PuSh Blog

Identity as a queer artist & representation at PuSh

June 14, 2024

To say I grew up at PuSh may be an exaggeration in the literal sense. However, I was fortunate enough to realize a critical part of myself at the festival: my identity as a queer artist. Like many of my colleagues from the contemporary arts programs at Simon Fraser University, I was infatuated with the Festival and the vast selection of innovative performances it offered. Daunted by the calibre of the work and my self-perceived lack of expertise, I only attended the occasional show; I partook in just enough to satisfy my artistic appetite while remaining detached enough that my imposter syndrome wasn’t triggered. I didn’t want to overinvest myself in a field where I didn’t feel like I ultimately belonged. Luckily, PuSh was alluring enough that I never strayed too far away. 

She, Mami Wata & The Pussy Witchhunt by D’biyoung Anitafrika

In 2017, I decided to join the PuSh Youth Academy, as it was the last year I was eligible. It was my first deep dive into the Festival and it was also the same year that Jordan Tannahill’s Concord Floral was presented at PuSh. Concord Floral and Jordan Tannahill left a remarkable impression on me. Tannahill opened my eyes to the boundless potential of queer arts and queer artists—I was hooked. I realized that the complexity of queerness is not just in how we navigate our relationship to love, but also in our relationship to our body, to the world, and to those we occupy space with. I was fascinated by how queer perspectives see our everyday reality and how my own experience compared. I have returned year after year since then to witness incredible queer performances: Fakeknot by HinkyPunk; Opening Party with Kimmortal & Immigrant Lessons by Kimmortal and Immigrant Lessons; She, Mami Wata & The Pussy Witchhunt by D’biyoung Anitafrika, Agit-Pop by Pearle Harbour. 

In 2020, my journey had a full circle moment when I stepped into a consultant role at the last minute for Portrait of My DNA by House of La Douche. Getting to assist in the creation of a queer performance for the PuSh audience was incredibly emotional for me because I knew the impact that it could have on its spectators—I was once on the other side. Yet, my contribution as a consultant was only a minor thread in the rich tapestry that is the legacy of queer representation at PuSh.

Portrait of My DNA by House of La Douche

Local companies like Zee Zee Theatre and the frank theatre, have been championing provocative and radically creative queer arts at PuSh for many years and continue to do so. Previous artistic leaders have brought in invigorating national and international queer performances. To name a few: Songs of Resilience by Queer Songbook Orchestra, Let’s not beat each other to Death by The Accidental Mechanics Group, The Christeene Machine by Christeene, and The Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook or Comparison is Violence by Taylor Mac. 

Taylor Mac’s The Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook

Now in 2024, I currently serve as the Vice-Chair of the board at PuSh. My decision to step into this role was deeply influenced by my admiration for the artistry that was showcased through this platform. My experience at the festival didn’t just ignite my passion for the arts, but also my pride in being a queer artist. I’m so grateful for all those who’ve enhanced the festival with queer works. I hope we can honour their legacy and keep nurturing PuSh as a platform where queer artists can blossom on stage and off. 

By Johnny Wu