A Queer Art Canon: Claire Burns and Fall On Your Knees, and Harold and Maude, and Féminin/Féminin, and The Beaver, and Karaoke, and…

Let’s make a canon! And let’s fill it with queer art, or queer-ish art, or art that has no idea how queer it is. Queer art is often secret art: black-market, whispered-about, read-between-the-lines art. And since secret art can be hard to find, let’s shine a light on a few of our favourite things so all our friends can see them.

We’ll call it a canon, because it sounds Weighty and Important and Serious, but we also won’t be too serious about it. We won’t make The Canon, just a canon. Each month, we’ll chat with a different queer-about-town and ask them to submit something to the canon. And they’ll tell us what that book or play or movie or TV episode or sculpture or poem or dance piece or opera or photograph or painting or performance art piece or anything else means to them and why they think it deserves a spot in our illustrious canon.

This month, we talked to performer, writer, director, producer, and The Storefront Theatre’s Managing Director Claire Burns about a whole bunch of things.

Tell me all about it! What are we talking about?

We’re talking about art, right?

We’re talking about art!

Probably seminal queer art for me was Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald.


Also, Harold and Maude, the movie. I was watching the movie with one of the girls that I first started hooking up with…


Then, there’s Vag Halen, because every show that I go to, so many lesbians are there and just the energy of the music itself is just so queer. And then, I was thinking about this webseries that I started to watched called Féminin/Féminin.

OK, that’s a bunch!

Or The Beaver, too! Or also karaoke at The Gladstone! Which is queer in many ways!

That’s so many pitches!

I wish I’d thought about this more! I’m so sorry!

OK, you know what? Let’s just do all of them! We’ll Lightning Round everything; a tour of your queer brain! Number one! Ann-Marie MacDonald, Fall On Your Knees!

Loved it!

Oprah Book Club.

I think my mom had a copy of it.

Everyone’s mom did.

I went back repeatedly to the bookshelf to read the sex parts all through my high school years. Which is interesting, cause in high school I was always dating men, but cheating on them with women. So, I knew who I was, but I would blush when I got the book out of the bookshelf. I was trying to be sneaky about it.

So, it was your porn?

It was totally my porn. And even to this day, I don’t watch porn, I read porn. I’m an erotica kinda gal. The written word is so much more powerful for me.

Harold and Maude!

Harold and Maude is definitely a queer film. Maude is an octogenarian, I think. And Harold is like in his early twenties. And watching that movie—it happened on this afternoon when I was making out with a friend of mine in high school. So, I don’t even know if I can remember what happens in the movie, because I was otherwise engaged. The colours of the movie kinda mesh with me now into the colours of the basement we were watching it in. I couldn’t watch Harold and Maude and not be turned on, and not because of the movie, but because of the memories there.

Vag Halen! When’s the first time you saw Vag Halen?

It must have been in 2013 at Buddies, and I was just magnetized by them. I remember just watching them and the freedom of performance and what they wore, their energy… I’d never really seen something like that coming from women. Being from London, Ontario, even though I’ve been here for a long time, my community has been more the theatre community. And while there’s queers in the theatre community, by and large it’s a sorta heteronormative space.

Cause everything is.

I never really felt like I fit into the lesbian community either. There’s OG lesbians that I don’t even know who they are. There’s this social hierarchy. And they were a great intro into that larger community.

The Beaver! Hit me!

So, I live at Dovercourt and Queen…

So, you live at the Beaver.

My local since 2010 has been The Beaver. And I loved it when you could smoke and drink on the patio. And now you can’t smoke there anymore and now I don’t drink anymore, so I don’t go there as often, but I think just having a queer space in the neighbourhood… The bar is long, so you can really check people out in the front. And then it kinda bottlenecks in that back area and you have the dance floor where, if it’s a busy night, you’re really forced to kinda bump and grind a little bit. I’m not really one to pick up in bars, but I like knowing that there’s other gay people around. It just feels good.

Let’s do karaoke!

I absolutely love karaoke. When I first started to get sober, which was two years ago now, I discovered that I really liked to go to the Gladstone by myself at like 7 or 8 pm, put my name in the hat for a song (which takes a while), and sit in one of the comfy chairs in the front and just watch the people. You see people from the neighbourhood that you can tell are maybe a little down on their luck, maybe came to the Gladstone before it got renovated. And they get in front of the mic and you’re like “What is gonna come out of this person’s mouth?” And it can just be so surprising and beautiful. Honestly, karaoke is the window to the soul. Not the eyes!

Karaoke and Sobriety aren’t two ideas you usually think of as meshing that well.

As a professional performer, when I get up on stage, I definitely don’t feel as nervous as I do when I’m about to do karaoke. Karaoke for me, sober or drunk… Like, the adrenalin rush that I get from it, and the nerves? It really unsettles me, which is what I really like about it.

Did we go through your list?

I think so. There was just that webseries: Féminin/Féminin. I was reading this queer theory book about representation and pop culture and there was this one chapter that was focused on The L Word and how it transformed lesbian fashions specifically. But what annoys me is most of the women that were in The L Word weren’t even gay.

Were any of them?

I don’t even think so! Even the one who plays Shane, who’s the dykiest of all; it’s like, what the fuck? But the thing that I like about Féminin/Féminin, which is shot in Montreal, is that there’s actually gay people in it. It’s not straight people writing it or straight people acting in it, it’s just taking this group of friends and doing this kinda docu-style webseries. And I just really crave that kind of binging on queer stories.



Johnnie Walker

Johnnie Walker is a writer of many plays, a hoster of many burlesques, and a maker of many jokes. Follow him on twitter @handsomejohnnie

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