Same-Sex Marriage Worldwide: 2014 Update

As 2014 winds down, it’s worth taking a look back at the progress the global LGBT movement has made on the same-sex marriage issue this year. While 2014 didn’t see as significant growth in same-sex marriage jurisdictions as 2013 did (when France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, England and Wales, and seven US states legalized it), the movement gained huge momentum in the US, while a handful of other countries also legalized it. Here’s the new equal marriage map:


Dark Blue = Full marriage equality
Turquoise = Marriages performed elsewhere are recognized equally, but same-sex marriages are not performed
Light Blue = Civil unions or other partnerships are legal
Yellow = Equal marriage required by legislative or court action, not yet in effect (ignore Thailand, that’s a mistake)

And this is the updated population chart:

Populations of Countries with Same-Sex Marriage
Argentina 41,660,417
Belgium 11,180,320
Brazil 201,032,714
Canada 35,295,770
Denmark 5,623,501
Finland (effective March 2017) 5,448,025
France 66,417,590
Iceland 325,010
Luxembourg (effective Jan 1, 2015) 537,000
Netherlands 16,810,900
    Carribean Netherlands 23,296
New Zealand 4,502,060
Norway 5,096,300
Portugal 10,562,178
South Africa 52,981,991
Spain 46,704,314
Sweden 9,633,490
Uruguay 3,286,314
TOTAL 517,121,190
States that Recognize Same-Sex Marriages Performed Elsewhere
Aruba   101,484  
Curacao   150,563
Israel 8,107,000
Mexico (marriages performed in Mexico City, Quintana Roo, Coahuila, others case-by-case) 118,395,054
Missouri   6,044,171  
Sint Maarten   37,429
TOTAL 132,835,701
Subnational Jurisdictions with Same-Sex Marriage
United Kingdom 61,389,512
     England 53,012,456    
     Wales 3,063,456    
     Scotland 5,313,600
United States 222,440,047
 Massachusetts 6,692,824    
 California 38,332,521    
 Connecticut 3,596,080    
 Iowa 3,090,416    
 Vermont 626,630    
 New Hampshire 1,323,459    
 District of Columbia 646,449    
 New York 19,651,127    
 Washington 6,971,406    
 Maine 1,328,302  
 Maryland 5,928,814  
 Rhode Island 1,051,511    
 Delaware 925,749    
 Minnesota 5,420,380    
 New Jersey 8,899,339    
 Hawaii 1,404,054    
 Illinois 12,882,135    
 New Mexico 2,085,287    
 Oregon 3,930,065    
 Pennsylvania 12,773,801    
 Utah 2,900,872    
 Oklahoma 3,850,568    
 Virginia 8,260,405    
 Wisconsin 5,742,713    
 Indiana 6,570,902    
 Colorado 5,268,367    
 Nevada 2,790,136    
 Idaho 1,612,136    
 West Virginia 1,854,304    
 North Carolina 9,848,060    
 Alaska 735,132    
 Arizona 6,626,624    
 Wyoming 582,658    
 Kansas 2,893,957    
 South Carolina 4,774,839    
 Montana 1,015,165    
 Florida 19,552,860
 EDIT Feb 2015: Alabama 4,849,377
TOTAL 288,678,936
GRAND TOTAL 933,786,450
Countries Most Likely to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage in 2015-16
Australia 23,702,300
Austria 8,504,850
Colombia 47,072,915
Chile 16,634,603
Guernsey 65,345
Greenland 56,968
Ireland (referendum May 2015) 4,593,100
Italy 60,782,668
Jersey 97,857
Northern Ireland 1,841,245
UPDATE Feb 15: Slovenia 2,061,085
Switzerland 8,183,800
Taiwan 23,373,517
Rest of United States 90,010,576
 TOTAL 254,773,679

The big news, of course, was in the US, where court actions finally brought same-sex marriage to 17 states (Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Virginia, Colorado, West Virginia, Nevada, North Carolina, Alaska, Idaho, Arizona, Wyoming, Kansas, Montana, and South Carolina), bringing the total to 35 states. Missouri was forced to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages, and also to issue same-sex marriage licences in St. Louis only (so far). And a stay on a ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in Florida expires on January 5, 2015. When that happens, the US will become the country with the largest population living in equal marriage jurisdictions. us marriage map This is all gearing up for an expected showdown at the US Supreme Court in 2015, which will have to rule on same-sex marriage due to a circuit split on the issue caused by the sixth circuit upholding bans on same-sex marriage in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Michigan. Given the Supreme Court’s reluctance to accept challenges to pro-equality rulings, expect the Court to rule in favour of equal marriage. Such a ruling would not only impact the remaining 14 states that do not have equal marriage, but also US territories in the Pacific and Caribbean: Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and Northern Mariana Islands.

The only full countries to pass marriage equality this year were Luxembourg and Finland. Luxembourg’s law takes effect Jan 1, 2015, while Finland’s is expected to take effect in March 2017, after the government revises several statutes relating to marriage. Scotland also passed equal marriage this year, while England and Wales’ equal marriage law took effect this year after being passed in 2013. That leaves Northern Ireland as the only part of the UK where equal marriage is not in effect. As the Republic of Ireland is set to hold a referendum on equal marriage in May 2015, which is expected to pass by a wide margin, this will leave Northern Ireland in a rather awkward spot on the issue. Whether or not the forces in government opposing equal marriage reconsider in the wake of a successful referendum in the Republic, a legal challenge may go forward to force the issue.

The Crown Dependencies of Jersey and Guernsey also announced plans to legalize gay marriage in their territories in 2015, although Guernsey’s draft law calls these marriages ‘civil unions.’ The Isle of Mann has not announced plans to upgrade their civil unions to marriages. The UK marriage law also does not apply to UK overseas territories, home to about 350,000 people in the Caribbean, Atlantic, and Mediterranean. Former foreign minister Ed Milliband had previously mused that Britain’s non-discrimination laws could be forced on these territories by an order-in-council (similar to the order that nullified their anti-sodomy laws in 2000). It’s possible, but unlikely that the UK could use this method to pass equal marriage in these territories, or require them to simply recognize other British same-sex marriages. (For another precedent, Netherlands imposed its equal marriage law on its Caribbean territories, while France’s law has always applied to its overseas territories, which are integral parts of the Republic.)

The Mexican state of Coahuila passed an equal marriage law this year. All Mexican states are already required to recognize marriages from each other’s states, and the federal government recognizes them as well. In the meantime, gay and lesbian Mexicans have been using the courts to gain access to marriage in several other states with great success. However, while the courts have generally been allowing same-sex marriages to go forward, Mexican law does not typically rely on court precedents to shape law as happens in common law countries – it seems judges must rule the same way five times before a law is struck down as unconstitutional. Courts in several Mexican states are well on the way to achieving this. Meanwhile, some Mexican state governments, recognizing the absurdity of the situation, have begun the legislative process to allow equal marriage. Expect more progress on Mexican equal marriage in 2015 both legislatively and through the courts.

