Tag Archives: Calgary Herald

A virus-free club in YYCgayhistory?

{The Calgary Gay History Project has hunkered down at home, doing our part for social distancing in Canada. As a distraction, we’re diving deep into local AIDS history over the next few weeks to explore how Calgarians reacted to this earlier pandemic.}

In May 1987, four years after the first case of HIV was diagnosed in Calgary, local entrepreneurs Ross Anderson and Terry Daley attempted to start an AIDS-free private club. An initial advertisement received interest from more than 300 Calgarians who wanted to join.

The club concept included dining and dancing areas, a night club and a gym. To join, people would pay $300 and need to have two tests for the virus, one when they applied and the next one eight weeks later. There was also an ongoing testing schedule proposed, which was never finalized.

Doug Morin, the executive director of AIDS Calgary, disapproved. He explained that people who join the club might be at a higher risk of catching the disease than people who don’t.

“It spreads like wildfire when everyone assumes he’s OK. It’s so scary when people stick their heads in the sand, and don’t worry about it. The test is only good for the day it’s taken,” Morin added.

AIDS Vigil Calgary 1987

Calgary AIDS Vigil, March 22, 1987. Photo: David Lazarowych, Calgary Herald

Anderson, in an interview in the Calgary Herald, said he did not know exactly when the club would open or where it would be.

“The fear of AIDS affects everybody. People like yourself and myself are inhibited about making contact. We want to provide a situation so [people] can act normally,” Anderson clarified. He mused that setting up the club would not be easy, and they would not be able to provide absolute health guarantees to clubgoers.

At the time, 33 people had been diagnosed with AIDS in Calgary.

{KA}

Self-isolating? Free Book!

Dear Calgary Gay History Supporters,

It is distressing to find our world so disrupted by pandemic. With social distancing and closing borders, we will likely find ourselves with much more time at home. Reading has always been a favourite pastime and retreat for me. Now that we may find bookstores and libraries closed, it occurred to us, that we could assist our fellow Calgarians by providing free PDF downloads of Our Past Matters: Stories of Gay Calgary.

The book, which was on the Calgary Herald’s local best-seller list in 2019, explores our city’s LGBTQ2 past. In it, you will find stories of resiliency and courage, darkness and light. If reading Our Past Matters would bring you any comfort, distraction, education, or delight, email Kevin at calgarygayhistory@gmail.com with the subject line: “PDF please” and we will send you a copy.

Our Past Matters EBook Cover

Write “PDF Please” for a free copy!

Calgarians have a long tradition of taking care of each other. This was perfectly illustrated a few days ago by Sam Hester’s Pulling Together-Even as We Move Apart in the Sprawl.

Please take care and give support, as you are able, to our self-isolating elders, who often are the keepers of our stories.

To a hopeful future!

{KA}

 

It Gets Louder: YYC’s Proud Theatre History

{Kevin is on a book tour currently in Toronto and Ottawa – check out dates/times: here!}

I was fortunate to be invited to the opening night of The Louder We Get. The musical is Theatre Calgary’s exploration of a true story, which was precedent-setting for the LGBTQ2 human rights struggle in Canada. The Louder We Get portrays the 2002 battle between high school student Marc Hall and the Durham Catholic School Board. The drama inherent in the story is whether Marc will be able to take his boyfriend to prom. His legal case made Canadian and international headlines – and he won – making for a triumphant ending. The long-standing ovation and visibly moved audience at opening night augers well for a long-life for The Louder We Get: go see it!

Louder Cast

The artists of The Louder We Get celebrating on Opening Night

Calgary’s theatre community has been brave historically in showcasing gay stories, even when there was public hostility to their staging. Furthermore, the theatre was one of the earliest safe places for gay people to find work and also be open about their lives. For example, Ken McBane, a Theatre Calgary set designer was one of the five founders of Calgary’s Club Carousel in 1970. It was Ken who came up with the circus-themed look of the Club, and the Carousel was the site of many performances of musicals, plays, and stage-nights.

Roger Perkins

A “Stage Night” at Club Carousel circa 1972

The Loose Moose Theatre Company, founded in 1977, was an early adopter of gay content in Calgary. In March 1980, it co-produced with Gay Information and Resources Calgary (GIRC), Fortune and Men’s Eyes at the Pumphouse Theatre.

Fortune and Men’s Eyes is a play set in a Canadian prison for youth and deals with society’s injustice towards gay people. Written in Canada’s Centennial Year, 1967, by John Herbert, the play shocked audiences and helped force Canadian society to acknowledge the existence and rights of homosexuals.

In 1991, Theatre Calgary presented a highly lauded production of playwright David Stevens’ The Sum of Us. Described as frank, funny and touching, the play explored the relationship between a widowed father and his gay son, set in a working-class suburb of Melbourne, Australia.

Theatre Calgary secured impressive talent for their production. Gordon Pinsent played the widower Harry, and Ted Atherton, his son Jeff. Theatre director Eric Steiner was engaged to bring The Sum of Us to the Canadian stage. Steiner, who came to Calgary, via Stratford, Chicago and Toronto had worked with Theatre Calgary before, directing The Normal Heart in 1986, one of the first plays about AIDS ever presented in the city.

Playwright Stevens was on the record that the Theatre Calgary production was the finest his play had been given. And Calgary audiences liked it too; the show tripled its expected revenues at the box office. Theatre Calgary then leveraged its success and opened the play in Toronto that November at the Bathurst Street Theatre for an open-ended commercial run.

The gay play that attracted the most controversy in Calgary was Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP) staging of Angels in America in 1996. Before even opening, the play attracted a wagonload of controversy. “Why are taxpayers still having to hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars to a company that stages a self-indulgent production many feel is abhorrent? It is simply not right,” expressed the Calgary Sun.

Calgary-Shaw Tory MLA Jon Havelock suggested that plays offending community standards should not receive public funding. He added, “It seems to me that in some instances people confuse sexual expression with artistic expression.” Calgary-Fish Creek Tory MLA Heather Forsyth called Angels obscene and about ATP said: “If they can’t come up with better shows than this, maybe they shouldn’t be getting funding.”

There were heartfelt published defenses of Angels in America too. A well-known educator, Dariel Bateman, wrote a guest column in the Calgary Herald. She described the play as: “a glorious opportunity to stare down despair, to make sense of things, as we must.”

Ultimately, ATP found themselves rewarded. The controversy put extra bums in seats and attracted almost $50,000 in individual “Angels Consortium” donations. The play doubled expected ticket revenues and was sold out in its final weeks—setting audience records for the company.

{KA}