PRIDE CAB created and performed by the Queer Youth Arts Programme, directed by Evalyn Parry. Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Tonight (Thursday, June 15) at 8 pm, doors 7:30 pm. $10, under 25 free. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNNNN
Rachel Cassidy-Cree's teacher at North Toronto Collegiate unwittingly opened a sexual door by sending the grade 11 student to the Buddies in Bad Times website.
"I was looking for a co-op placement, but the teacher warned me that I might find the material on the website controversial and mature," laughs Cassidy-Cree. "She clearly didn't know what I was into."
The theatre accepted her in October, and an administrative job soon turned into technical work, including assistant-stage-managing In Gabriel's Kitchen.
Now she's not only behind the scenes but also centre stage, playing a giant vibrator in Pride Cab, a performance created and performed by Buddies' Queer Youth Arts Programme.
The second annual cabaret features 14 young queers between the ages of 17 and 23, working under the mentorship of director Evalyn Parry and investigating topics that speak to their exploring minds.
Though Buddies holds an open weekly youth night, Parry and producer Wayne Sujo chose the participants for the Cab.
"People didn't have to audition, but, rather, commit to being part of a project where they would create a collective piece from scratch," says Parry. "Meeting for 10 weeks, the group has come up with a series of scenes, monologues, musical and movement numbers.
"The members also worked outside the formal sessions, with feedback from me and Wayne. It's their show; I see myself as the facilitator."
Buddies' Wednesday youth drop-in, open to everyone, draws a real mix of people, sometimes as many as 50 for the monthly open mic. Those who attend might see a show and have a talkback with actors, or be part of a workshop with Daniel MacIvor, Diane Flacks or Moynan King.
The atmosphere is informal and relaxed, with no one pushing shy people onto the stage if they don't want to be there. It's a good way to meet peers and make contacts, notes Cassidy-Cree.
The youth group's been a revelatory experience for Jesse Stong, who moved to Toronto from Richmond Hill when he was 18 and lived above a gay bar on Yonge near Alexander.
"I barely knew there was a gay village until I walked down Alexander and saw the Pride flags at Buddies," he recalls.
It took him a few years to investigate the theatre, but now, in addition to the Cab, he's a member of Buddies' Young Playwrights Unit. Stong has some writing experience (he wrote Fab's Twink column, quitting to finish school and study social work) but was a novice in theatre.
"I've come to realize that writing for the stage is an open process, one where I can express myself creatively and energetically."
Both Cassidy-Cree and Stong feel they've opened up and are more self-confident because of the Buddies program.
"Everyone is respectful, allowing you to try stuff and not seeing you as weird," says Cassidy-Cree. "There are no taboo subjects; you can always find someone who shares your perspective or is willing to discuss it.
"Everything I've thought about for the past few months has been listened to and discussed," nods Stong. "It seems that I can't come up with ideas fast enough."
Cassidy-Cree's vibrator character appears in Stong's gender-based sketch Belonging In The Box, about an unconventional toybox. He's also written And Dinner Drags On, a look at an unusual family that's normal in its own way.
There's a lot of drag in the show, including a piece called Church Street Nine To Five, set to the Dolly Parton song.
The drag element emerges partly from the interest of the group, partly from the fact that the troupe includes 10 men and four women.
"There are times," smiles Stong, "when I think we should call the Pride Cab company the Skinny Gay Boy Theatre."