Several states that I had predicted last year would enact equal marriage this year failed to do so. The Faroe Islands and Andorra both rejected same-sex marriage bills in their Parliaments, although Andorra then passed a civil union law which is awaiting promulgation [EDIT: It appears that the law was actually promulgated on Christmas Eve, 2014, and came into effect Christmas Day]. Vietnam rejected same-sex marriage in its review of its family law [EDIT: but at the same time, the new law removed a statutory ban and fine on same-sex marriages; they’re no longer illegal, but still unrecognized]. The issue seems to have simply fallen off the radar in Nepal and Costa Rica, while the situation remains unclear in Colombia.

Greenland had also announced plans to allow same-sex marriage, but has had a change of Prime Minister and governing coalition. Google turns up nothing on whether the new government plans to go ahead with equal marriage. [EDIT: Greenland’s new government is composed of the same previous leading party in a coalition with two smaller centre-right parties. It is unclear if equal marriage is on the new government’s agenda.]

Chile elected a president who supports equal marriage. While her party also controls Congress, it appears divided on whether to move ahead with marriage or civil unions. The Congress is expected to debate the issue in January, and may enact civil unions first, then pass equal marriage a few years later. [EDIT: Congress passed a gender-neutral civil unions law in January. A Marriage bill is still before Congress.]

A number of other countries now have mainstream parties calling for equal marriage. Switzerland and Austria both have bills before their parliaments to allow same-sex marriage, but I’d still call these long shots. Germany has a theoretical majority of politicians in its parliament supporting equal marriage, including half the governing coalition. Unfortunately, the other half (Christian Democrats/Christian Socialists) are strongly opposed and blocking consideration of same-sex marriage.

Italy has a number of parties supporting equal marriage, including a number of local governments that are defying federal law by registering same-sex marriages. The Italian Senate is set to debate either equal marriage or civil union legislation (the latter favoured by the current PM) in January. Either would be a major advance in Italy, the last country in Western Europe without any legal recognition for same-sex couples.

[EDIT Feb. 15: A surprise advance came in Slovenia, where the opposition submitted an equal marriage bill in February, which quickly gained the support of the government. The gender-neutral marriage law has already passed the committee stage, and is expected to be passed by Parliament in March. Slovenia will be the first Slavic, Eastern European, and/or post-Communist country to pass an equal marriage law. It will bring to the EU to 11/28 members with equal marriage laws in effect or pending.

Also in a surprising move, same-sex marriage has emerged as an issue in the March 17 Israeli election. Several parties have endorsed same-sex, interfaith, and civil marriages (all marriages performed in Israel are religious, although Israel recognizes all marriages performed overseas, including same-sex marriages). Even members of the current governing Likud party have endorsed same-sex marriage on the campaign trail. Israeli politics are notoriously volatile and coalition-based, so it’s not clear that the marriage proposals will go forward even if a majority of MKs support it after the election. It goes without saying, if it does go through, Israel would be the first country in the region to allow same-sex marriages, and possibly the first in Asia.]

The situation in Australia is volatile. After a court ruling struck down the Capital Territory’s equal marriage law, marriage is the sole purview of the federal government, which is headed by a PM (and coalition of parties) strongly opposed to it. This is despite polling that shows massive support for equal marriage nationwide. A Senator has introduced an equal marriage bill, hoping that a free vote will allow it to pass, but unless there’s a massive popular movement for it, the numbers are not currently on the side of equal marriage in the Parliament.

A significant setback may come in Slovakia, where a referendum is scheduled for February to pass a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, gay adoption, and sex education. Slovakia already bans same-sex marriage, but the referendum appears to have been triggered by a petition drive led by the US anti-gay organization Alliance Defending Freedom. Nevertheless, public opinion appears to be on its side. [EDIT: The referendum failed due to lack of quorum, although more than 90 percent voted in favour.]

On the civil unions front, Malta passed a sweeping all-but-the-word-marriage civil unions bill in April, which is already in effect. Croatia passed a “life partnership” bill that equates partnerships with marriage on all issues but adoption. Estonia passed civil unions — a first for a post-Soviet country — but this won’t take effect until 2016. Gibraltar also passed a civil unions bill. In 2015, proposals for civil union legislation will be debated in Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Greece, and Cyprus. [EDIT: Greece’s new governing party, once in favour of same-sex marriage, announced plans for civil unions in February. Latvia also announced plans for civil unions in January.]

Thailand had previously been close to passing a same-sex marriage law, but due to the political crisis in the country, progress stalled. The military junta running the country is said to be considering a civil partnership bill in 2015, which would be a first for Asia. Taiwan is continuing to debate a same-sex marriage bill sponsored by the opposition, although I don’t think I would bet on its passing.


AIDS Action Now’s new campaign needs a second thought

The other night I checked out AIDS Action Now’s launch event for their new campaign against HIV criminalization, Think Twice. The campaign is basically a web site with 40 one-minute videos in which some people quickly try to convince a viewer that if they have sex with someone who does not disclose that they have HIV, they should not press charges against that person. Unfortunately, the project comes across as another example of otherwise well-meaning progressive activists who refuse to engage with the issues that motivate people who disagree with them.

(There was a talk back at the launch, but I had to sneak out of the event early to make it to another event.)

I haven’t watched all of the videos – I don’t expect the casual viewer will, and there’s no narrative guide for how someone is supposed to choose one or an order of videos to watch. I’ve seen more than half of them and the messaging is largely similar. Many of the participants in the videos are activists of various sorts (legal, health care, political, HIV-specific, queer), or people who are living with HIV. Of the videos that I’ve seen, the overwhelming themes are:

  1. Going to the police won’t prevent you from getting HIV/cure your HIV, so it’s not worth it (you should probably go to a doctor instead).
  2. Going to the police won’t keep anyone safer, so don’t do it.
  3. You can’t trust the police/the police are not your friends/the legal and social consequences of going to the police will be worse for you than whatever you’re going through now.
  4. If you’re upset it’s probably because you chose to have unsafe sex, therefore your situation is your own fault.
  5. It is unreasonable to expect that an HIV-positive person would disclose their sero-status before sex because that puts them at (social) risk and kills the mood, and the right of HIV-positive people to have worry-free sex trumps your right to give informed consent (or, I guess, worry-free sex).

I am trying very hard right now to imagine a situation wherein any of these lines of thinking would be convincing to a person who has just found out that his partner has lied to him (by omission or otherwise) about his sero-status and wants to file a police complaint, and I’m sorry, I just can’t.

One of the reasons I was intrigued by this campaign is because for the past several years I’ve been working on a play that deals with exactly this issue. As I write it, I’ve tried very hard to understand both sides of the question. I’ve spoken to HIV-positive people and HIV-negative people about their perceptions of the disease and sexual ethics around it. I’ve been the guy who’s brought up the “what would you do?” question at parties (I’m really fun, honest). That, and I follow a lot of the court cases that end up in the media about this.

I’ve never once encountered someone who’s suggested that going to the police would retroactively stop them from getting HIV, or who thought going to the police precluded going to a doctor. Most gave me the impression they’d be freaking out and do both in quick succession.

Going to the police isn’t just about restitution, it also serves a few other roles for the complainant:

  • vengeance/justice for a harm done by this person
  • protecting others from the harm that the accused may do to them by removing him from society
  • deterring still others from engaging in the harmful behaviour of the accused.

