williams are both going to be appearing at a Goth Bazaar (918 Bathurst St., Toronto) on Saturday, December 15 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Plasticine Poetry – poetry and spoken word at Pauper’s Pub on Sunday, December 16 at 6 p.m. – featuring David Clink, Lisa de Nikolits, Cathy Petch and Lizzie Violet.

Singer/songwriter Craig Stickland plays at The Drake Hotel on Tuesday, December 18 – 9 p.m. $10 cover or $5 with a non-perishable item.

Four hot, talented women join forces for Red Door @ Wonder Women IV

Wow – what an amazing event last night at The Central! Four incredibly talented women joined forces with their music and spoken word/poetry talents to put on a fabulous show and support Red Door Family Shelter. I was working the merch table, and up taking pics with both my and Lizzie’s camera, only sitting down now to put into words the fun, support and talent in that room last night. If you’re in Toronto, check out The Central sometime – it’s a great space (and I enjoyed my burger and beer so, so much): http://thecentralbar.ca/

Lizzie Violet and Arlene Paculan took turns MCing the evening, with Lizzie working the raffle draws between sets – lots of very cool prizes: books, jewelery, art, music. Representing Red Door was Bev Webb, who came up to talk about the organization’s work assisting families, refugees and women in their escape from abuse and homelessness. For more info on Red Door Family Shelter, please visit their website: http://www.reddoorshelter.ca/

Kat Leonard & Bev Webb

Kat Leonard kicked off the evening’s entertainment with her quirky fun blend of comedic and heartfelt songs, some from her one-woman show A Depper Kind of Love, as well as a cover of Arlene Paculan’s song “Nightmare” – accompanied by Arlene on guitar – which Kat introduced with the disclaimer that any “f**k’s”  were ad-libbed by her and not part of Arlene’s original lyric. I love how Kat works that cordless mic to move about the space, sidling up to gents at the bar for one song, then slinking down the stage right wall and off backstage to hide on the end of “Nightmare.” Check Kat out at: http://www.katleonard.com/home.cfm

Cathy Petch

Cathy Petch brought rawness, passion and dark comedy with her spoken word set. And who knew she could play such a mean saw? Seriously, this lady played Madame Butterfly on a saw with a violin bow as she recited her piece. Then there was the Mainly Because of the Meat apron that she wore, accompanying a piece in which a wife has a late-night meat-eating habit. Awesome! Check Cathy out: http://www.cathypetch.com/

Lizzie Violet

After the break, Lizzie Violet was up with her spoken word, poetry and haiku – with an incredible range of subjects, from zombies to relationships to sex talks with mum (“Chlamydia is Not a Flower!” is still one of my faves). Lizzie finished off her set with a few haikus, two of which were dedicated to friends: one for Ellie Anderson (who was there in the audience) and another for Kat and I. Erotic, naughty and with that especially intimate friendly nudge that only a true close friend can give. You can find Lizzie, along with some other great pics of the evening’s festivities, here: http://lizzieviolet.wordpress.com/

Arlene Paculan & Mickey Rodriguez

Arlene Paculan and drummer Mickey Rodriguez finished off the night, serving up a set of soulful and mostly original tunes – my personal fave being “I’m Worth It.” And, this time, Arlene covered a song of Kat’s too – the quirky ballad dedicated to Johnny Depp “Jockstrap,” putting her own soulful stamp on the song (which is one of my faves of Kat’s songbook). For more on Arlene, take a look here: http://www.arlenepaculan.com/

Uplifting, fun, entertaining – and, wow, what an amazing selection of local Toronto talent. Keep an eye out for these ladies and their upcoming gigs. You won’t be sorry.

Wonder Women IV @ The Central on Wed, Apr 25

In Toronto and looking for a super fun thing to do on a Wednesday – and support a really good cause at the same time?

Look no further – Wonder Women IV is on at The Central (603 Markham Street) tomorrow night, featuring music, poetry and spoken word performances by amazingly talented wonder women Kat Leonard, Arlene Paculan, Cathy Petch and Lizzie Violet – with a portion of the proceeds going to Red Door Family Shelter.

The Central is a great, casual space with a tasty menu and good selection of beer on tap. Grab yourself a table, order up some sweet potato fries and a pint, and enjoy! At least that’s what I’ll be doing.

Doors open at 7 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. show time – $10 cover.

I can’t think of a better way to spend hump day evening.