Two years ago, I had the honour and pleasure of getting a sneak peek at Heather Babcock’s debut novel Filthy Sugar after she approached me to give it a read and write a review blurb. Published by Inanna Publications, it’s set to be released on May 26—and was to have its official launch in Toronto at Queen Books the same day; but since brick and mortar book stores have had to move online, and with events cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, authors and book sellers are now relying on virtual shout-outs and online book sales.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Filthy Sugar (and think it would make a great movie); and hope that Babcock will get to celebrate the launch of the book with colleagues and loved ones soon. Here’s my review blurb:
Filthy Sugar takes us to the mid-1930s, from the struggles of a working-class slum, to the hustle and excitement on and off the burlesque stage. Here, we follow redheaded heroine Wanda Whittle’s rise and fall from fame in a journey of self-discovery that reveals desires and reserves of strength she never knew she possessed. Erotic, compelling and full of richly textured characters, Heather Babcock’s storytelling is equal parts moxie and poetry—tinted with the heartbroken nostalgia of memory and lost dreams; and sparkling with striking, evocative imagery. More than a backstage pass into this world, Filthy Sugar shines a light on the challenges faced by working-class women. Dancing as fast as they can in order to survive, they must navigate the unapologetic misogyny and hypocritical social codes that govern their bodies and behaviour as they pursue their hopes, dreams and desires. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?
It will be some time before we’ll be able to attend readings and book launches in person again; in the meantime, you can get your own sneak peek at Filthy Sugar with Babcock’s excerpt reading on YouTube:
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.
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:
Felicia Guy-Lynch’s first book, Scattered Thoughts: A Stream of Consciousness, is a poetry collection of random thoughts and shared wisdom on love, self-worth, trust and living in this world. Political, analytical, with word play, rhymes and rhythms – it sometimes feels like you’re reading a sheet of music with no notes on it, but you can hear the words, feel the beat.
I saw Guy-Lynch perform “you should know,” which appears near the end of Scattered Thoughts, at Glad Day Bookshop back in September at the monthly The Beautiful & the Damned poetry and music cabaret. Having now experienced this piece both live before an audience and read silently to myself in solitude, it’s still one of my favourites. Inspired by The Alchemist, the piece imparts sage advice that strikes home and sticks: “…those who gossip to you will eventually gossip about you. you should know wisdom is avoiding all thoughts that weaken you. those who anger you control you. you should know how your treat and make people feel? that’s all that matters…”
Often served up with a rap rhythm, some of the poems use rhyme, some don’t – and poems like “stylistic” weave a single rhyme throughout the piece. At times, the words flow across the page without punctuation, capital letters signaling the beginning of the next line. And just when you think you’ve got the rhythm down, anticipating the next beat, Guy-Lynch changes it up, playing the words in rhyming couplets in “crossroads,” then floating them in free association phrases in “cosmic sanctuary.”
You can catch Guy-Lynch at her upcoming book signing – including Scattered Thoughts: A Stream of Consciousness and her new book 365 –on Saturday, May 11 at Knowledge Bookstore (177 Queen St. W., Brampton) from 12 – 4 p.m. In the meantime, you can pay her a visit at her Twitter and YouTube co-ordinates.
Quick note on Saturday’s Week One reading of Falling: We had a packed house, with an audience who responded very positively and had some great feedback for playwright Jamie Johnson. Shouts to Jamie, co-artistic directors Pat McCarthy and Carolyn Zapf, director Ed Rosing, AD/SM Jake Simpkins, dramaturge Diane Forrest, sound designer Rick Jones, and fellow cast members Carys Lewis, Cora Matheson, Ruth Miller and Kristen Scott! And a big thanks to all the folks who came out to support the play, including friends and family – some of whom trekked in from Ottawa, Burlington and Hamilton. xo
The next edition of The Beautiful and the Damned is Thursday, March 14 – 7 p.m. at Glad Day Bookshop. Host DM Moore introduces feature performers Greg “Ritallin” Frankson, Gerald Hannon and Andraya Smith, and some amazing open mic folks.
The next Songwriters Circle of Jerks is coming up on Thursday, March 14 – 8:30 p.m. at Free Times Café, featuring Brian Cober, Hugh Wilson, Marcus Walker, Nelson Sobral and Nick Verona.
Nightwood Theatre’s Groundswell Festival opens Friday, March 15 and runs until March 24 at Berkeley Street Theatre – check out the cool promo vid for the fest. Features a new play by one of my favourite playwrights: Judith Thompson’s Who Killed Snow White? Also check out Nightwood’s annual International Women’s Day Celebration FemCab on Wednesday, March 20.
Feature performers included Josh Smith, Myna Wallin and blueVenus (Andrea de Boer & Jessica Stuart), and there were several excellent open mic artists as well, including Kat Leonard, who got us up on our feet dancing to the One Billion Rising music video on her iPad. Check out the pics from last night’s festivities.
