Since September, we have been working with an incredible intergenerational group to create The Youth/Elders Project – a space where identities, personal histories and queer perspectives get turned into performance. As we get closer to our Mainstage performance later this month, some of the participants will be taking over our blog to talk about the journey to here. In today’s post, Russell Powell and Ty Sloane take turns in the interviewer’s chair.
RUSSELL POWELL: How did you learn about the Youth Elder Project? Get the obvious one out of the way.
TY SLOANE: I actually had been living in Sylvan Lake (Alberta) during the summer, knowing I wanted to be in Toronto for August, and I really really adored Buddies in Bad Times. The theatre itself was one I wanted to work with or around or for, and so I’d gone on the website and found it before I’d even moved to Toronto.
Why did you commit to the Youth/Elder’s project?
RP: I began the project in order to reawaken my sense of having a creative self.
Also I often feel that the voice of recovery is under-represented in queer spaces. Despite tomes of stories of older gay white males who are HIV positive there seems to be a void concerning aging, isolation, poverty and the virus.
Did you have prejudices or qualms coming into the project?
TS: I gotta admit I came from quite a conservative place.
So to sort of adjust the answer to your question, I’ll tell you more about what I learned from prejudices I consciously acknowledged or didn’t.
I think I didn’t realize how important a person of colour’s story could be. I still struggle with pronouns, and I had a very aggressive time adjusting to the right pronoun for each individual. It was a learning curve. People’s preferred pronouns really matter: it’s affirming their identity and who they are. I had a good friend teach me, despite their begrudging not to, many things: pronouns, the struggle of Trans people – it’s not about us apologizing profusely but it’s about just getting it , attraction, polyamory, sex work, and accessibility and ableism. Get their pronouns right – acknowledge their identity. Simple. They acknowledge ours.
I learned a lot about age. There was a moment when I had to address that not everyone around my mother’s or my grandparent’s age were parents of any kind- that they are just people. It opened a door of intimacy with people more than a decade older than me that I was timid of.
RP: Back to the work – What piece that you have created on the fly during this project was the most emotional for you?
TS: I’m currently workshopping or rather rehearsing a movement piece right now. It was an amalgamation of something I did regarding feminism and eggs and something very sacred that I’d done with Lila and our guest facilitator Raven Davis. In it, I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew that there was something about ‘the relationship between your momma and the rest of the world’ that I wanted to explore. There’s a lot of me asking questions of gay men and the women who raised me in it. It’s probably the most raw thing I’ve done and when I first did it I didn’t have it on its feet fully yet.
What’s been one of the most humbling moments you’ve experienced and what’s been the most shameful ones?
RP: I do not know of any one moment where I felt humbled. Often though I sit back in awe of the whole ensemble and I am humbled to be amongst such brave, quirky, funny, defiant and resilient people.
Has the project awoken more of your creative powers?
TS: Oh god! This project has given me such beautiful people in my life and by that alone it’s been an awakening experience. But I’d say that ‘creative powers’ are funny, it’s funny, uhh I use to want to talk about social issues in my art. Now I want to talk about myself, and by that I mean how these social issues affected me – as a starting point. I never thought my life and what I’d gone through could help anything. I thought that social issues and social action was bigger than me, and there’s something healing about taking yourself and running with it. If anything the creative power that I’ve been awoken to is that my story matters. A Two-Spirit stocky, sassy, Queer human can have a story that’s valid. That the story, moments, or glimpses can be bolded in sequences or movements or a narrative that others may want to hear – or may need to hear. At least I’d hoped it would.
TS: What’s something you’ve learned during the project that’s changed you?
RP: Riley Kelk one of the performers said “ History does not repeat it only continues. ” At that point I realized I am still very mired by my past and need to put much more effort in living my life outward and forward.
To paraphrase Riley do you get a sense of history continuing not repeating?
TS: I know the thirteen of us have learned so much. We’ve learned such a substantial amount about ourselves and others. That being said I don’t think we’re repeating history. I think it’s moving forward, because more of us are connected now. More of us are paying attention to micro-aggressions in every community and there’s a strong sense of really thinking about how we behave and how to be accountable. It feels shitty – this present moment that’ll be part of our future’s history – but it’s moving forward. There’s hope.
You’re an advocate for AIDS rights, and you lived through and survived a very hard period of time. Can you talk about how life’s changed for you between then and now?
RP: The second part of the question requires so many different discussions: HIV and stigma; criminalization; isolation; poverty; HIV meds as prophylaxis; chronic problems with cardiac, kidney, bone and liver health; bug chasers; new infections…
I don’t think of myself so much as an activist but more so as someone who did not die and someone who showed up to help when asked. The most noticeable change is that the illness is manageable, not cured, but manageable
TS: We talk a lot about being allies, and I remember you talking about the importance of having allies. Who in the community do you feel needs stronger allyship?
RP: I am still very unclear on the concept of allies. Years ago when coming home from a very heated clash with police I knew that all I had to do to go back to walking freely and safely in the streets was to leave my sign in the trash and take off some political buttons. I could go back to being an anonymous white male “minding my own business.”
There are those who can not peel off the colour of their skin, their gender expression, a physical impairment…
TS: Which of the friends you’ve lost would be with you (whether you dragged them with you or not) in the Youth/Elders project if they were still alive?
RP: His name was James , tall and willowy, blond, bright blue eye. Unabashedly gay in the 80’s. He could not go one week without someone calling him faggot. He was fierce before fierce was a thing!
He was also unabashedly sober and clean and barely out of his twenties. He was one of a handful of younger gay men who fought for space in recovery rooms for those who struggled with more than alcohol. He was the youngest person I knew who died from AIDS. One of the many who went from diagnosis to dead seemingly overnight.
When the project is revived in a few years will you be on board?
TS: Hell yes! Things will be different. I’ll be an Elder. It’ll be great.
The Youth/Elders Project closes our 2016/17 Season with a limited run of performances May 31-June 4, 2017 – click here for more information.
photo by Tanja-Tiziana