If you want to convince people not to pursue a police complaint regarding nondisclosure, I think you have to engage these desires, rather than the straw man argument that doing so will just make a complainant feel better.

To their credit, Michael Erickson and Chy Ryan Spain have contributed videos that get slightly more nuanced on the messaging, but largely because their videos stick to the extremes of honest HIV-positive people and malicious HIV-negative people who are using the courts to pursue personal vendettas. Those who would go to the police believe doing so will improve public safety by thwarting a Typhoid Mary’s ability to willfully and capriciously expose others to a disease (by sending him to jail), and by discouraging others who know they are HIV-positive from exposing others without disclosure. They are typically conscious about not wanting to quarantine all HIV-positive people, only the ones who are refusing to play an active part in protecting others.

There is a good argument that engaging the criminal justice system doesn’t keep people safer, and it is that if people know that HIV-positive people can be sent to jail for nondisclosure, then it’s both a massive disincentive to ever get tested for HIV (because once you know, you must disclose to partners or face jail, whereas if you don’t know, you can plead ignorance), and a perverse incentive for those who believe themselves to be negative to engage in risky behaviour because they can supposedly assume that anyone who’s positive would proactively disclose their status (I have never met anyone who actually thinks this, by the way).

But even this is unlikely to convince someone who’s thinking about going to the police. A complainant, after all, has a personal stake in the wider social drama being discussed, and he’s unlikely to think that in this particular case the accused’s nondisclosure kept him any safer.

The idea that we can’t or shouldn’t trust the police is one of the more worrying lines of discussion in this campaign. To be clear, yes, I am aware of the LGBTQ community’s long and difficult relationship with the police. But on the other hand, doesn’t this line of thinking run contrary to the last 25 years’ worth of outreach and bridge building? Haven’t we spent decades urging the community to report homophobic violence, period? To go to the police when involved in domestic violence? And hasn’t the sustained work generated some positive results? On what grounds do we believe that the police would treat a complainant poorly? That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case in the system today.

To this we add a somewhat shocking testimonial from my friend (and former boss) Marcus McCann, who points out that despite publication bans on your identity, the LGBT community is small enough that you will likely be “outed” as the complainant if you go to the police. The implication appears to be that the personal consequences of disclosure will include a backlash against your complaint, or your outing as someone who participates in unsafe sex, or outing any other details of your sex life during the course of a trial. And, the implication seems to go, you’ll have brought this further harm upon yourself.

But don’t forget that even the initial “harm” is your fault, too! After all you chose to wear that short skirt not to wear a condom. Well, this actually is tactic I can see working on someone who’s just found out he’s been exposed to HIV. After all, it’s worked on female rape victims for centuries. But I don’t think it’s very savoury, and I think this line of reasoning is likely to turn off most people who aren’t yet in the position of finding themselves on the wrong end of a nondisclosure encounter.

In fact, all of the arguments discussed above read like “Mirror, Mirror” versions of the messaging that’s been put out to standard, heterosexual sexual assault victims for the last several decades. “No point going to the police; that won’t un-rape you, so just move on,” or “Details of your personal life will come out if you complain about your rapist/abusive boyfriend,” or “Putting rapists behind bars will only encourage women to engage in risky behaviours like getting drunk at parties or jogging alone at night.” I hate to be glib, but the comparison to sexual assault is already there – it’s the charge for nondisclosure. For someone who believes himself to be a victim of sexual assault, these are unlikely to be comforting lines of reasoning.

Kirk_and_Spock_(mirror)Not only that, but isn’t it fucking bizarre to see AIDS activists essentially tell people that if they get HIV, it’s their own damn fault? How bizarre is it that the logical corollary of this line of reasoning is that only HIV-negative people are responsible for having safe sex, and HIV-positive people have no responsibility to have safe sex? That HIV-negative people must be concerned about the welfare of their HIV-positive sex partners, but that no such reciprocal obligation exists?

The campaign even includes a completely bananas video where within thirty seconds Sky Gilbert goes from saying the problem with criminalization is that people won’t get tested, to actually telling people not to go to the doctor and get tested, which is so incredibly irresponsible I can only hope this is meant to be some kind of ironic performance piece:

One of the arguments I find hardest to accept – and I know that many who find themselves on the other side of the criminalization debate feel similarly – is the idea that it’s unreasonable to demand that HIV-positive people disclose their sero-status to a sex partner. True, the LGBTQ movement has to a large extent been focused on the right to engage in consensual sex however we want to have sex. But, much of the moral argument around decriminalization of gay sex was structured around the fact that it didn’t actually harm anyone. HIV non-disclosure is not a clear parallel, because one partner is exposed to harm. Moreover, there is the issue of informed consent – when the partners have asymmetrical knowledge of their sero-statuses, or where one partner actively lies about his sero-status, the HIV-negative partner can hardly be accused of having given informed consent to the sex act. (These days, we don’t even accept ‘no means no’ for straight women; the standard is generally active consent at every stage of a sexual encounter.)

But in his video, Tim McCaskell says lying about one’s sero-status is akin to lying about how much money you make or whether or not you love your partner. “I know it can feel shitty when somebody you really like doesn’t tell you something that you think is important,” he says. “But if they didn’t tell you they were married, or had a boyfriend, or lied about their age, or didn’t really love you, you might be pissed off, but you wouldn’t go to the police.”

Um, no. But when someone lies to you about being married, it’s not likely to be detrimental to your health. How on earth are these situations comparable? In these situations, it isn’t just the betrayal that makes you feel “shitty,” it’s the actual harm, or risk of harm, to which you were not able to give your informed consent. (McCaskell’s defence of liars goes a little further than most people I know who’d defend a non-discloser, but that seems to be the main view of the group.)

I won’t even get into how this argument likely wouldn’t fly in the straight world, where spur-of-the-moment sex with strangers is much, much less common, and where both partners have always had to deal with the lifelong consequences of their sexual actions (because babies).

I’ve written before about how it seems like the progressive movement is losing because it’s refusing to listen to those on the other side, and I think this is an example of this outside the world of electoral politics. These are a bunch of arguments that people who already believe in the cause would subscribe to and pat each other on the back for repeating, but anyone even a little skeptical will ignore or tear apart in a few minutes. To be clear, I don’t at all doubt the sincerity of the people behind the videos, and I believe there are some very valid arguments against using the weight of the criminal justice system to regulate these sexual encounters in every situation.

What I think is a missed opportunity is that the project doesn’t actually give its audience an alternative solution to the problem. Only a few mention the importance of having safe sex every time if they want to stay safe, and testing regularly so that you know your sero-status and can get on treatment early. I haven’t come across a video that suggests having an open discussion with your partner about HIV before sex – possibly because the group is also defending lying about one’s sero-status, which defeats this as a protection strategy. Few are talking about actually reducing the stigma around HIV so that people would feel more comfortable disclosing in the first place.

I’m sure AIDS Action Now is planning to push this campaign further. I hope in phase two, they think twice about the message they’re sending and the audience who’ll hear it.

Eight Questions About the Toronto Fringe

The Toronto Fringe is in full swing of what is by all accounts a tremendous year for the festival. So while we’re right in the thick of it, let’s start a discussion about things that have come up this year so we can help make an even better festival next year.

