Post by Courtney Powless.
Kitchen-table storyteller Ivan Coyote and country-turned-electropop musician Rae Spoon bring their show Gender Failure to Carleton University on November 22.
Apartment613 caught up with Coyote over the phone to get the scoop on the show that unwraps and unravels the gender binary and promises to make you rumble with laughter, and weep.
Apartment613: You have a seven-year artistic partnership with Rae Spoon. Was Gender Failure a long-time project, or a more spontaneous idea—how did you come to it?
Ivan Coyote: In the past, Rae and I have dealt with more mainstream subjects in our work—for me, it’s the Yukon family stories. Gender Failure is more oriented towards a queer/gender/trans audience.
We started tossing ideas around last fall. Rae came to a few of my shows in Vancouver in February of this year. We came up with a list of possible ideas and storylines—what the heart of the show would be. In late March, I went to Montreal for eight or nine days. By day, we’d practice music, songs; we’d work on the musical parts. And then I’d go back to where I was staying at night and do the writing. We performed a 45-minute preview in Manhattan in April and premiered the full show in Toronto the following night.
The show is a play on the gender binary. We’d joke that neither of us is a successful in-the-box woman, and neither of us is a successful in-the-box trans guy either. We’d both failed at both genders. So we played around with that as the theme. And more than that—with how boxes fail everybody, how they can imprison people.
Apartment613: So the show is geared towards a different audience. How is it different from your previous work, your kitchen-table stories?
Ivan Coyote: I haven’t departed from kitchen-table stories. My stories still feature intimacy and straight-forward narrative.
Rae recently published a book with Arsenal. I started playing music. We’re stepping out of our artistic boxes—Rae with text, and me with music. The show is a true blend of both of us, of music and narrative.
We’re also working with a visual artist on a series of four animations to accompany the show. The animations are of two-dimensional cut-out dolls of me and Rae, in sync with the musical elements. They’re not ready now, but they’ll be part of the show in the spring. They’re lots of fun.
Apartment613: Your stories are very accessible and they hint at larger truths. What do you see as the function of storytelling? How, through storytelling, do you craft the realities you want to see?
Ivan Coyote: Stories are about honesty. For me, storytelling is an Irish Catholic family tradition. And my stories don’t hint—they pack a one-two punch. I make you laugh, and follow up to make you emote, feel. So there’s no hinting.
What matters in storytelling is emotional honesty. Storytelling, listening to each other’s stories, is the true way to social justice, to real compassion. In my view, it’s the best tool, whether through performance, film, art or music, to teach people to honour diversity. And I have reams and reams of experience to back that up.
Apartment613: What do you want the audience to come away with?
Ivan Coyote: First of all, I want the audience to be entertained. Then, I want them to emote—to feel something, and to see part of themselves in the story. Whether they relate to it directly or not, I want them to find a path into the story that allows it to resonate with their own story.
Apartment613: Any parting words? Is there anything else we should know about you or Rae Spoon?
Ivan Coyote: I really value artistic collaboration. Rae is one of my favourite people. Their music and creative expression have expanded and changed over the years we’ve worked together. They are incredibly talented. And we’ve influenced each other’s work in positive ways. I am honoured to work with them.
Gender Failure is a fully developed show. It’s rehearsed and edited. It’s tight. But it’s still changing. We’re constantly tweaking. And that’s really exciting as an artist and creative being—to do a show that’s live.
Coyote and Spoon perform Gender Failure in the Kailash Mital Theatre in Southam Hall at Carleton University on November 22 at 7:30 pm. The public event is free.
For more details, check out the event’s Facebook page.