Watching volunteers turn crowds of dejected, would-be theatergoers away from last night’s sold-out Awesome Shit Showcase at the Intrepid Theatre, I realized two things:
1. The Victoria Spoken Word Festival has, in only its second year, started to outgrow the Intrepid
2. That many people haven’t turned up to see shit since Divine used to roll with John Waters.
Inside the Intrepid’s shoebox-like environs, those of us who arrived early or – if they were particularly handsome and named Bren – had a seat saved for them, were treated to three full hours of hot, sweaty poetry. As the house lights went down I had another realization – while surrounded by pretty, young people it is impossible to completely put out of your mind how much you are perspiring.
Simon Wourms, who won the crowd over Thursday night with his tale of doomed romance – the one about turkeys – was the first to take the stage. As expected, those who had been in attendance at Tongues of Fire greeted the Saskatoon native with cries of “Gobble! Gobble! Gobble!” He lead off a piece about emaciated video gamers that mixed clever rhymes with mock death-metal growls, like an a Capella Dethklok (see left). He followed with a twist on “My Favorite Things” – “Things That I Hate” – that might not have done much for Julie Andrews in her Sound of Music days but would have appealed to her during her S.O.B., rock ‘n roll years.
We returned to the video game theme later in the night courtesy of 19-year-old Shoolie Sales, described by emcee Dave Morris as the festival’s cutest poet. Somewhere in-between performing a standing backflip and bringing forth a tidal wave of maternal coos from the women in the audience, Sales rhymed about Final Fantasy, Super Mario Brothers and how the touch of a woman can propel you headlong into the 11th verse of 1 Corinthians 13.
Later, Sales struck a serious note with a poem about his trademark (and damnably charming) smile being a scar of past heartbreak and, at times, a wall between the world and himself.
Vancouver’s Sonya Littlejohn had a lot to say about heartbreak as well with two touching pieces – one concerning a close friend’s recent suicide, another the horror of rape and its aftermath. Her voice soft but strong, Littlejohn refused to apologize for the unflinching nature of her work, which was no less beautiful for being harrowing.
From heartbreak we went to technophobia, with both Erin Dingle & Johnny MacRae performing poems about the ways technology is changing our lives. Her iPhone in hand, Dingle railed against the lifestyle bought into by those who choose the “poisoned Apple” while MacRae goggled at unseen eyes in the sky and declared Google “fucking creepy”.
For me the highlight of the evening was the story told by Victoria’s Justin McGrail. Wearing a vintage Maple Leafs jersey he described his first visit to Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens (a February 28, 1976 game against the California Golden Seals), weaving together personal and historical detail with nostalgia and an obvious love of the game. His memories of that game bled into the future and the Garden’s tragic new life as a Loblaw’s supermarket, giving the tale an undeniably Canadian melancholy.
Winnipeg’s Aaron Simm performance was a close second to McGrail’s. He struck a chord early in the evening with a fiery reading of his newest piece, “Bumblebee” – a call to grassroots action for the dispossessed from the streets of Greece to Zuccotti park and beyond. Montreal’s Anne Petitclerc also weighed in on grassroots activism before working her way to unicorn farts, sequins and asking, “At the end of the day, don’t we all just want glitter on our pants and come on our face?”
Now there’s a question for the ages.
Tonight’s “On the Edge” with poet of honour Chris Masson (Intrepid Theatre, 8pm) is the final performance of the Victoria Spoken Word Festival. Come out and see 11 of Canada’s best poets perform a collaborative piece that has never been seen before or will again. Tickets are $10 at the door – arrive at least 30 minutes early for seats.
Brennan Storr writes the blog Largely the Truth