1.  Are Ticket Sales Really Up? By how much? What does this translate to for average artist return? What was the average sell-through? Was sell-through more-or-less even across timeslots and venues?

There was concern that the move to 100% advance sales availability would hurt the Fringe, as patrons who didn’t get to see their top show would give up rather than come down to the festival to find out what else to see. I’ve always said that concern was unfounded as other festivals that moved that way actually reported massive sales increases.

Anecdotally, ticket sales and sell-outs at the Toronto Fringe are way up in 2014 compared to 2012-13 (2013 isn’t a fair comparison, because the big flood wiped out a day and a half of sales). On opening day, one staffer mentioned to me that advance tickets were up 40% over that day in 2013 (before the storm hit, of course). Artists are in generally good spirits this year, and it seems that even more shows are getting hot sales/sellouts this year.

The biggest factor seems to be the switch to 100% advance ticket sales, which encourages more early purchases and achieves sellouts earlier, encouraging people to buy tickets to other performances/shows rather than waiting in line all day for a chance at a ticket. (This isn’t scientific, of course, but there’s no other compelling hypothesis.) A way to confirm this hypothesis might be to look at what proportion of total sales were advance/door, and how that’s changed over time.

But there are other factors. One of the popular spaces, Tarragon Extra Space, had its capacity reduced by 29%, which made sellouts happen even faster (a factor that hopefully won’t be present next year). Similarly, the 100-seat Factory Studio was replaced with the 60-seat Tarragon Solo Room last year. And of course, it could just be the small handful of hot shows doing well. Let’s look at the data.

I’m also curious what happened at Theatre Passe Muraille; with Factory Theatre out of commission, Queen/Bathurst really wasn’t the hub it was in the past. Did sales remain steady or tumble at TPM because people weren’t spending a day down there? If they fell at TPM, could that account for a rise of sales up on the Bloor/Bathurst corridor? If so, perhaps this is an argument to focus more shows in a single area.

2.  Who is buying all these tickets? Individuals buying more tickets, or more individuals buying the same number of tickets, or more individuals buying fewer tickets?

The switch to more advance sales ought to yield a treasure trove of additional useful data for the Fringe. If more people were buying tickets in advance, they’d be creating accounts on, which require mailing addresses. So we should know, for example, where more Fringe patrons live. This is useful for gauging the success of Fringe marketing and outreach.

Previously, Fringe staff have said that 85% of sales were in the Trinity-Spadina riding (basically, between Ossington and Bay, and from St. Clair south). That’s problematic for a festival that serves a region of 6 million people from Oakville to Oshawa and Barrie (Hamilton has its own Fringe). But advance tickets may be more useful to people who commute in a long distance rather than walk or bike to the festival. Has this change helped reach those more distant audiences? What can be done to reach deeper?

Moreover, more advance tickets can help get a more accurate number of how many individuals are buying tickets, and how many shows each individual is seeing (within limits, of course; some individuals see shows other people bought tickets for and some will buy a mix of advance/door tickets). Has the greater emphasis on advance tickets led to an increase or decrease in number of shows seen per person and number of individuals seeing shows (both increases are possible and desirable)?

For audience development, we obviously want the number of individuals seeing shows to grow more than anything.

3.  What venues will return next year? Will Factory Theatre be available again with both spaces? Will the Tarragon Solo Room be back? Will the Al Green be back – and better utilized? Will the Tarragon Extra Space be back to normal? Does the increase in ticket sales justify the addition of a venue and a few more official slots in the festival? 

Factory Theatre was out this year due to renovations, and was replaced with the Tarragon Solo Room (starting in 2013) and the Al Green Theatre. By next year, it ought to be available again. Will it be desirable to use the new Factory Theatre? If so, will it also be desirable to keep the Solo Room and Al Green, given their proximity to other Fringe venues?

Toronto Fringe is wisely waiting until its ticket sell-through ratio reaches a certain percentage before adding more slots in the festival (there is absolutely artist demand for more spots, but it’s best not to dilute the festival). Fringe wouldn’t say what percentage at the last town hall (except to say that sell-through was 45-50% in 2013) but whatever the target is, has it been reached? Would it be enough to, say, keep the small Solo Room only? (I believe there is actually a value in keeping limited-size venues. Some companies love them).

If the Al Green is kept as a venue, could the Fringe mitigate some of the problems that have arisen from it? The Al Green reportedly removed the front 4-5 rows of seats, creating a 25’ chasm between the stage and the audience. While this was done to ‘crowd’ the audience together to make the house look fuller (and reduce the size of the venue from 280 to 200 per a request from the festival), it actually greatly reduces the intimacy of the venue, and is deathly for comedy. If the venue must have its capacity reduced, couldn’t it just rope off or screen off the back rows of seats?

Or, could other venues get dumped? Perhaps it’s worth considering the value of using St. Vlad’s and the Robert Gill if we’re keeping the number of venues constant.

Speaking of venues, has the Fringe come up with a plan to replace the Festival tent site, which will be lost when Honest Ed’s is redeveloped in 2016?

4.  How much additional revenue did the Fringe pull in from advance sales fees, net of bank charges and system costs? Does this more than offset the anecdotally reported decrease in “Tip The Fringe” donations? How down are those donations anyway? If there were more individuals attending the festival, did this translate to more beer sales at the festival tent?

Anecdotally, volunteers are saying Tip The Fringe donations are down this year, and you can see it in the lineups too. However, if more and more people are paying $2-4/ticket to get advance tickets, that more than offsets the average $0.59 tip the Fringe was receiving per patron in previous years.

5.  Could the Fringe raise advance sales even more by eliminating the “door discount”?

Currently, tickets are $10 at the door, and $12 + order charge online. Would eliminating the discount on advance tickets encourage even more advance sales? This could be done by raising the door price to $12, which would make artists even happier. The door price has been frozen at $10 since around 2005, and inflation is eating at the artist return very heavily.

6.  Are multi-show passes still useful? Could the Fringe develop a pass that works for advance tickets, or some kind of compromise solution (ie, allowing passes to purchase advance tickets at the central box office)? What would be the effect of getting rid of multi-show passes altogether?

Several patrons who bought multi-show passes are complaining that they’ve become useless since the popular shows they want to see are all sold out before they can get door tickets. It’s a shame that this seems to penalize the patrons who are trying to be the most loyal (ie, planning to see the most shows). It does seem to be a bit of a bait-and-switch for these patrons, who likely didn’t foresee the difficulty of using them.

7.  What is the effect of restricted postering/flyering possibilities?

Fringe has gradually reduced the spaces available at venues for companies to display posters and flyers for their shows. Together with the city’s anti-postering by-laws, this has severely reduced the opportunities for companies to display advertisements for their shows. The Fringe still expects you to make posters though – they want one poster from each company for the poster wall at the beer tent – but they just don’t want to give you more than one space to put them. Which is silly, because you can’t just print one poster (unless you’re Jem Rolls, I suppose).

If this were Winnipeg, people would be taking their wedding photos in front of this.

If this were Winnipeg, people would be taking their wedding photos in front of this.

At the town hall, Fringe pushed this as an environmental initiative, which is a little silly. These posters and flyers are recyclable and can be printed on recycled paper, too.  Limiting the postering makes it more difficult for patrons to find out and get excited about shows that aren’t (yet) receiving buzz or reviews.

