There was almost 45 years between the first edition of the groundbreaking gay magazine The Body Politic and the 2015 announcement that its publishing successor, Pink Triangle Press, would no longer be offering print editions of its queer newspaper Xtra.
Yet while the queer print world caught wind of the loss, Toronto-based theatre company lemonTree creations had already been working for three years to develop a play tracing the origins of The Body Politic to spread a greater understanding of its significance to a younger generation.
“The initial impetus for the project came out of a random meeting with [Body Politic writer] Gerald Hannon,” said Indrit Kasapi, Artistic Producer at lemonTree creations. “When he started telling us about his life and The Body Politic, we were all incredibly excited to have learned so much about our collective queer history.”
Body Politic centres on a fictional founding member of the publication, who shares his recollections of the time to a much younger man during a sexual encounter, highlighting the chasm between their definitions of queer identity and politics. The play was critically acclaimed and in 2017 won the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play.
“One of the reasons why we wanted to produce this play was to give other young queers the opportunity to learn something about our queer past, and it became extremely important that the production was accessible to as many young Toronto queers as possible,” said Kasapi. To achieve this, lemonTree took on the challenge of providing full ASL interpretation and audio description, ensuring all blind and deaf audience members could take in the work.
In 2016, they applied for a Foundation Rainbow Grant to fund these accessibility measures, and had the application trusteed by the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives – apropos as the CLGA was originally founded by The Body Politic’s editorial collective.
The trusteeing option for Foundation Rainbow Grants is available to individuals and organizations who are not registered charities but require funding above and beyond what our General Grants provide. The trustee holds accountability and is responsible for distributing the funds, still allowing the producer freedom to realize their vision without compromise.
The Foundation Rainbow Grant enabled lemonTree to hire consultants for best practices in reaching the blind and deaf communities, as well as two audio describers and three ASL interpreters, two of whom were deaf themselves.
“The grant made accessibility entirely possible,” said Kasapi. “Deaf interpretation for theatre shows is pretty new, as typically interpretation was performed by hearing individuals who learned ASL. This challenge was easier to overcome with the right Deaf Community Consultant on the project. They were able to lead us to the right people, who then ended up taking on the project and did it so much justice.
“lemonTree prides itself in being an equity-seeking theatre company, and with the accessibility portion of Body Politic, we were able to show to our communities and audiences that accessibility is important to us and that we are invested to make sure our art is not exclusionary. This grant supported this goal and has in a way helped shift the perspective and expectations of public theatre.”
Kaspari and lemonTree are currently hard at work on two new productions, both of which focus on stories from diverse backgrounds – The Blood Cycle shines a light on the blood feuds in Northern Albania, while their adaptation of the classic queer play Lilies by Michel Marc Bouchard will cast Black, Indigenous, Trans and Diverse performers, reflecting the high incarceration rates of those communities in Canadian prisons.