We’re thrilled to present the recipients of our 2020 Queer Emerging Artists Awards, a group whose practices range broadly across artistic mediums and . Usually awarded to one artist per year, this year’s expanded award came in response to the intensified precarity of being an artist during the pandemic. Click on the photos below to learn more about each of their work.
The award includes a $1000 prize as well as a $500 stipend towards professional development, which recipients are using for everything from courses, to mentorship opportunities and equipment costs to help further their practice.
“This year’s recipients not only represent the wonderful queer talent present in Toronto’s live performance ecology, but also how embedded community building and community care are within a queer arts practice. With that, I’d like to congratulate this year’s recipients for the work they have accomplished thus far and extend my gratitude for the work they have done, and continue to do, for our queer communities,” says Interim Programming Director Daniel Carter.
The Buddies Queer Emerging Artists Awards seeks to recognize and encourage the achievements of queer artists who are founding careers in the arts while engaging with the community. This year’s selection committee was made up of Daniel Carter, Steph Raposo, Ty Sloane, and Dainty Smith.
Originally made possible by a gift from the estate of John Alan Lee, this year’s expanded awards are funded through the Kingfisher Foundation.
Ajahnis Charley is a Toronto-based writer and performer delivering comedy with the exuberance only a young debt-ridden gay could have. He wrote and directed the short doc I AM GAY, produced by the National Film Board of Canada. He has written for The Beaverton and the CBC Comedy Podcast Tony Ho and is an alum of Canadian Comedy Award-winning sketch troupe The Sketchersons. He has written and performed his own solo sketch show THOTS & PRAYERS and won the Producer’s Pick award at the 2020 Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival.
Alexi Pedneault is a queer second generation Filipino-Canadian Multi-disciplinary artist that specializes in shrinkfilm sculptures and performs Burlesque as Kuya Atay (he/him/they/them). Originally grew up in central alberta, he has been living in toronto since 2012. Much of his work uses nostalgia, queer communities, and being mixed race. As one of the newest members of BoylesqueTO, he has recently been performing in livestream quarantine shows such as STAY HOMO and NAKED BOYS EATING. Upcoming projects will explore more of filipino culture in queerlesque, and combining the visual arts with the burly performative tease.
Alten is a multidisciplinary artist and apostle of Call Me By Your Name. He is the founder of Unwrap Theatre, where he continues to learn, create, and share with his communities. In his teenage years, he founded Voices Over Time – a troupe that provided free concerts for long-term care facilities. He has worked with companies from coast to coast, performing in two Dora Award winning productions and receiving a Denny Award from the KW Arts Awards. He is a recent graduate of Sheridan College, where he remains an active leader in anti-racism research and thought leadership. Looking forward, Alten continues to explore how contemporary dance can be more deeply utilized as a narrative device, and remains curious about the biracial experience, intimate love in friendships, and his fear of parenting…
Aria Evans (POLITICAL MOVEMENT)
Aria Evans is a queer, Toronto-based, award winning interdisciplinary artist whose practice spans dance; creation, performance and film. Aria draws on their experiences with Afro-Indigenous + settler heritage to capture meaningful social and cultural themes through their interactive art. With a large-scale vision, collaboration is the departure point to the work that Aria creates under their company POLITICAL MOVEMENT. Advocating for inclusion and the representation of diversity, Aria use their artistic practice to question the ways we can coexist together.
photo by Eirene Cloma
dance, burlesque, screenwriting
Beeta Senedjani is an artist based in Toronto where she lovingly tends to her houseplants. She has made two short experimental films on themes of human connection, othering and sexuality, and received an award at Scarborough Arts’ annual juried exhibition in 2019. Beeta occasionally writes for Kajal magazine. She has a secret life where she performs burlesque as her alter ego Kareena Pussy Couture, co-founding Silk Burlesque with Ola Minou to produce queer and Middle Eastern-centered burlesque shows. Beeta is currently working on a comedic screenplay about being brown in the wellness industry. She frequently fantasizes about a better world.