A related concern is the program, which, I’ve said numerous times, is the ugliest program by far in the circuit. From the grainy black-and-white photos, to the tombstone layouts, to the gulfs of white where more information could fit, it’s a really weak promotional tool for companies. (I’ve offered to redesign the program for them at lower than what they’re currently paying, but they haven’t taken me up on it).

Posters are a rare opportunity for a full-colour ad with updated promotional copy (ie, cast or review information). Could we bring back poster boards at other venues? Many companies are quietly grumbling about the shrinking poster space. Can we start a discussion about opening up some more spaces in an orderly (utterly Torontonian) fashion?

8. Can we revisit or refine the latecomer policy?

Well, it happened to me finally – the door was slammed in my face as I arrived, ticket in hand, just in time for my show (the FOH actually flashed his phone to indicate “It’s 1:45, sorry”).

There are good reasons to have a no latecomer policy, but it has to be tempered with common sense. FOH should never slam the door on a ticketholder. Late should be 1:46, not 1:45. Companies should be given the option of allowing in latecomers if they want (with the choice flagged in the program) – ie, a latecomer is less disruptive to a stand-up/sketch comedy than an Ibsen. Some other festivals do this – including Fringe’s own Next Stage Festival.

It’s not as big an inconvenience for me – I actually got the ticket for free and I’m a theatre person who should know better. But Fringe is unique in that it’s a gateway to theatre for lots of people who don’t know, and may have come across town with their ticket only to get stuck in traffic/TTC. Getting stopped at the door this way may discourage these people from ever coming back to the theatre.

Everyone who’s ever done the Fringe in Toronto has heard a story from friends or relatives who came only to have FOH slam the door in their face (I’ve had at least one of these stories every year of the four I’ve done it). Those people always tell me they’ll never come to theatre again after that. You have to ease people into theatre culture – people who don’t go to theatre are used to more casual entertainment options, like movies or comedy. Heck, even at professional theatres, you can usually be escorted in by an usher during a scene change. It may be time to revisit this policy.

So what do you think? Post your comments below.


Fringe Picks 2014!

It’s Fringe time again in Toronto! I’m late getting to my recommendations list this year – blame an incredibly packed schedule reporting on WorldPride and various elections for Xtra. But I picked up my Fringe program today, thumbed through it for my picks, and even saw my first show already. Heck, I’ve even dug up my first minor controversies already! So read on.

Also, this is the first year that the Fringe is committing to 100% advance ticket sales. This is a very good thing, which has led to vastly increased ticket sales in other festivals that moved to this type of system. My only quibble remains that advance tickets are still up to 40% more expensive than door tickets, which is absolutely the wrong way to do it. (If you’re going to order advance tickets, you’re best to put all your orders together in one order, so you only pay the $2 ordering fee once). Regardless, one Fringe staffer I spoke to today tells me ticket sales are already up 40% over this time last year. While the final number is unlikely to remain that high, let’s hope the trend line keeps it up (and that there’s no flash flooding this year). For patrons, this means that popular shows are bound to sell-out fast, so make sure you order your tickets early and be prepared to see other shows when your top picks sell out (and you see how this generates a virtuous circle for the artists and the festival?).

Just a note on my recommendations: I’m focusing on shows that don’t get tonnes of attention already, especially shows by touring artists, who often go overlooked by the regular coverage of the festival (understandably; there are a lot of local acts to cover). I’ve also thrown in a few locals who I think have interesting blurbs in the program. If I’ve left you off, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you.

Tarragon Mainspace

Elvis and I – I don’t know anyone involved, but the premise of a jukebox musical about Elvis Presley meeting Richard Nixon sounds ripe for a good time.

Everything is Fine… – Sketch comedy by a bunch of recent Second City grads. It’s directed by the hilarious Ken Hall (2-Man No Show), although the only cast member I recognize is Marshall Lorenzo, whose stand-up and character work is always funny.

Potosi – The New Play Contest winner sounds like a compelling drama, but then, I thought last year’s new play contest winner turned out to be middlebrow nonsense. Cautious recommend.

Tarragon Extra Space

Weird bit of theatre news, here. The Extra Space has been reduced from a 95-seat capacity to a 71-seat capacity, apparently on order of the fire marshal. I’m pretty sure the Tarragon recently renovated the Extra Space to add a few seats, which may have triggered a new inspection (I have recently donated all my old programs, so I can’t look up the information on their capital campaign. Drat.) Or perhaps it’s the Fringe who has tried a new seating plan in the space — the Tarragon still lists it as a 100-seat venue on its web site. The reduction makes it the smallest venue that doesn’t get extra shows, which really sucks for the artists. Put in perspective: They’ve lost 25 x 7 x $10 = $1750 box office potential. Tickets will sell out that much faster here, so be sure to get them early.

52 Pick-Up – I saw this TJ Dawe show performed years ago by Gemma Wilcox in Vancouver. It’s a brilliant script with a fun premise: 52 scenes from a relationship presented in random order generated by the shuffling and scattering of a deck of cards. In this version, it’s being performed by four different couples on different nights, none of whom I know. It has the potential to be great, but without the right chemistry, it could be a disaster. So, you’ll have to roll the dice on this one.

Jem Rolls – Jem Rolls is back with another performance poetry show. Apparently this one did really well for him in Montreal, which is a tough market for the Fringe. He’s always entertaining.

Parallel Play – Elvira Kurt doing sketch comedy? I’m in.

Roller Derby Saved My Soul – I’ve known Nancy Kenny for years, and saw this show in 2011 when it was still being developed at the Ottawa Fringe. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from the title, and it’s fun to see Nancy performing the show in roller blades. I understand that the show has grown a lot since 2011, and I’m curious where it’s at now. Also, Nancy is the subject of a documentary about touring the Fringe circuit which is filming this year. Maybe you’ll end up on the big screen if they catch footage of you in line!

Tarragon Solo Room 

Spilling Family Secrets – I met Vancouver storyteller Susan Freedman way back in 2008, when she was touring her autobiographical show Sixty-Four and No More Lies. This sounds like a similar sort of show. Freedman’s a very engaging performer and her honesty builds an instant rapport with audiences.

Randolph Theatre 

Fantastic Extravagance – This play was developed in the Steady State Playwright Unit that I was a part of last year, so I’ve seen chunks of the script already. There’s some great humour and the fun premise of a writer being stalked by the protagonist she killed off at the end of her best-selling novel.

Hugh and I – A new musical about the life of Hugh Hefner told through the women who loved (?) him. How could that not be worth your 90 mins?

Peter n’ Chris and the Kinda OK Corral – This is the show I saw today, and it’s a highly recommend from me. The masters of sketch comedy, mime, and cartoon violence are back for another great show. Go give them all your money.


Annex Theatre

Salvador – I know nothing about the people involved, but I feel like if I’m going to see just one drag performance at the Fringe, it should be a verbatim piece about a guy who goes to El Salvador to investigate the state of gay rights there. On the other hand, the show description bemusingly includes “We would like to acknowledge funding support from the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the government of Ontario,” which suggests a company that is not familiar with how these things work.

