SummerWorks: Memory, nostalgia & queer men longing to connect in the quirky, charming, poignant Box 4901

Thirteen letters responding to a 1992 gay personals ad sit in a box unanswered. What does the recipient say to these men 26 years later? Memory, nostalgia, connection and hindsight figure prominently in timeshare productions’ SummerWorks presentation of novelist Brian Francis’ autobiographical Box 4901; directed by Rob Kempson and running on the Theatre Centre’s Incubator stage.

Long before the age of smartphones and Grindr, a 21-year-old Francis—then a student at the University of Western Ontario—posted a personals ad in The London Free Press looking for a connection in the small LGBTQ world of conservative London, Ontario. Of the approximately two dozen letters he received, 13 went unanswered and were discovered years later. Francis narrates and responds as 13 queer actors perform each letter.

Featuring actors Bilal Baig, Hume Baugh, Keith Cole, Izad Etemadi, Daniel Krolik, Michael Hughes, Tsholo Khalema, Eric Morin, G Kyle Shields, Chy Ryan Spain, Jonathan Tan, Chris Tsujiuchi and Geoffrey Whynot, the responses to the ad range from the bashful to the pornographic. Coming from a variety of men—ranging in age from high school senior to father figure—from various walks of life (“regular guy,” teacher, farmer, jock, “straight-acting,” leather community), the letters are sassy, charming, eloquent and humourous. The replies are frank, witty, sharply observational; and tempered with kindness, and the hindsight of age and wisdom.

There are some missed chances and missed bullets. All of these men share the same desire to reach out; longing for connection and a cure for aloneness, there’s a vulnerable authenticity in even the cockiest of responses. And the fear of being outed to family or housemates is as palpable and strong as the excitement and anticipation of a new connection.

Box 4901 has one more SummerWorks performance at the Theatre Centre on Aug 19 at 4:45 p.m.; it’s already sold out, but you can try your luck by arriving early to see if there are any no-shows.

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Toronto Fringe: Party like a sumo wrestler with Robin F*cking Black in the gutsy, inspirational Enjoy the Hostilities

Robin Black. Photo by John Laszlo Bruce.

 

Pressgang Theatre takes us on a wild, wisdom-filled storytelling ride with its Toronto Fringe production of Enjoy the Hostilities, written by Robin Black and Graham Isador, directed by Isador and performed by Black—running now at The Bovine.

Part personal journey, part edgy TedTalk, the storytelling is frank, unapologetic and authentic as the hard-working, hard-drinking, hard-partying Black takes us from his life as the frontman of the glam rock band Robin Black and the Intergalactic Rockstars, to fighting in the UFC cage, to becoming a professional MMA fight analyst. Turning his life around from a deadly diet of drugs and alcohol after waking up to a drug-induced seizure, Black set his sights on becoming a professional fight commentator—but, first, he had to become a fighter. Knowing full well that larger goals are made up of smaller goals (a system of goal achievement he learned from his dad), this meant training, studying—and overcoming his previous reputation as an eyeliner-wearing rocker with big hair and tight pants, to gain respect in the cage.

Black’s determined, fighter spirit goes super nova in this gutsy, inspirational solo show—and there’s genuine gratitude, joy and excitement to be making a living doing what he loves.

Enjoy the Hostilities has one more performance at the Bovine: July 15 at 6 pm. Last night’s show was jam-packed, so advance booking strongly recommended.

Want to check if the show you want to see is sold out? The Toronto Fringe folks have set up a page for sold-out shows, updated daily.

 

A young woman’s journey of love & healing – Felicia Guy-Lynch’s Time For Healing

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As in her poetry collection Scattered Thoughts: A Stream of Consciousness, Felicia Guy-Lynch offers everyday personal wisdom in her novella Time For Healing. Based on a true story and written in the first person, the book reads like part journal, part internal monologue as the reader follows a young Jamaican-Canadian woman, Lydia, on her search for identity and “innerstanding” (love that word).

A first generation Canadian of Jamaican parents living in Toronto, and leaving a childhood trauma behind in the city as the family moves to the suburbs, Lydia navigates the complex and challenging social scene at school as she and her family – with its shifting structure and personal dynamics – struggle to make ends meet in a rough neighbourhood. But, despite these circumstances, she never gives up pursuing her goals of education, independence and finding love, and of walking the path of openness and transparency – and, ultimately, true strength.

All of this is not done on her own. Lydia actively builds – and processes – relationships with family, both biological and chosen (including friends and lovers), and with God; all play a part in helping her find her genuine self. The storytelling is deeply personal in tone, and while Lydia’s perceptions and experiences as a creative, curious and sexual “melinated” (black) woman striving to keep true to her cultural identity are very specific to this young woman’s world, the universal desire and search for connection and belonging – with other human beings and with a higher power – is strongly evident. Like Guy-Lynch’s poetry, the language in Time For Healing is evocative, true to the mark and even playful, with words like “innerstanding,” “melinated” and “politricks” providing insight into Lydia’s thoughts and character.

Always mindful of keeping an open mind and heart, Lydia reminds us that we must first and foremost be our true selves, and conduct our lives with truth and honesty. And never stop learning.

You can find Time For Healing on amazon.com – with shouts to illustrator Bradley Roy Lindsay and designer Seanre Bennett for their work on the book.

You can also pay Felicia Guy-Lynch a visit at her Twitter and YouTube co-ordinates.

Random thoughts & sage advice in Felicia Guy-Lynch’s Scattered Thoughts: A Stream of Consciousness

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Felicia Guy-Lynch reading “you should know” at The Beautiful & the Damned.

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.