CHEAP QUEERS 2003 Presented by Hardworkin' Homosexuals at the Vatikan (1032 Queen West). Opens Wednesday (June 25) and runs to June 27 at 9 pm. $4.47 at the door. 416-533-9166. they may be cheap, but the queer artists who appear in this year's edition of Cheap Queers are anything but bargain-basement entertainment. Presented for the past eight years by the Hardworkin' Homosexuals (current group members are Moynan King , Keith Cole , Jonathan Da Silva , Georgia Kirkos and Sharon di Genova ), the three nights of Cheap Queers spotlight 40 acts by artists who hone the cutting edge of live performance.
Homosexual, heterosexual, bi and trans performers have been invited in not because they sleep with someone of the same sex but because their art is queer in a loud-and-proud way.
For some participants and audience members, the inexpensive showcase (at less than $5 an evening, it's not called Cheap Queers for nothing) is Pride Week's defining event.
"I used to hate the word 'queer' because of its derogatory use by some people," says actor Salvatore Migliore . "But then I realized that at an important level it's not about who you're fucking but about being strange, odd and eccentric.
"I definitely fit into that category. And some of the queerest people I know are heterosexual. Gay and straight are such 1999 concepts."
Toby Rodin , who appears with Migliore on the June 27 bill, agrees that sexual definitions are totally out - in the traditional sense.
"The point of Cheap Queers is that it's all-embracing," she offers. "There's no such thing as a cookie-cutter model citizen up there onstage, or in the audience either."
As we discuss the upcoming event, the two often talk over the top of each other. Migliore's all fired up about the performance he'll give and the general state of theatre, while Rodin comes across as softer-spoken, thoughtful and precise.
They're the tip of the queer iceberg - rainbow-coloured, I assume - in terms of the three nights' assembled talent. Patrick Conner and Shoshana Sperling host the first evening (June 25), and participants include Damien Atkins , Boo Watson, David Bateman , Ali Eisner , R.M. Vaughan and Jane Ford . The next night Sonja Mills and David Ramsden host Dawn Whitwell , Ann Holloway , Dmitry Chepovetsky , Sandra Alland , Shane MacKinnon and more.
The series closes with host Kirsten Johnson presenting a group that draws in Deb Filler , Bitch Diva , Lex Vaughn , Mariko Tamaki , Ellen-Ray Hennessy and the Boychoir of Lesbos .
The Boychoir, which formed for an earlier edition of Cheap Queers, brings the event's founder, Moynan King, back to the stage to sing the Mamas and the Papas' classic Sweet Dreams.
"I remember back eight years ago when Cheap Queers came to me as a vision," King laughs. "At that time Pride events had little artistic representation; it was all bars and parties.
"Those things were fun, but I knew lots and lots of queer and queer-positive performers who didn't have a chance to show off what they could do, and you could have them all for nothing."
"What began as a comment on how devalued their talents could be, and a chance to show them off, became a boon for audiences, too. Viewers paid $3.99 for the event's first five years. Then I learned about the consumer price index and increases to the cost of living, so the ticket price has now shot up to $4.47."
Cheap Queers has always been a collective effort and community event, belonging to those who create and perform its five-minute segments.
"It's one of the few stages in town that's really dangerous, where you don't know what could happen," says Migliore, who first took part in Cheap Queers when he was still studying at the National Theatre School. You see him more on the screen than the stage these days, though he's done several pieces at Buddies, most recently Peep Show.
He's not certain what he'll perform this year, but he's been inspired by a 50s book on manners.
Performer and stage- and screenwriter Rodin, who's also deciding on her material, blew the audience away last year with a sketch suggested by National Secretary Appreciation Day. The five-minute bit so impressed a producer in the house that Rodin's now looking at developing it for film.
She's done four Cheap Queers, not just because her work is so popular but also because "I want to be near such a staggering community event.
"It's like being part of a march. My values are in this room, and the evening is a testament to the fact that we exist and won't be erased."