Slut – Dahlia Katz directed the fantastic Dying Hard, which toured the circuit and had a brief run in Toronto a few years ago. Now she’s back directing Erin Thompson in a one-woman show about wanting more than one Mr. Right.

SLUT Poster

Sperm Wars – My friend (and former publicity client) Jeff Leard is back with a new production of his first solo show, which was originally performed under the name Gametes & Gonads. Neither name really does the show justice (although the current one earned him a mention in Kelly Nestruck’s Fringe preview, under “shows with terrible titles”). It’s actually a bracingly funny and incredibly kinetic solo comedy, where Leard reveals that sperm and ova are in locked in a never-ending battle of cosmic proportions, which bears something of a resemblance to George Lucas’ famous original trilogy.

George Ignatieff

Punch Up – As if I need to tell you to go see a Kat Sandler play.

Sex T-Rex – See above.

St Vladimir’s

Myth of the Ostrich – Parents confront each other over their teenagers’ love affair in a play directed by Steve Gallagher (Stealing Sam) and starring Astrid van Wieren (The Way Back to Thursday).

Helen Gardinder

Kitt & Jane: An Interactive Survival Guide to the Near-Post-Apocalyptic Future – From the company that brought the hit show Little Orange Man (which I admit I never saw), comes this show, which my friends are already raving about from earlier stops on the tour.

Komunka – A slice of life piece set in Moscow, examining homophobia and gay life in the wake of Sochi, Putin, and Ukraine. Written by Yury Ruzhyev (best know for his incredible drag revue, Viva Cabaret) and directed by Sky Gilbert.

No Chance in Hell – I know nothing of these people, but it has possibly the best hook in a program blurb this year: “When John arrives at the Pearly Gates, he is informed that his file is missing and he won’t be getting access to Heaven. He is sent to hell, where he meets the love of his afterlife. Then John is told his file has been found…”

Pardon Me Cow – I have a soft spot for the gay-themed shows (obviously). This is a one-man comedy about growing up gay on a farm.

Amusement/Redheaded Stepchild – Nobody’s Business is doing these two shows in rep in their Fringe slot. I saw Redheaded Stepchild years ago and recommend it if you haven’t. I’ll be trying to squeeze in Amusement.

Robert Gill

Ancient History – I usually avoid published plays at the Fringe, but when else do you get to see a David Ives play that’s not Venus in Fur in Toronto? You can also catch All In The Timing at St. Vlad’s.

Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace

The Assassination of Robert Ford: Dirty Little Coward – This is not, in fact, about our current mayor. It’s a play about the historical Robert Ford who murdered Jesse James and then went on to be the star of a vaudeville act about the murder until he himself was murdered. It was also developed in the Steady State Playwright Unit, so I’ve seen the show develop over time, and think it could be a powerful examination of the public’s need to alternately praise and scorn its heroes.

The Emergency Monologues – This played at Summerworks in 2008 where it got great reviews (but I missed it because I was in Edmonton). Oddly, the program doesn’t list any of them.

Who Killed Gertrude Grump – Monster Theatre (The Shakespeare Show) from Vancouver can do no wrong in my books – Ryan Gladstone is a sharp and savvy writer and Tara Travis is a gifted comic performer. I don’t need to know anything else.

TPM Backspace

Great Battles in History – Mark Shyzer is back, after the incredible Fringe success he had with his show Fishbowl in 2012. Somehow, Shyzer is portraying entire armies all by himself as he traces human history in 60 minutes. If anyone can do it, he can.

Al Green Theatre

The Al Green was hastily added as an official venue after the Fringe learned in January that the Factory would be unavailable due to renovations. While it’s ideally situated, the venue has reportedly had difficult technical/administrative issues that kept it out of consideration in previous years. I’m told (but haven’t been inside to check) that in an effort to reduce the total seating in the enormous theatre, techs were told to rope off 50 seats, and decided to rope off the front several rows of seats instead of the back. This is the worst possible thing you can do to performers who are trying to build a connection with the audience — can anyone confirm that this is what’s going on at the venue or give a sense of what that does to your enjoyment of a show as an audience member?

Another thing I’m hearing is the Al Green techs are also joining the UofT techs in demanding that all companies provide a stage manager, even when one isn’t strictly necessary for the show (because you’ve been touring for years and it seems to work fine without one everywhere else). This is, I understand, beyond the Fringe’s control, and is common in some of the other venues, but the festival is not very good about communicating the requirement to artists, who arrive at tech without one, and then spend the first hour of their three-hour tech time arguing with the technician about it. It happened to me in 2012 with RAW, and was the first of a series of unpleasant interactions with my tech that year.

Unfortunately, due to various difficulties of the space’s layout which were not understood when coming to Toronto and the difficulty of finding an SM on short notice, one show has dropped out. Chase Padgett and Stacey Hallal decided to pack it in after their tech rather than try to fit their sketch comedy Joyride into the odd space. I’m not sure there’s anything the festival could have done to fix the problems, but it’s a darn shame. I’d only just met Stacey, but Chase is the performance genius behind 6 Guitars, which I’ve written about in this space previously. I was really looking forward to his new show, and to Toronto getting its first look at him. (BTW, Chase has not asked me to write any of the above; I’m drawing on my own experiences dealing with inflexible tech personnel and poor communication. He has generally been very positive on the Toronto Fringe when explaining why he decided to drop out.)

I hope that the Fringe can make the Al Green work as a venue, because it really is a great space in an ideal location. Hopefully other artists are not having trouble, and any kinks can be worked out quickly over the course of the festival. In the long run, the Fringe can come up with a better way to communicate with the artists about the technical capabilities and requirements of all of its venues in the future.

The only other show at the Al Green I’m giving a recommend to is The Dark Fantastic by New York based performer Martin Dockery, who Torontonians probably recall best from his hits Wanderlust and The Bike Trip.

The Al Green is also hosting Happy Foods, which all else aside contains the warning “Insufficient Nudity,” which, uh….


Centre of the Universe – David James Brock is back with a new show. He’s best known in Toronto as the writer of Toasting the Snow Bride and WET, but has been touring the world writing plays and operas. This one deals with four people stuck in a bar in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack on Toronto, and takes place at the Labyrinth Lounge.

That’s my list! Say hi if you see me at the Fringe tent, and be sure to share the shows you loved in the comments below or on Twitter with the hashtag #FringeTO.

Daily Xtra Archive March-April 2014 Edition

Despite taking a two-week break in April to take part in the Banff Playwrights Colony, it continued to be a busy Spring for me over at my main journalism gig, DailyXtra.

In HIV/AIDS Community Organisation news, I reported on new ACT Executive Director John Maxwell’s attempts to finally control that org’s massive annual deficits through cost-cutting measures, layoffs, and presumably, some of the service rationalization he’d mentioned to me the previous month.

Also, Casey House is offering up a free 19th-century Coach House to anyone willing to move it off their property, which will soon be redeveloped into a major new HIV/AIDS service centre. This is, of course, a big publicity stunt for the organization that is still trying to raise funds for the redevelopment – while I’m sure they’d be happy to give up the building and save the demolition costs, it’s extremely impractical to move it. There aren’t many routes wide enough to carry it on, you couldn’t carry it over a bridge, and at least one passer-by pointed out to me that because the building appears to have a concrete foundation, you couldn’t very easily pick it up and move it anyway. Good luck with the redevelopment, though.

