The Healing Arts: a sit down with the Vancouver Men’s Chorus

August 5, 2021

The Vancouver Men’s Chorus (VMC) is a registered charity non-profit, and the first gay chorus in Canada started in the 1980s. Recently, I sat down (virtually) with representatives from the Board of Directors, Jenson Kerr (he/him) and Humphrey Tam (he/him), to discuss the importance of queer arts and the 2021 Vancouver Queer Film Festival programme. 

The programming team paired VMC with Workhorse Queen. The documentary spotlights the story of Ed Popil, better known as drag persona Mrs.Kasha Davis, after competing on RuPaul’s Drag Race. For Mrs. Kasha Davis and many other artists, performing is more than just a way to express their creativity. There is healing in the arts, whether you’re part of the audience or putting on the show. 

Alexis: You have a show airing now, Singing Can Be a Drag. What can audiences expect? 

Jenson: Usually, during our annual fundraiser, we put on a live show. Drag shows are lip-synced. Our twist is that we’re singing. The performances include everything from classic pop hits to old-school ballads. But this year, we had to transition to digital. So it allowed us to switch gears, and each queen created a music video.

Alexis: I look forward to streaming the show. This year the VQFF also had to go digital, but we switched to video-on-demand so audiences can watch films anytime during the Festival. Have you partnered with us in the past, as both organizations have a long history of serving the queer community in Vancouver?

Humphrey: I don’t think we have been an official community partner.

Alexis: Well, I’m excited to have created this relationship between us that will hopefully last for years to come. Which leads me to my next question, why is a collaboration between queer organizations important?

Jenson: There’s still prejudice that we all have to fight. I know for myself, and I’m a theatre artist by trade, any chance I have to coordinate and collaborate with other queer artists is usually one of the most fulfilling relationships in the arts because of the shared experiences. You instantly connect on a deeper level.

Alexis: You have similar values and approaches to life that arise from being queer in a society that isn’t always accepting. Working together means that you can show up as your whole authentic self. 

Humphrey: I think by having these community partnerships, we can promote our history and let people know that there are others like them. 

Alexis: There’s an eclectic selection of content at the Festival that promotes our community. I’m sure that all 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals and allies are likely to find a film that resonates. Have you attended the Festival before, and if so, what has been your experience?

Jenson: I’ve only been one time but, I was amazed that it existed. I originally come from a small town, so it still blows my mind to have access to things like this. 

Alexis: Because the Festival is streaming online, folks from all over BC, even those living in small towns, have access to queer film. We aim to continue with a hybrid model of the Festival moving forward so people from small towns can watch! 

Jenson: The Festival makes me appreciate what I took for granted, so I’ll be going more in the future. 

Humphrey: I have been a few years, and my experience has always been positive. The first year I attended, I was shocked by the number of queer films, producers, and directors. I always thought that it’s a very niche market, and it’s not. I didn’t realize there was so much queer content out there. 

Alexis: Yeah, I was also shocked by all the queer films I had never heard of because, in mainstream media, there isn’t much representation. During the Festival on August 14, there is a talk from our Artistic Director, Anoushka Ratnarajah, where she speaks about the history of queer film and how queer people on screen have evolved from villains to everyday people in media. What makes 2SLGBTQIA+ representation important for you?

Humphrey: For me, it’s visibility. Growing up, the only gay person I saw in film had to pretend to be married to a woman to get his family’s approval. But it gave me someone I could identify with; visibility validates our existence. 

Alexis: In many cases, people don’t know that not being straight or cis is an option until they see it. That’s why films that tell honest and authentic queer stories are important. Our theme for the 2021 Festival is longing. So my question for both of you is, what have you been longing for?

Humphrey: I’m notoriously not a hugger. I prefer my personal space. But, my God, I want to hug everyone I see now. I’ve been longing to run up to my friends and give them a big hug and face-to-face connection, and I’m like the biggest hermit there is.

Jenson: Looping back to who we are, I think many of us are longing for when we can sing together. There’s something about singing together that’s very healing. As a singer, I’m longing for the first note of harmony. 

Alexis: Yeah. And I’m sure the audience also longs to listen in a concert hall because it’s an entirely different experience online. I long to experience queer joy, grief and ordinariness together in a theatre.
Vancouver Men’s Chorus annual fundraiser Singing Can Be a Drag: Digital Divas is airing until August 31. You can find out more about VMC and how to become a member on their website, Facebook and watch performances on Youtube.

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