Brock Hessel sometimes goes by broke hassle, brawk ward, howhen, hamlet (not that one), amy winerack, Max Q. Lynne (very feminine), @fartfegg and broccoli (only if you think it is necessary). Brock is a white settler and a genderqueer fag that uses they/them pronouns. Brock is also a recovering addict, proudly mad, and a careworker. Their work has been featured frequently at Video Fag, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Glad Day Bookshop. They are also a collective member of the community arts space, Unit 2, as well as the Bricks and Glitter Festival. While Brock is very grateful for this award and these last 5 years of work and artistic nourishment from Buddies, they know that Buddies has a history of harm and has left a number of BIPOC and other marginalized artists behind—a recently formed collective of 21 to be exact. Brock is looking forward to Buddies beginning a transformational justice process with these artists and this process’s potential to help Buddies form an ethics of care and a truly collective and radical governance model for its future. Brock is also grateful to our queer, trans and 2S ancestors and to the traditional First Nations stewards of this land on which they can babble and dabble in acting, awkwardness, critical theory, drag, lewks, and poetry.
Ganesh is a Tamil-Canadian actor, writer and producer. With a degree in marketing, he leverages his business acumen to support his artistic career. He takes mundane everyday stories like family feuds or love affairs and shows them from underrepresented perspectives. As the first-generation son of immigrants, he has always been fascinated with how humanity copes with change and adversity. He especially enjoys exploring these experiences at the intersection of various identities, such as race, socio-economic status and sexuality. He hopes to use his lens as a South Asian creative to create more space for other diverse voices to be heard.
Kamika Peters is a multi-disciplinary artist born in the Algonquin Territories to guardians from the Caribbean. While working as a community artist, some sites of their exploration have been Project Creative Users, Sketch Working Arts, d’bi young anitafrika’s Watah Theatre, ILL NANA DIVERSECITY DANCE COMPANY, and The Drag Musical. As an emerging culture maker, they feel esteemed by this award to continue working at opening up in the art disciplines. Kamika sends many gratitudes to all involved and looks forward to the future and the genius of collective.
Kwaku Okyere is a Ghanaian-Canadian multidisciplinary theatre artist. He was named an Artist to Watch in NOW Magazine, and received the MyTheatre Critics’ Pick Award for Outstanding Actor in a Small Production for originating the role of Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin in Steven Elliot Jackson’s award-winning play, The Seat Next to the King. Most recently, Kwaku played Oberon in the Dora-nominated ensemble of Theatre Rusticle’s acclaimed swan song production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Kwaku is also an emerging director, most notably having assisted acclaimed director and now Obsidian’s Artistic Director Mumbi Tindyebwa-Otu on her multiple award-winning production of The Brothers Size for Soulpepper Theatre Company. Kwaku looks forward to continuing his journey as a director.
lwrds is a cosmic force
black and brown afroindigenous blood
artist, shapeshifter, and keeper of a slutty heart
they’re a nonbinary genderhealing dream
mixed with ancestral wrath
ماهر سنّو Maher Sinno
Maher | ماهر (They/He) is a performer, filmmaker, and drag artist based in Tkaronto and has worked with organizations like Buddies, Theatre Passe Muraille, & Cahoots Theatre. Maher has also performed with companies across Canada; namely, Fifi/Zidan in The Green Line (Edmonton Fringe Festival), Ali in Tales of a City By The Sea (Theatre Passe Muraille/Tkaronto), & Abe in 76 Centimeters (St John’s Short Plays Festival). Currently, Maher is writing a play titled Mhajjir/مهاجر, while volunteering for Pride TO & ACT. Maher’s work centers anti-oppression and decolonization with a focus on sustainable equity practices in Theatre.
Merlin Simard (iel/elle/they/she) is a disabled, Franco-Ontarian, queer, trans-feminine performer, playwright, dramaturge, and filmmaker originally from Tiohtiá:ke (Montréal) now based in Tkarón:to (Toronto). Select theatre performance credits: E-TRANSFERS (Buddies In Bad Times/BCurrent/NTS), Curious Voyage (Talk Is Free Theatre/DLT), The Flick (Crow’s Theatre/Outside The March), Tape Escape (Outside The March), FEAR OF MEN ((Staged Reading) Assembly Theatre) and Gruesome Playground Injuries (Playground Productions) TV/Film: Grand Army (Netflix), This Life (CBC) Playwriting: FEAR OF MEN (in development at Theatre Passe Muraille), ZADDY ISSUES (In development at Ergo Arts Theatre) and E-TRANSFERS (Buddies In Bad Times/BCurrent/NTS (co-written with Gabe Maharjan)). Merlin currently holds the position of Dramturgy Intern at Theatre Passe Muraille.
photo by Mark Binks
Anishinaabe, Nipissing First Nation
Olivia Shortt is a Tkarón:to-based trans-disciplinary performing artist. They are a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, noisemaker, improviser, composer, sound designer, curator, administrator, artist manager, and producer.