If you’re up for some music, check out Heartbreakers (aka Songwriters) Circle of Jerks at Free Times Café, featuring Melting Pot, Big Name Actors, David Hustler and Nick Verona – doors open at 8:30 p.m.
Sorry to be missing the music at Free Times tonight. This gal has to get up bright and early for the office job tomorrow, then on to my first rehearsal for New Ideas Festival 2013 Week One reading of Jamie Johnson’s Falling, directed by Ed Rosing, at Alumnae Theatre. More on this acting gig soon.
The next edition of The Beautiful & the Damned poetry cabaret, hosted by Philip Cairns and featuring trivia on dead celeb of the month James Dean, is on Thurs, Jan 10 – 7 p.m. at Glad Day Bookshop.
Queen Milli ofGalt, written by Gary Kirkham and directed by Victoria Shepherd, opens at The Village Playhouse on Fri, Jan 11 and runs until Sat, Feb 2.
Theatre Brouhaha’s Toronto Fringe 2012 hit production of Kat Sandler’s Help Yourself runs at Red Sandcastle Theatre Fri, Jan 11 – Sat, Jan 19 – if you missed it at Fringe, be sure to check out this remount. Check out the rest of Red Sandcastle’s January lineup on the website, which includes the final week of The Shoemaker and the Pant-O-Mimes! (closing Jan 6) and a remount of Act II Studio’s production of Mark Leith’s play Dinner with Goebbels (Jan 25-27).
Last night was a double pleasure – for the art and for the company. First up was The Beautiful & The Damned (TB&TD) at Glad Day Bookshop, where a gang of my best pals (Liz, Lizzie, Kat, Janis and Kira) and I gathered to catch the first set before continuing our evening’s cultural festivities.
The December edition of TB&TD was Star Wars night, with props to dead celeb Sir Alec Guinness. Host Duncan Armstrong started the evening off with his poem “Guilt,” funny and insightful youthful reminiscences of a father’s jacket and stealing away to the closet – my favourite line “grow much too quickly into adulthood.”
Open mic performers included author/poet Adam Abbas, who read his piece “Excess,” words and rhymes tripping from the page and out of his mouth with Dr. Seuss-like playfulness. Singer/songwriter Kat Leonard treated us to a new song, a fun – and decidedly dirty, but in a good way – ode to Santa and his big, bulging sack. Duncan followed this up with his own raunchy ode to holiday time, with his poem “Santa Daddy” – a fun and sexy romp.
Feature performer Melissa Benner finished off the first set, reading a selection of her poems. “Small Town Straight,” a place where gays are beat up or forced into covert ops disguise, and later dream of throwing a Pride parade before setting the town alight in flaming retribution. Then the love poems: “Tom Boy,” a beautiful love poem to a boyish woman, a woman she was and now loves, and “Bloodstream,” about a boy she once loved, attraction starting innocently with a date in a church and coming to a boiling point, senses coming alive with touch. “Letter to My First Love” is a love poem to the farm landscape of family and childhood – which Benner said she read to the fields one day – the heartache of a love lost, of a place that will never be the same. Moving on to the loss of a loved one, the wife of a dear friend – chosen family – caring and healing with food in “Cooking.” And, lastly “Call For Beauty,” an ode to the love of words, sparked by a Leonard Cohen haiku – touching off memories, words painting the landscape of a beloved place, again the farm, and “one white lawn chair sits regal in the middle” of a field. Benner has a lovely, lyrical way with words – sensuous, romantic, evocative and sexy – and delivers them with genuine emotion, humour and love of her subject.
The next edition of The Beautiful and The Damned will be on Thursday, January 10 – with host Philip Cairns.
Then, Lizzie, Kat, Janis and I walked to the Free Times Café for a night of music with the Songwriters Circle of Jerks. This was their third event, and the Jerks are Nelson Sobral (Melting Pot), Hugh Wilson and Nick Verona (Big Name Actors), and David Hustler (David Hustler and The Trustworthy).
Four guys. Four acoustic guitars. Four mics. One set of antlers. One Star of David. This edition of Jerks had a whimsical, holiday feel to it – and there were Santa jars of candy on every table. The guys started with an amazing round robin set – from Sobral’s blues-infused rock, with growling vocals and driving guitar, to Wilson’s soft rock ballad with smooth vocals countering the forceful chords on a Big Name Actors original tune, Verona (the “awkward” one) serving up powerful sounds on a rock-driven ballad with his 12-string that’s got two strings missing, and Hustler’s melodious and funny-‘cuz-it’s-true “Six Pints In.” I think the holiday song round was my favourite, though, partly because the guys donned holiday headgear and also for the new twists well-known Christmas songs: Sobral’s “Jingle Bell Rock” and Hustler’s “We Three Kings” rawked out, while Wilson’s “Christmas Time is Here” (from A Charlie Brown Christmas) was melancholy and bluesy, and Verona’s “White Christmas” started quiet in the lower register, shifting into a more longing and earnest sound in the higher register.
