Identity, community & calling shenanigans on BS in the raw, real, nostalgic Situational Anarchy

 Graham Isador in Situational Anarchy


Pressgang Theatre joins forces with Pandemic Theatre to present Graham Isador’s one-man work of creative non-fiction Situational Anarchy, direction/dramaturgy by Tom Arthur Davis and Jivesh Parasram, and opening last night at Stop Drop N Roll.

Autobiographical, with an altered timeline and an amalgamation of several bands that were seminal in Isador’s life, Situational Anarchy is part self-discovery, part confession, and part ‘fuck you’ to betrayal and bullshit.

From the thoughtful, curious 11-year-old whose mind is blown when his mum gets real about his grade 6 music performance, to the awkward, large and bullied kid stumbling onto puberty, Graham is searching for meaning and desperate to belong. Try as he may, he can’t seem to find his place and almost checks out—then he discovers the punk band Against Me and its lead singer Laura Jane Grace, who later transitioned from male to female. Beyond the music, the social activism and humanity of this world resonate strongly.

His joy at discovering the music and the message increases when he finds community in the band’s online chatroom—and the cool, fun, smart Mouse, who lives in LA and steals his heart. Things fall apart when he gets caught up in Mouse’s unhealthy body image lifestyle and Against Me signs with Warner Music—which he views as a sell-out, as Warner also owns CNN—and he loses that online community and Mouse. Things come to a violent head when he drops by a local punk bar. It’s definitely not the community he knows and loves. Drafting a letter to Laura Jane Grace throughout, his correspondence serves as a framework for his story. And he’s calling bullshit on her. Years later, he takes a job interviewing her. So much to say.

Staged with multiple microphones, Situational Anarchy is a punk rock solo theatre piece. Isador’s performance is genuine, raw and personal, revealing a dark, edgy sense of humour and a profound longing to connect and belong. Weaving stories of coming of age, body image, homophobia, music and activism, he opens and closes his heart and mind to us in a funny and heart-breaking, at times violent, misfit’s journey of storytelling—reminding us of the power of music and message to inspire and unite.

With shouts to the design/running team: Ron Kelly (sound), Laura Warren (lighting/projection) and Heather Bellingham (stage manager).

Identity, community and calling shenanigans on bullshit in the raw, real, nostalgic Situational Anarchy.

Situational Anarchy continues at Stop Drop N Roll (300 College St., Toronto—above Rancho Relaxo) until June 3. Tickets at the door are Pay What You Want; advance tickets available online for $15. Heads-up: Seating very limited; only 25 seats per night.

All proceeds from the show (after expenses) will be donated to Trans Lifeline [US: (877) 565-8860 Canada: (877) 330-6366] and Gender is Over.

The closing performance will be followed by a set from Stuck Out Here.

Creative non-fiction – “Dear Tom”

Was out at Amsterdam Bicycle Club last night for another inspiring evening of poetry and spoken word at Lizzie Violet’s Poetry Open Mic, featuring Banoo Zan and several amazing open mic performances.

In an effort to get me kickstarted into writing more short fiction and creative non-fiction, I decided to read the first piece I ever had published: “Dear Tom” from Countering the Myths: Lesbians write about the men in their lives (edited by Rosamund Elwin for Women’s Press, published in 1996). A friend love letter to a dearly departed friend and theatre school colleague, this is “Dear Tom”:

SAMSUNGRemember how warm it was that afternoon before Victoria Day weekend when we decided to take our lunch outdoors? It had been years since I’d been on a picnic. I helped you make our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which I also hadn’t had in years, then we headed out, stopping at the corner store for Pepsi, orange juice and salad.

Across the street and down about a block were the spacious grounds of a private boys’ school. I don’t remember why, but no one seemed to be in school that weekday. The ground was soft and relatively dry, so we sat cross-legged on the grass under a big, leafy maple tree while we ate and talked. It was the first, and only, time I tasted carrot and raisin salad. It was surprisingly good. You were so happy to be outside in the light. Your sunny disposition had been too long in the shade in the hospital. I watched you turn your face to the sunlight, confident that the sunscreen would block any cancer-inducing rays.

Lying on your stomach, you read me some of your poems. Many were about death, some were even hopeful. You wrote of a healing of the soul and finding peace within. One of your poems, set in a cemetery, was about “a man and a hole and another year more.” It gave me a disturbing sense of foreshadowing. You’d already asked if I could set one of your pieces to music. I had turned you down, giving the excuse that I was not a composer and that there were better musical heads than mine to undertake the task. You always believed in me. Maybe that’s why I secretly worked on a melody in my spare time, waiting for the perfect tune to present itself, to surprise you.

“It’s like – I didn’t believe it till you got pneumonia.” It was the first, and only, time I admitted to you how difficult it was for me to accept your illness.

“Bill’s been avoiding the issue too.”

You also told me we all needed our own healing. A good listener, and possessing of a courageous and loving heart, you took the confusion of loved ones in stride, and in turn, inspired love and courage.

I don’t remember everything we talked about that day, but I felt a child-like joy at being alive. And for being with you. Drowsy after our meal, we stretched out our legs and spent some quiet time, you rested your head on my thighs. The clouds drifted by in the bright blue spring sky, but we were both too much in a sleepy haze to make out their shapes. The green maple leaves flapped lazily in a light breeze that rolled through the grass. I’d never felt so connected to you.

Our pastoral afternoon was interrupted by a medical emergency. Your temperature had been elevated all day and showed no sign of coming down.

“I’m sorry,” you said. You didn’t want to cut our day short.

“Don’t worry about it. You gotta go. You have to have this checked out.”

We took a cab to emergency. You settled into the back seat while I leaned forward, willing the car to move faster.

In the examining room, you sat on the gurney, back slouched and shoulders caved in, patient and vulnerable, waiting for the doctor to arrive. After taking your temperature and asking you some questions, one of the AIDS team doctors, a young Asian man, did some blood work. He left the bloodied cotton swabs on the thin white sheet that covered your legs. Annoyed, I moved to dispose of them.

“Don’t touch the blood,” you warned.

I brought the garbage can and you slam dunked the dangerous waste.

“Two points!” I exclaimed. It’s easier if you make it a game. Easier for who, though?

You were tired when we got back to your apartment, but we were both relieved that you didn’t have to stay at the hospital. You needed a nap. I hugged and kissed you goodbye and went home.

The song is finally finished now. It’s not perfect, but it has a pleasing and moving melody. My striving for just the right series of notes has cost me though. You never heard it. But that’s really the only thing I remember about you that makes me sad.