I also profiled NDP candidate for the federal Trinity—Spadina by-election Joe Cressy, a very nice young man (I can say that because he’s a year younger than me and oh my god I’m an old man who’s accomplished nothing with my life) who has a history of helping LGBT organizations in Africa (or, as I put it in the kicker, “dildo smuggling”). He’s a nice guy who’s taking the nomination seriously and seems to genuinely believe in the socialist cause, even if he does sometimes come across a bit like an undergrad who’s just had his first Political Philosophy class with a hip young professor does (that quote likely won’t appear on any NDP campaign material).


I think his odds of actually winning against Liberal candidate Adam Vaughan are better than most suggest – the NDP machine in the riding is massive and Chow won almost all the polling stations in 2011 – but I still think this will be a pick-up for the Liberals.

With WorldPride little over a month away, why not read my coverage of our (revised) expectations for what #WP2014 is going to do for local tourism. Back in 2009, serious people were throwing obviously ridiculous numbers like 2-5 million visitors for WorldPride, but the new gurus are suggesting that the tourism impact is likely going to be long-term and qualitative rather than quantitative (read, immeasurable and therefore unaccountable).

This is, unfortunately, a meme that won’t die, and earlier this week I had a conversation with someone who seriously suggested we’d be hosting more people than we would for the Pan-Am Games. No, no we won’t. We don’t even have the guest capacity for that many people in Toronto (many thousands of guests for the Pan-Ams will be staying in the temporary Athlete’s Village being built in the West Don Lands). Yes, the hotels will be fully booked for WorldPride – they’re fully booked for most weekends in the summer (especially during special events, including our regular Pride).

I’m not a doom-and-gloomer about WorldPride, but I would like our expectations to be clearer. We’re throwing massive amounts of (public) money at this event (including to bring in major headlining performers and host major events across the city), and we should know why we’re doing it.

In a little bit of actual doom-and-gloom, we found out that Fly Nightclub intends to close right after WorldPride is over. Sad news, as the only real dance club left on Church will be Buddies.

There was drama at the Church-Wellesley Village BIA this winter, with former manager David Wootton fired and replaced by a new manager, Mychol Scully, who cheerily told me he doesn’t read Xtra because he doesn’t like doom-and-gloom coverage. Scully claims to be a public relations professional, so you may wonder why he’d choose to insult a journalist and his news outlet in his first, largely friendly interview.

The BIA was also at the centre of a story about major improvements coming to the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood, including Cawthra Park renos, rainbow sidewalks, new flags, permanent gates for street fests, and the Church St murals project – although the popular parklets are not coming back. As Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam tells me, it’s a lot of attention for three little blocks of Ward 27.

I might venture to agree that it’s both disproportionate and scattershot, and often frankly ugly. Wong-Tam rarely says no to ideas that bubble up from “the community,” which is resulting in a neighbourhood that’s looking like an awful hodge-podge. From the ugly gateway markers to some hideous murals, and a distinct lack of real staging or place making for much of the above, the neighbourhood is looking quite ugly (some murals can’t get even get an unobstructed view for the placement of billboards in front of them; the gateway markers, which aren’t even “gates” are placed right next to lampposts which obstruct the view of them). I really wish Wong-Tam (and the BIA, which shares much of the blame) would do more to consider the big picture here (or maybe spend some time on more neglected areas of the Ward, like Jarvis and Sherbourne).

Oh, and Carlton St got a minor makeover with new trees and bike parking, which is definitely needed – it’s impossible to find bike parking there! The trees will be welcome when they start blooming.

ProudFM got approval to boost its signal strength so that its reach will hit more of the city and its signal will be clearer in downtown.

DailyXtra: Winter 2014 update edition

It’s been a while since I posted one of these – I cut back slightly on my work with Xtra in the Winter as I took up a couple of other writing and acting projects.

I just filed a story about storefronts on Church St finally starting to spring back into life, in which I also finally found real numbers on what commercial rent has become in the neighbourhood. Although businesses have been complaining for years about rent hikes, no one wants to give numbers on the record, and for some reason, realtors haven’t been keen to share them either. Still, it looks like CBRE has convinced a major bank to fork over $427,000/year for the combined former 7-24 Video and Priape spaces, which is, wow. Of course, now that that rate is public, I suppose we can expect other landlords to start demanding similar rates for their tenants, so if I’ve just caused the deaths of the last few remaining independent businesses on Church St, well, oops.

I actually can't wait to try North of Brooklyn Pizza.

I actually can’t wait to try North of Brooklyn Pizza.

The story seems to have touched a nerve on Facebook, where the usual sorts of complaints circulated – of the “Wah, I wish the bookstore I never shopped at came back” variety. As I’ve said before, I personally don’t care a whit about the indie retailers and pubs on Church, and it’s evident from the people voting with their feet and wallets, that the community doesn’t either. With all the new residents in the neighbourhood, the strip should be a license to print money for a smart business person. If I had a vision for the strip, I’d want more social places – cafes, bars, even dance clubs. But then, I’m not an investor.

Speaking of 7-24, I wrote about its relocation up the street to the space formerly occupied by The Manor Hair Lounge and Day Spa. Now that we know the scale of the rent being demanded of them by their new landlord, no wonder they moved. But quite frankly, this is another business that’s going the way of the dinosaur. Lots of people posted that the video store is an important part of the community – and at least for now, it offers a selection of terrible direct-to-video gay movies that Netflix doesn’t match – but if Blockbuster can’t make this business viable, I have real trouble believing that these folks will still be around in a few years.

On video, I interviewed Human Rights Watch’s LGBT director Graeme Reid on a wide swath of topics, but in the video that’s online, we talk mostly about LGBT issues in Ukraine and Russia in the wake of the ongoing crisis there. I think this is only part one of a couple videos that will be posted eventually, in which we talk about LGBT issues in several other regions.

I also hosted a short video segment on Xtra’s 30th Anniversary, in which I chatted with some of the people behind Xtra’s evolution.

The AIDS Committee of Toronto has appointed its new executive director – and he’s talking a lot of sense about the need to rationalize AIDS service organizations in the city and perhaps refocus ACT to serve gay men’s broader health needs.

Speaking of social services, NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie was in Toronto pledging her party’s support for an LGBT youth shelter, within the framework of their national housing strategy. I’m kind of ambivalent on this whole venture. This is a policy area that is explicitly under provincial jurisdiction, and I’m not sure there’s any good to come from setting up a national bureaucracy around it. Moreover, I’m dubious on the merits of social housing versus, for example, rent subsidies for those who need it, which I think will deliver greater benefits at lower cost, without the stigma (and management woes) of social housing projects. I’m also not certain that the homeless problem in Canada is similar coast-to-coast, or directly related to the social housing phenomenon (ie. Someone living on the streets due to mental illness or addiction may not find living security in a social housing complex). On the other hand, there’s clearly a homelessness problem in Canada, there’s clearly an LGBT element to it, and I’m glad that at least someone is talking about it instead of the ongoing, meaningless droning on about the middle class from all parties (including the NDP).