Guest performers Red Falcon White Lightning gave us an all-original set, with acoustic guitar and bass, featuring some driving rhythms and sweet harmonies, all with a roots/power/pop rock flavour. Brought Blue Rodeo to mind, actually. And I loved the double-barreled harp tune.
The next Songwriters Circle of Jerks event is Thursday, January 3, when the guys will be covering each other’s songs. And get ready for the boys breaking hearts and stealing your girlfriend in February. All in the back room at Free Times Café.
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.
Last night’s edition of The Beautiful and the Damned was dedicated to the Day of the Dead, with featured dead celeb Frida Kahlo – hosted by the lovely and talented Lizzie Violet, who introduced the evening’s features and open mic artists, as well as exercising our minds with trivia about Kahlo. The Art Gallery of Ontario has an upcoming exhibit of Kahlo and Rivera’s work, opening October 20: http://www.ago.net/frida-diego-passion-politics-and-painting
Philip Cairns: hilarious poems about friends – quirky, loved, neurotic, former fuckbuddy, male, female, depressive, bipolar, a love of ugly Fendi bags and a nod to Gordon Pinsent.
Mark Martyre: usually a musician, read some poetry – internal, reflective, self-deprecating even, bravely breaking out of his comfort zone.
Devin Edwards: existential flow of consciousness poetry, at times erotic, sensuous, everyday intimacy – “the heat of a toilet seat” – and a sonnet of loss, love and pain.
Host Lizzie Violet read her piece “Corpse Flower” – Louisiana bayou vampire slayer child, once thought to have murdered her parents becomes the local savior against the Nosferati that hunt her town. Saving the townspeople is incidental to exacting vengeance for her parents’ deaths. Later, reading “Chaos among the Ruins,” one of a series of zombie-themed poems – a pursued woman, hidden in the shell of a building, watches the creatures outside. Horrific, agonizing memories of the child she couldn’t save from them even as she saved herself. Until she walks out from her hiding place…
Feature performer, poet Duncan Armstrong: Dark, funny, visceral and sensuous pieces. Darkly funny titles; Stratford road trip, an eerie but intimate ode to the colour of eyes becoming a study of the red of sherry, blood, bruises; mysterious bite marks; the fate of a sugar maple reflecting the fall of a marriage; cell phone found on the subway ringing in a sob-filled phone call; slam style rhythmic, fast-paced, moving; Robert Johnson-inspired blues, selling one’s soul to the devil “Everything to live for and nothing to lose;” the mystery of vampires looking so good, yet casting no reflection; “Full Moon” regarding the fate of children entering a haunted house and never seen again.
Brandon Pitts: metaphysical, Mesopotamian, existential, erotic piece – sexual, religious, sacred and profane. Profane in the sacred.
Melissa Benner: spoken word piece “Out” to acknowledge National Coming Out Day – love at first sight among the bok choi at the grocery store; sexy, honest, sweet, real. Sexual fluidity, attraction goes its way.
Tom Smarda: poetry and music – political, social, lyrical, passionate, activism in art. A folk balladeer with a heartfelt protest song – a mother’s loss of her son to the war.
Feature Monica Kuebler: reading from her web story Bleeder – Chapter 6. First-person narrative finding our heroine, who may or may not be human, in the clutches of vampires, brought before the vampire king. Struggling, injured, fighting to keep her head together. Uncertain of her fate. http://www.bleederbook.com/?tag=monica-s-kuebler
Stedmond Pardy – reading/performing “Ode to Liza Minnelli” – moving with the rhythm of the words, celebrity religion, ode, love, obsession, masturbatory glee. “You have no fucking equal. To you dear there could never be a sequel.”
Lucille Barker – powerful words coming from such a small frame; poems about death, dead women poets, wry political commentary.
Feature L’Rock brought a rockin’ acoustic set, offering a sample of tunes from her Law of Attraction CD. Rawkin’ drivin’ vocals that would make Annie Wilson proud. Passionate, free-spirited tunes – the title track was my fave. Accompanied by Nik Beat on guitar and Michael Ratt on bass. http://www.lrockmusic.com/
Another fabulous evening of music, poetry and spoken word upstairs at the Glad Day Bookshop, where I also picked up a copy of Born This Way– Real Stories of Growing Up Gay, a selection of childhood photographs and coming out stories from the blog of the same name, created by Paul Vitagliano. Here’s the link to the blog site: http://borngaybornthisway.blogspot.ca/
All in all, an incredible, inspiring way to spend the evening on National Coming Out Day.