Highlights include their Lincoln Center (NYC) debut performing with the International Contemporary, their Australian debut in 2017, their film debut performing in Atom Egoyan’s 2019 film Guest of Honour, as well as recording an album two kilometres underground in the SnoLAB (Neutrino Lab in Sudbury, Canada).
They are a 2020 cohort member of the Musical Stage Co.’s RBC Apprentice Program and were part of Why Not Theatre’s ThisGEN Fellowship, and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s Emerging Creators Unit.
photo by Alejandro Santiago
Pree aka Sticky Mangos
Pree is an artist educator currently based in Tkaronto, originally from Tiohtià:ke. They’re a child of immigrant settlers from Punjab. They have an interdisciplinary arts practice under the name: Sticky Mangos, with visual arts pieces inspired by nature, selfhood and community care. Pree also facilitates arts-based workshops, makes short films, performs drag (as @GayramMasala) and engages in community organizing. They cofounded the Non-Binary Colour Collective, and currently organize with WAYF (Where Are You From collective).
Robbie Ahmed is a writer, musician, creator and workshop facilitator. He writes and sings on the intersections of self-love, family, trans rights, migration, and healing. His work was featured in Nuance, Pills Don’t Come in My Skin Tone, Rest4Resistance, Kros magazine, the Living Hyphen and Naked Heart Festival. He has also played at Toronto’s Storyteller’s Festival, Pride Toronto, Gladstone hotel, and has co-written with a few Canadian artists. Outside of the art world, his advocacy work involved sitting on the board of directors for a ethno-racial mental agency advocating for QTBIPOC mental health services & working on action-research project for trans inclusion in the HIV sector in Ontario. Today, he works as an artist educator to uplift immigrant & trans voices, and is one of the organizers with WAYF (Where are you From) collective an arts activism program for pan-Asian youth running the “Decolonizing Gender” project.
Shohana Sharmin is a Bangladeshi-Canadian artist, and a proud Muslim queer woman of colour. She is a creator and cast member of the critically acclaimed award-winning dark sketch comedy revue, Dead Parents Society. A member of Buddies in Bad Times theatre’s 2019 Emerging Creators Unit, Nightwood Theatre’s 2019 Young Innovators program, and b current Theatre’s 2019 bcHUB Emerging Artists cohort, Shohana presented her first solo show Come Here Often? as part of 2019 Queer Pride at Buddies. She has performed in comedy and theatre festivals across North America with her award-winning troupe Not Oasis (2017 The Toronto Fringe Patrons Pick, NOW Critics’ Pick). She wishes she could be more like her mother.
Sofia Fly is a DJ/Producer/Vocalist from Toronto. Named one of NOW Magazine’s “artists to watch in 2020” her music features poetic party-girl lyrics set to a Latin inspired fusion of trap and house music. A Trans woman and Queer nightlife Queen, she frequently DJs across the city playing sets built around her own signature remixes and beats. Her debut EP “Rosé” released in 2019 and her latest single “Put In That Werk” are available on all music streaming platforms.
theatre and live creation performance
Stella Kulagowski is an actor, producer, creator and dancer. She has produced 3 years of sold-out Toronto Fringe productions: Lysistrata (2017), Carmilla (2018) and Mayhem at Miskatonic (2019). Stella also produced, choreographed, and performed in the ‘Shakesqueer’ adaptation, Ill Met by Moonlight.
Stella moonlights as award-winning burlesque performer ‘St. Stella’, twice performing at the Burlesque Hall of Fame. Currently, Stella is producing and performing in a digital cabaret and ‘web-crawl’ funded by the Canada Council for the Arts; Pointed Cap Cabaret premieres in early December. Stella also Game-Masters live-play Dungeons and Dragons stream Charisma Mod, produced by Comic Sans (comicsansproductions.ca).
photo by Sly Pereira
musical theatre performance
Tan Vu is a musical theatre performer. Originally from Vietnam, Tan had performed in musical, opera, and theatre projects before moving to New York to train at American Musical & Dramatic Academy under a scholarship. Since relocating to Toronto in November 2019 as Canadian permanent resident, Tan has performed as tenor lead in choirs and participated in projects with Toronto Operetta Theatre and Summer Opera Lyric Theatre.
During COVID shutdown, Tan has been training under the tutelage of DORA award-winning director/choreographer Stephanie Graham (thanks to Toronto Arts Council’s Strategic Funding), director David Connolly, actor David Leyshon, and soprano Hellen Cho.