|Toronto’s Queer Arts and Culture.|
We all experience great journeys in life. For me, two come to mind:
The first, World Youth Day 2005, a gigantic, international gathering of Catholic youth in the fields outside of Köln, Germany. I am sixteen, self-conscious, closeted, lonely, miserable. The voyage itself from small town New Brunswick to Europe is incredible, though the beginning of the end for my Catholicism. “Venimus Adorare Eum: We have come to worship Him,” is the tagline of the celebration, but it feels more like we have come to stand in a long line for a porta-potty. The next morning as the main mass is underway the New Brunswick contingent leaves early, eager to get back to our busses and the airport. I think, “Some pilgrimage.”
The second is during my first year of university, a little more than a year later. I’m out at this point, and I meet a lesbian at the LGBT drop-in space at York U. We decide to make the journey to Toronto’s gay village together. It’s an ordeal, getting downtown from York, but we make it to the Church-Wellesley area swathed in winter coats. We pop in and out of a few shops, curious about how little there is to the Village. What I don’t anticipate is the connection to that place, charged with a people’s history. I would gravitate to that area, time and time again, with friends, lovers, for art, community, or just to be.
For Haligonian artist, writer and star of El Camino or The Field of Stars Stewart Legere, this idea of meditative nature of a journey, the way even a simple walk can be transformative, is fascinating: “My ex-husband had this book on the shelf in his house when I first met him that was about The Camino, and I never read it, but I always looked at it and I did lots of reading about The Camino through that.” El Camino de Santiago, or The Way of St. James, is a pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain where, allegedly, the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried. Legere has never been on the pilgrimage in question, but found himself drawn to the thought: “It was this romantic idea of a pilgrimage. That started to weave its way into the show, because the show’s not about someone doing The Camino, it’s not about The Camino.”
El Camino is about the great adventure of life, one could say, and the great pilgrimage that is love. Legere’s journey to the show started when he was 18, not quite out, freshly accepted into Concordia for theatre. “I was playing basketball back in Halifax with a bunch of students, and also a teacher that I really looked up to and also thought was kind of cute,” he explains. “I was trying to impress him and I dove for the ball and I broke my knee, like completely tore all the ligaments in my knee.” This meant deferring his acceptance into Concordia, and staying in Halifax for recovery and rehabilitation, and in the mean time he began to take courses at Dalhousie. However as university life goes, he made friends, forged connections, and eventually chose to stay and build his career there.
Since graduating from Dal Legere has been fortunate enough to mostly skip the “Joe jobs,” instead working steadily with two different theatre companies over the years, while developing as a singer/songwriter. He continues to take his work throughout Canada, though Halifax is home. “It seems a little cliché to say that it’s an East Coast mentality,” Legere says concerning the incredible support he’s received from the Halifax community. “We’re all kind of underdogs, anyway, because we’re in a smaller place. I made a conscious choice to stay in Halifax after awhile, and make work and take it other places, but really come back and make work in Halifax.”
El Camino grew, in part, out of Legere’s frustration with a theatrical form. He had seen a number of shows that used direct address, but in a way where it didn’t matter if the audience is there at all. “Someone’s looking out into the audience but they’re looking out over your head,” he says. “You could strip off all your clothes and start jerking off in front of them, and they wouldn’t do anything, nothing would change. You could die in the theatre and no one would know.”
The character and story grew out of an exploration of the closet. Legere came out early in his university career, and never had any hang-ups about his queer identity. “I mean, I had struggles like everybody but I never really struggled with my queerness in that way,” although the relationships he engaged in sometimes introduced him to the issues his lovers were struggling with. “A relationship I’d been in, in the past, had been particularly bad for that. I started thinking in the broader sense of the toxic power of the closet, and how it can in a very insidious way, affect you without knowing it, and affect people who are seemingly in no way closeted.”
For Legere it seems, for better or worse, love is the great journey. “I got married when I was in my early 20s, now I’m 30 and I’m no longer married. The vast distance that I’ve traveled in that decade, to me, seems incredible,” he says. “In some ways the play’s a way for me to understand that, but I can’t understand how that’s happened, how I’ve gone from being a very young person in love to now being a 30 year old who, that chapter of my life is now over, and I’m on to another one.” The character, Legere explains, is his own life exploded and then put back together fictionalized. “I say that in the show: ‘I’ll tell a lie to get to the truth.’”
“It’s about a guy who comes into the theatre because he has great guilt about something he’s done. The show is an attempt on his part to purge himself of this guilt by sharing thing with the audience, and experiencing a really beautiful night with a group of people. The whole time he’s telling stories, there’s a story about a romantic, or failed romantic vacation that him and his ex took to Italy. There’s little stories about The Camino. There are lots of questions and musings that are live, happening in the room. It’s definitely about a journey, because it’s his attempt to get to a place where he feels comfortable confessing.”
El Camino or The Field of Stars runs Thur, May 23 to Sun, June 2. Videofag, 187 Augusta Ave. $15 in advance, $20 at door. elcaminostars.eventbrite.ca