Dandelions and Chowder | by Lady Kunterpunt
Never in my life did I imagine I’d grow up to be a whispering clown stripper, yet here we are. Well, were, back in October 2019 at the Retroflex Cabaret.
Leading up to the trip, I was so nervous. Would the people of St. John’s like my drag? Would I feel safe? As a non-binary trans person, these are questions I must ask myself even within my own city limits. And as an alternative drag performer, no less, the pressure of “am I too shocking for this new town” really mounted. But the gag of it all? I’m the one who left with my jaw on the floor. I mean, have you SEEN the performers of St John’s? No, really, go out and see a drag show. If you don’t leave that venue with your mind blown and an empty wallet, you weren’t paying attention.
The evening of Retroflex was a mixture of drag, human-installation, clownery, technology, and interactivity unlike any party I’d ever experienced. It pushed art in such a twisted and lovely way. I knew there would be great performers, yet still my “little town” expectations were completely shattered. Well, little compared to Toronto’s population of 2.7 million. Perhaps I just didn’t expect something so over-the-top incredible, and by the end of my trip, it really got me thinking about what that arts community here must look like the rest of the year.
A person does not simply adopt a drag persona overnight; they are nurtured by their peers and they grow and they bloom. For alternative performers, we often have a tougher time finding our footing in a world that seemingly already knows what a drag performer “should” look and act like (thus the “Alt” label). The performing landscape here in St. John looked different, though. We toured to a local queer venue and this bar was HUGE! Again, maybe that’s just because I’m from Toronto where everybody lives and works in a glorified closet, but seriously. Huge.
The Retroflex Cabaret happened in a white gallery. That in itself reveals how the locals treat drag. Here, it’s art; important and worthy of having space. And not just any old art, either. GOOD art. I’m talking non-verbal-clown-does-a-strip-tease-and-turns-into-a-sock kinda good. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what I saw. Another performer used projections of a live stream created inside the gallery, using masks and queer iconography to explore identity. And another performer was literally a stationary installation, using cords stapled into their face to create a UV-reactive dandelion who would grant wishes if you approached them. Like I said, this group of performers really shattered any expectations.
All of this taught me much more than just “St. John’s has a kick-ass art scene!” It taught me that no matter the city, queer people will find a way to thrive, will find a way to create, and create again. And again. And again. Thanks to my time in St John’s, I learned that the queer experience of seeking and upholding community is universal and at the same time unique to every individual. Queer folx will thrive, no matter where you find us. Remember that. And please come out to our (now digital) shows!
Oh, I also learned that seafood tastes wayyyyy better on the east coast. Send chowder, please!!
Xoxo Lady Kunterpunt