In February, I ended up filing  several  stories about the horror trans UK comedian Avery Edison experienced when she tried to enter Canada after overstaying her last visa. I caught this on Facebook because I know Edison through her comedy, and absolutely did not expect this to catch the mainstream attention the way it did.

I caught up with a gay Mississauga Catholic school student who’s suing his board over claims of systemic discrimination against queer students. As a former Catholic school student myself, I find a lot of this stuff frankly bizarre. Are Catholic schools suddenly a lot more reactionary these days? Was Chaminade College School a rare bastion of tolerance among Catholic schools in suburban Toronto? (HA!) While I can’t remember anyone at my high school leading a Gay-Straight Alliance, and there were teachers who were noticeably more uncomfortable about gay issues than others, the lengths these supposed adults in these Catholic schools are going to demean gay students are bizarre and petty, and quite frankly, do much greater harm to the Catholic school system overall. Yes, before I was out, a vice-principal scolded me for making fun of a gay student once. I organized a group to walk in the AIDSwalk (that was my first association with ACT!) and put up posters that featured two men kissing in my school and no one batted an eye. I guess not all schools, administrators, and teachers are created equal.

[As an aside, I haven’t read the novel Poison that the student claims was discriminatory because it presents a gay protagonist in a bad light. But on the other hand: a Catholic school is presenting a book with a gay main character at all. The description given of the character actually sounds sympathetic, and certainly in an essay, a student could make an argument about its portrayal of gay characters. For example, in Grade 12 English, my class had to read Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business which also has gay and lesbian characters presented in less-than-stellar lights. I actually wrote my grade 12 final essay about the portrayal of queer characters in it and received the top mark in the class.]

Finally, my travel article profiling my trip down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to LA finally saw print as well. Good memories, that trip.

To all film students casting actors on

In an effort to beef up my film demo reel, I’ve been submitting to lots of film projects casting on, a web site where indie filmmakers post casting breakdowns and crew opportunities. A lot of student filmmakers use the site to cast their film projects. While a lot of student film is bad, a good project can be a great showcase of your abilities.

Since indie creators rarely hire actual casting directors, they often write their own casting breakdowns, and they’re often poorly written. Spelling mistakes, unclear project description, unclear character breakdown. I’ve been collecting some of my favourite bad casting calls on Twitter with the hashtag #MandyAuditions. Like:

“Must be nondescript ethnicity. Preferably South Asian or Mediterranean.” (uh, what?)

“There may not be pay, but there are food scenes included, I will cover expenses.” (I’d bloody hope you’re not expecting me to pay for your props!)

Sometimes the stupidity doesn’t come up until you get the confirmation e-mail from the director offering you an audition:

“Your audition’s tomorrow. BTW, we forget to mention in the casting notice that this is a musical. Bring a song.” (Wait, why would you not mention in the casting breakdown that you’re looking for musical performers?)

Normally, when this happens, I just ignore the offer and move on. But yesterday, I got an e-mail from a director that needed a response.


thank you for applying, just a heads up, the role has no lines, so all we need is a head shot, or some kind of picture with you in a tank top. We’re going for more sex appeal than acting performance for this character.
PS. please bring a head shot.
That was the entirety of the e-mail. I haven’t just deleted the details so as not to embarrass the director. There was no project name, no director. But don’t worry, there was a follow up a minute later with the date and location, but still no project name. It turned out that this was a Centennial College production — had this been mentioned in the breakdown, I wouldn’t have bothered because past experience has shown me that Centennial College’s film program is essentially a high-school level class with students that lack basic competences in anything involving film, and instructors that are more or less absent from the process (this could be the subject of a much longer story, but it involves a director telling me to run around a park in East York waving a gun around with no permit or police presence). A minute after that came a second followup asking me to contact her if I had any concerns.
Did I have concerns? You bet I did. I also had another writing project I was working on, so I was eager for the distraction. This is what I sent her back:

Sorry, but I won’t be coming to your audition. I’ve had some bad experiences with Centennial Films, and no longer work with students from there. But good luck with your production.
So that this isn’t completely fruitless, please accept the following advice in the spirit of good will in which it’s given:
– In future, when responding to a casting submission, make it clear what project you’re working on. Actors might submit to 5-10 productions daily on and might not remember what project you’re offering an audition to. I can’t find your project there right now.
– It’s also best to offer as many salient details as you can on your casting call, if only to get the best submissions. Had I known this was a silent role with no lines, and that it was at Centennial, I probably wouldn’t have wasted both our time with my submission. The only reason actors do student films is to get decent material to throw on a reel. A silent role doesn’t help me with that, but you may have gotten the aspiring model you were looking for, since that plays to their strengths and needs.
– Telling an actor that, “We’re going for more sex appeal than acting performance for this character,” is actually kind of rude. “None of your skills and training matter as long as you can hold up this tank top!” If you want a model, say that on your casting call, and you’ll get those submissions. Moreover, it makes you sound like you don’t care about your own production, since you don’t care about performance (yes, I know film schools generally suck at teaching how to get good performances from actors — I went to film school too — so take this as a teachable moment). And if you don’t care about the quality of the finished product, then you’re leading me to believe that the finished film isn’t going to be good enough to want to put on a reel. Since the finished video is my only payment for doing a student film, why would I work for someone who doesn’t want to make a good one?
I assume you want the people coming in to audition for you to be excited about working with you. Trust me, take these steps in the future and you’ll get much higher quality submissions.

The director eventually sent an apology and clarified that the project is not affiliated with Centennial, only doing its casting there (why, because Pape and Mortimer is so convenient?).

Casting breakdowns aren’t difficult to write, especially if you’ve got a decent product. Actors want to work on great films. They want every casting breakdown they read to be an exciting project that would be perfect for them. You’re shooting fish in a barrel. So just tell actors what’s great about your project and what’s great about each role.

Tell actors what exactly you’re looking for in each role — even if you’re not entirely sure! The character’s age, gender, and race may not be salient. But there’s got to be something else important when you see the character. Maybe they’re the sensitive type. Or the artsy snarker. Or they need to be able to communicate to the lead that they’re in love with him with a single nonsequitor line. Give actors an idea if the character plays to their strengths or gives them a challenge.

Here’s a pro-tip: Film schools are notoriously bad at training directors to think about anything other than the technical and compositional aspects of filmmaking. But your biggest responsibility as a director is to get great performances out of your actors. In order to do that, you should work to understand the craft of acting. It’s actually worth taking an acting course or two to round out your knowledge, but if you don’t have the cash, pick up any of the many books on acting you can find at TheatreBooks. You’ll get a good sense of how actors think and you’ll get better at communicating your choices to them. And ultimately, you’ll make better films.

Finally, if we’re working for you for free, be grateful and treat us with respect. You’re getting your final grade on this project and making your calling card movie. We’re being asked to give you several days work, plus audition time, headshots, travel costs, etc. Don’t waste our time. Know what you’re looking for, understand the craft of acting, and give actors their due. (Oh, and remember to send your actors a copy of the finished film when it’s done. This is our payment for our work and a part of your contract with us.)

POSTSCRIPT: Not all student filmmakers or film schools are bad, by the way. I had a great experience at Sheridan a few years back. And Ryerson typically impresses me with the scripts I read. But yeah, definitely stay away from Centennial.