The Gay Heritage Project

Paul Dunn, Andrew Kushnir and Damien Atkins Credit: Guntar  Kravis
Left-right: Paul Dunn, Andrew Kushnir and Damien Atkins
Credit: Guntar Kravis


At The Cultch until March 19, 2016

Posted March 13, 2016

Seeing this production of The Gay Heritage Project back-to-back with The Hooker Monologues brought up similarities between gays and sex workers: they share long histories of persecution and lifestyles that are heavily stigmatized. Of course, it’s accepted that homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice but is biologically determined; that’s not the case with sex workers.

What is clear is that both communities are on the march for tolerance and recognition.

One good way to establish legitimacy is to uncover historical roots and that is what The Gay Heritage Project sets out to do. Potential audiences have been bewildered by the title. Is it a documentary? A history lesson? An interactive theatre experience? What is it?

Directed by Ashlie Corcoran, three young gay writers/actors (Paul Dunn, Andrew Kushnir and Damien Atkins), using song, dance, sketches and projections, go back in time and place to reveal the history of homosexuality: acceptance in some cultures (i.e. the Greeks), discrimination in others. Woven into this historical journey are their personal stories beginning with lanky Damien Atkins (as a youngster) recreating Brian Orser’s 1988 World Figure Skating long programme sans skates in the family living room. “I’ve told you not to skate in the living room”, complains his mother while his sister simply rolls her eyes.


Andrew Kushnir, Damien Atkins and Paul Dunn Credit: Guntar Kravis
Andrew Kushnir, Damien Atkins and Paul Dunn
Credit: Guntar Kravis

Andrew Kushnir, of Ukrainian ancestry, googles “Ukraine” and “Gay” and gets nothing. “Ukraine” and “Homosexuality” – still nothing. Does that mean there are no gays in Ukraine? Later he meets a couple of Ukrainian actors who are amazed to find not only are there gays in Canada but there are also gay theatre companies. “Do they [the straights] know it’s a gay theatre company?” That, of course, gets a huge laugh since everyone in the audience has parted with cash to see this show, a production of Buddies In Bad Times, Canada’s most celebrated gay theatre company.

Dunn, whose background is Irish/Scottish, does a great turn delivering a song while pretending to play the bodhran, the fiddle and step-dance simultaneously. He also makes a terrific Margaret Atwood with his curled fingers as her trademark fuzzy hair. Some of the harmonies developed in the trio singing a cappella throughout the show are simply gorgeous.

There are more than one hundred characters in The Gay Heritage Project all played by this highly energetically, hugely talented trio. That’s a lot to absorb. And highlights of more than two thousands years of history are also a lot. The multitude of references – familiar to the LGBTQ community – don’t always resonate with the straights in the audiences. In a flurry of projected names of celebrities who are or were gay, I got about a third of them.

And the show has a ‘theatre school exercise’ to it which is fine and entertaining and certainly well done, but an hour and forty-five minutes of this presentation style begins to wear thin.

Andrew Kushnir Credit: Guntar Kravis
Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn and Andrew Kushnir
Credit: Guntar Kravis

Highlights for me, obviously, were the references I did get. I loved Dunn, Atkins and Kushnir sharing which character from The Golden Girls each of them would choose to be. Although I’m sick to death of Dorothy and Toto, the Wizard of Oz sketch is clever and what’s not to love about God creating Adam and Eve and then discovering there were gays, too. He hadn’t, he said, had this much fun in “millennia”.

It’s never fair to criticize a show for what it isn’t. But I wanted it to go deeper which it did only on occasion. That was not Atkins, Kushnir and Dunn’s intention.

The Hooker Monologues, on the other hand, changed my perspective; that’s what’s exciting about theatre and it’s thrilling when it happens.