Over the holidays, we had a chance to catch up with one of our many amazing 2020 Rainbow Grant recipients, The Concerned Kids. Check out our interview below with Executive Director Daven Seebarran!
Daven, could you tell us a little about the initiative your 2020 Rainbow Grant has supported?
The Rainbow Grant generously supported our “Gender Identity, Attraction & Orientation Puppetry Project.” The project goal is to create three educational puppetry performances to be researched, developed, and tested by a group of queer arts professionals and writing experts, eventually to be performed for school children.
We developed a 10-week virtual series called the “Drag Academy,” and a podcast called the “TCK Gender Journeys” to research our scripts. We are currently working with a group of scriptwriters to develop a series of scripts for our school-based program.
An unexpected outcome of the project was the establishment of the Drag Academy. Interest from drag performers and LGBTQ+ artists have encouraged us to support those artists in establishing a collective. The Drag Academy is now a collective of local drag performers. The academy is designed to elevate Drag as an art form. Members of the collective share their expertise in immersive courses. The course is designed for those with zero experience with Drag to those who have been in the industry for years. We are working with the collective to secure additional funding for 2021.
Was there a particular thing that sparked this idea/initiative?
The idea to develop the scripts came after consultations with educators from the local school boards. They identified the need for education on issues related to gender and LGBTQ+ programming.
After chatting with a few local drag performers and hearing about the impacts of COVID-19 on their ability to earn an income, we decided to work closely with as many drag performers in developing the curriculum for the Drag Academy. We reached out to 9 local performers, including Priyanka, winner of Canada’s Drag Race, and we invited a contestant from RuPaul’s Drag Race (Ra’Jah O’Hara).
What was your goal in making this initiative happen?
TCK has a 31-year history, performing to more than 600,000 children in the Greater Toronto Area. We present various issues, including mental health, bully prevention, accepting differences, and substance use. In 2019, after multiple requests from the schools, we started developing a series on gender expression and family diversity.
Our goal is to present authentic stories written by 2SLGBTQ+ writers and performed by LGBTQ+ actors to children in the elementary school system. We wanted to ensure that lived experiences inspired the stories we were telling. To do this, we engaged with a queer artist who is developing three stories based on what we heard at the Drag Academy and the Gender Journey Podcast.
Our overall goal is to start the conversation on gender expression, gender identity, and family diversity. We want to tell stories that promote diversity and fosters inclusion.
Many organizations have been faced with a set of new challenges, due to COVID-19. How is your team adapting?
Initially, we were to engage with GSAs in York Region and TDSB. Due to COVID-19, we needed to pivot the program to a virtual format. An outcome of the project was to develop a series of activities to engage with youth.
After our discussion with local drag performers impacted by COVID-19, we decided to develop our activities to employ local 2SLGBTQ+ performers.
Each performer was asked to create a structured 2-hour “class.” The classes included instructional classes (drag queen makeup, drag king makeup, special effects makeup, hair, body, and costume design). We also had 4 Master Classes on topics such as character development, writing & comedy.
We pivoted the program from an in-person format to Zoom. Over the ten sessions, we were able to reach over 175 participants locally and internationally. During each class, the instructors discussed their drag journeys and touched on gender identity. They encouraged participants to share their own stories.
COVID-19 encouraged our response to be innovative. The success of the drag academy exceeded everyone’s expectations.
What has the response/impact been like so far?
The response has been incredible. The program stats include:
The program response has been overwhelmingly positive.
How do you see this project evolving into 2021?
With the overwhelming response, we have decided to move forward with the Drag Academy. After the project, the academy will establish itself as a collective. In November 2020, a meeting was held, and 24 2SLGBTQ+ artists participate. Each of these artists has identified a desire to teach some aspect of Drag from performance to the business of Drag’ (producing, marketing, branding). The goal is to elevate the queer artform of Drag.
In January 2021, we will be hosting a series of fundraisers to help sustain the organization. Our goal is to raise $15,000 to support the academy. In January 2021, we will be having a 4-week course on corset making. These classes will be paid classes, with all funds supporting the future sessions of the academy.
A leadership team has been established at the academy. They are working on designing and implementing the Spring 2021 classes.
Is there any other projects coming up that you’d like to share with our supporters?
Having developed a roster of 2SLGBTQ+ artists, we are now working on a community art project. We are in the conception phase of the project. The project draws inspiration from the Broadway production of Avenue Q.
We are working with queer script writers to develop a live stage show featuring 2SLGBTQ+ puppet characters. The show will explore the intersections of gender, sexuality, and race. The goal would be to produce the show and present it at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Fringe Festivals throughout Ontario. The stage show will feature 2SLGBTQ+ actors.
Stay tuned for more Community One Foundation Success Story interviews coming soon!