Last Saturday, I was at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre to see The Gay Heritage Project. After a great night in the theatre, I was talking with Paul Dunn, one of the three creator/performers, about the show’s intentions. It has a wide title that could hold a number of things in its embrace. While in discussion with Paul – I was moved by a memory of his brilliance and delicacy in productions of Robin Fulford’s Steel Kiss and Gulag that I directed in rep while Artistic Director at Buddies.
Throughout the performance my mind spiralled out to so many moments that were touched on, or acted as springboard to, my own heritage construction. Ultimately I settled on the feeling that the creators’ shared wish was to make love to the audience, because I felt better as I left the theatre than I did when I arrived. This seemed to line up with what Paul felt they were doing with the show too. I felt held by their desire to celebrate and uncover materials (matter) of a shared gay heritage. I also felt jostled by the nature of heritage and its essential ephemera, especially as it pertains to largely non-procreative family trees.
I saw the show on Saturday December 7, 2013. It was a year to the day that Patrick Conner, one of the giants in my life, died. I wish I could say that I planned this memorializing event or even that I recognized it while sitting in the theatre. But as with the imperfection of real narrative in conversation with wished for narrative, I only realized this the next day. Moments are easy to miss.
Patrick had been ill for about 6 months and succumbed, in the middle of the night, in the company of his mother and his husband, Andrew, to the ravages of liver cancer. I still can’t believe that he’s not here: that we did not – for example – get the chance to talk about our responses to The Gay Heritage Project. We both knew so many of the people in the audience that night and would have had much to talk about regarding the unstoppable energy of the show’s creators. And too, we would have shared an admittedly quite strange pride about director Ashlie Corcoran’s connection to Kingston, and her commitment to The Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque. We would have had a lively time following that Saturday night performance –no doubt. What a difference a year makes.
Patrick was there at the beginning of my career. He was in the very first major directorial success I had; Chicago and he starred in Kennedy’s Children, in my 1st theatre: The Baby Grand. Both of these were in Kingston. I am from Montreal, spent many years in Toronto, a few in Vancouver and a year in Paris, but I now live there, in Kingston (and Ottawa too). While Patrick claimed Kingston as where he was from (and he was born there) but as a one year old, he with his family moved to Sackville, New Brunswick, and though the family returned to Kingston, Patrick spent the balance of his adult life in Toronto.
This is important because Toronto has a hole in it where a Patrick used to be. I cannot be the only one missing his remarks on recent Rob Fordian events. Nor, I’m sure, am I the only one missing his dry rejoinders about all manner of incivility surrounding us at every turn. His response – for example – to the Sochi Olympics is missing from the front lines, or his well-structured outrage to the demise of public transit, indeed his legendary critique of (pick any show and imagine a moment) is leaving me devoid of a bon mot that I would traditionally have recounted from his lips to your ears.
Also there are the shows he would have been in and directed this year. And the next film he likely would have directed. Add to this the inroads he would have made with organics and sustainability and the bitching he would have done about how – in his view – each of his successes, (things like the green roof at The Big Carrot) were not being followed through on, in the exact and precise way that he would have wanted. In short there is a lot of loss and a lot of missing. And the hole that was left behind is, on certain days extremely large, and on others very small, and on all days, impossible to hold or to grasp.
About three weeks before Patrick died, Andrew and I pulled out pictures and the three of us looked at them together. Patrick was very ill by this point. In one of the pictures we saw a young shiny Patrick in a rehearsal hall with a couple of well-known Canadian actors (by “well known” I mean to people working in the theatre) and Patrick made a comment about how – in the future – the two actors would be named and he would be referred to as “unknown”. It was then and there that the idea for the Patrick Conner Award was born. In an unusual chain of events, I was able to float the idea by Andrew, to see if he felt it was something Patrick would approve of, and then from there I was able to ask Andy to speak with Patrick about it. I do not know what was said but I do know that Patrick knew that this was going to happen and this was very important to me.
I saw Patrick one more time after the decision was made to move forward with the award. It was less than a week before he died. It was an extraordinary evening filled with strength and weakness and one of the most beautiful performances by a extraordinary man of what it is to cheat death through a determination to prove our powers just one more time. And it was a night that I was able to share many of the words that I had only the courage to use because it was so close to the end. We talked about the award. Or at least I said it would happen. And it has.
The Patrick Conner Awards were launched shortly following Patrick’s death and last August we celebrated the inaugural recipients, Estelle Shook and James Davis. The winners are making huge contributions to both the performing arts and sustainability and were each awarded $2500.00. The ceremony was held on the Green Roof at The Big Carrot. The committee, for which I serve as chair, is made up of a wide and beautiful group of people who share both a love for Patrick and a desire to see the world shaped in a way that was important to him.
The next deadline for submission is March 10, 2014 (again without purpose, this landed serendipitously on Patrick’s birthday) and the 2nd Awards Ceremony will be held on August 18, 2014. Information regarding the award can be found here