Meet the emerging queer artists Buddies presents at this year’s Queer Pride Festival
Over the past 15 years, the Emerging Creators Unit of Buddies in Bad Times has offered dozens of queer artists the opportunity to take their art to the next level. Alumni include Jordan Tannahill, Heath V. Salazar and Teiya Kasahara, and this month three outstanding new performers join them: comedy writer and performer Ajahnis Charley, artist Janis Mayers and artist of performance and event producer Babe Waters.
Having worked over the past several months with mentors Tawiah M’Carthy (a former program himself) and Philip Geller to create new works, the trio will virtually share snippets and / or talk about their projects and processes from 19 to June 20. , with shares on the 19th and a Q&A panel and social event on the 20th. It’s all part of the Buddies’ Queer Pride Festival, which will feature over 100 performers and 25 events from June 15-27. You can book your (free) tickets here – but first, get to know a bit about Charley, Mayers and Waters and their respective projects in the interviews below.
What if we started things off by introducing ourselves?
Baby waters: ShÃ©: kon. Babe Waters yÃ³nkyats. I am a 2S performance artist and event producer, and have toured and performed around the world creating art for the past decade in a variety of disciplines, from film and drag to wrestling and everything else.
Janis Mayers: My name is Janis Mayers. I graduated from Seneca College’s corporate media production program. After graduating, I became a personal trainer; health, wellness and physical training brought me to the arts. I have been working in the Toronto art scene for three years [as] a performer involved in collective creation. During the pandemic, the gyms were closed, so I took playwright and playwright workshops and was super focused on my writing and development as an actor.
Ajahnis Charley: I’m Ajahnis Charley (he / him, they / them), a Toronto based comedy writer and performer. My artistic practice includes sketch comedy, current affairs comedy, improvised theater, and any other hobby that has obsessed me over the past two days. As a non-binary performer of Caribbean descent, much of my work explores intersectionality and the rules dictated by dominant cultures. My 2020 solo sketch THOTS & PRAYERS is an example of this exploration, as it delves into gay culture and who decides what it is. I am also the co-founder of the first all-black sketch troupe in Canada, “Untitled Black Sketch Project”. And I’m 5’4 “, which above all makes my achievements a triumph.
Tell me a bit about the work you will be showing at Queer Pride.
PB: I will present a brief group discussion on immersive theater and consent as it relates to audience participation and engagement. I create an ironic game show that meets an immersive fever dream piece titled Whose land is it anyway? and through this, I aim for the audience to have a direct effect on the outcome of the pieces according to their choices throughout the show. It’s about showing that whatever the intention, your actions affect the way we are both treated and represented in media and pop culture. Since we are still subject to restrictions and lockdown, I will use this time to further explore understanding how to actively engage an audience and directly involve them in the art they consume.
JM: The project I am developing is called Life in the park. This is my first self-produced show. The story takes place in Regent Park and follows the life of a young woman who struggles through socio-economic barriers. I grew up in this region; I would like to share a few stories before the old quarter is gone forever. Some of the themes I work on are the negative impact of gentrification, poverty, addiction and endurance.
CA: I will present the first act of Club 27, a fusion of a traditional play structure with a sketch comedy about a world where young people have up to 27 years of age to make a big contribution to society, otherwise they are executed. It’s like The hunger Games meets Big city. It’s funny!
Who or what inspires you as an artist these days?
JM: Life is chaos and beauty. My current project is inspired by where I grew up and the people who have influenced me positively and negatively. Growing up here in an ever-changing city, there was a lot of magic and difficulty. I also like poetic physical theater.
CA: Robin Thede and A black lady sketch show, Tim Robinson I think you should go, Debra Wilson’s work on CRAZY TV and Chris Fleming are all iconic and inspire me in terms of structure, language and just focusing on the kind of humor that strikes me, confident that an audience will catch up. In addition, the physicality and speed of the cartoons left a huge impression on me, which will become very evident in [my] show.
PB: I’ve always been drawn to the sincere yet goofy nature of late-access, public cable television, but I’m hyper aware of the lack of representation of myself and those around me. I tend to mix these things up in my art to create what I would like to see, almost like a QTBIPOC UHF utopia. I’m also massively inspired by other artists in my communities, the resilience and unabashed nature of our storytelling and the way so many people mix different mediums to create new beauty against all odds is amazing. One of my main artistic outlets is to produce events that showcase the talents of those around me and showcase their wonderful work to everyone. If you were to twist my arm and ask me across all of pop culture who do I draw the most, though? John Waters and Miss Piggy.
What have you learned about yourself or your job from the process of this program?
PB: I’ve learned that I still approach theater in a less conventional way which is sort of a mishmash of my own personal experience in self-producing shows for most of my career. The work has changed and changed form, including the titles, several times throughout this process, and many contributions from our guests have helped to better understand how whose land can work and be the best show possible. I definitely picked up a few new skills, and being able to listen to two very different artists also talk about how they interpret each session of their work has also been extremely helpful.
CA: I’ve learned that people are accessible and mentorship is available – I just have to reach out. The pandemic took away some of my feelings of collaboration, so it was nice to be back in a space that prioritizes community as well as creation.
JM: With things constantly changing, I have learned to think outside the box [and] not to worry too much about the outcome of a project but rather to allow it to inform me and to take pleasure in creating theater in a new way. Let go of what I know and agree with the unknown.
Obviously, these times remain strange. But at least the end seems near, and I’ve been wondering, as we start to rebuild, what are you hoping for – maybe something positive that could come out of all of this, especially when it comes to the queer community?
JM: It has sparked many conversations about social justice and the queer community: having a safe space to navigate; positive opportunities where people can be completely themselves, without having to hide and speak their truth; have the right to be a beginner. Respect and honor the multitude of voices in our community – I would like these changes to be lasting for years to come.
CA: It has been a terrible time for the planet. We know it. Yet at the same time, this moment of global stillness gave me the first period of my life when people seemed genuinely eager to listen to what I had to say. For this hot minute, BIPOC and queer voices seem to be of interest. Are we going to lose this in our rush to reopen? I hope not.
PB: What I’m hopeful of, or at least desperately hoping for as we begin to rebuild, is change. I see a lot of people just asking to get things back to normal, and normal was not good for almost anyone. I don’t want to see our community sacrifice their health and sanity to be underpaid, overworked and underestimated. I no longer want to see shows made up entirely of white Cis-Het artists. I really hope we can create more care and innovation in our spaces so that we can celebrate and honor each other. We have the opportunity to do something new and exciting, and I really look forward to the next wave of queer resilience and prosperity.
The Emerging Creators Unit runs June 19-20 at 7 p.m. as part of the Buddies in Bad Times Queer Pride Festival. Book your tickets here.