The 10th Annual Hamilton Fringe Festival: “Borderland”

This Year saw the Celebration of 10 Years of Fringing in Hamilton.

The Festival ran from July 18th to July 28th. There were 47 plays running over the course of those 11 days. There was something for Everyone. There were musicals, aerialists, drama, comedy, and a show of some of the best talents, that The Fringe has ever seen.
I was in a unique position for this Year’s festivities.

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Not only was I a part of it, through  My position as SMM for The Pearl Company, (they were a BYOV this year), but also because I had the opportunity, to assist in the promotion of one of the Plays.   Three months prior to the start of The Fringe Festival,  I was contacted by a Twitter Friend,  Janis Lacouvee.   She knew a Young Man who was going to have a submission this Year.   She thought  that perhaps I could help Him ,with a bit of promotion.   Hamilton was one of His stops, and My Hometown.   I happily obliged, and this is how I came to know Izad Etemadi.   His play Borderland, was voted both Critics Choice and Best in Venue at Theatre Aquarius.    Izad, is a graduate of the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria, where he studied musical theatre.   Etemadi also completed the musical theatre program at the Banff Arts Centre, and has studied voice for most of his life. Simply put, he can sing.

Borderland is a Play which was described as one of the Year’s “Top Picks”.

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About a Gay Iranian man,  on the Run….Hopefully to Freedom, away from His Country;  where being Gay is punishable by death!   In His play, (which so far,  is a one Man show),  Izad plays the part of 3 Characters.    The first character   Navid,  is a Gay Man trying to flee to a new Life.  A life where He has the right to Love whomever he chooses, and  to live openly as a Gay Man, (without fear of being killed for His choices).   The second Character,  Zia, is a Dangerous, drug addicted Man who aids in the delivery of escapees to the safe house. And then there is Leila, without whom;  there may have been no laughter. An escapee of an Abusive Family;  She refuses to cooperate with  an unsuitable arranged marriage,  and is then subjected to Slave-like conditions.   Conditions so horrible, She chooses to live a life in exile.  Lending an enchanting lightness and clarity to the whole situation,   She is the mother….the safe port;  the Woman who operates the Safe House that Navid is delivered to.

Despite the deep and very serious subject matter, Borderland is not a horribly heavy drama, but a performance with a serious message; portrayed with just a hint of humour,  and some lighthearted moments.

I enjoyed this Play tremendously, despite the pain the story delivers.   And I was so impressed, with the depth of Izad’s focus,  on the importance of the message Borderland would bring to Canadians.  We are too often complacent in Our day to day lives.   We live a Blessed existence in Western Cultures.  And,  it’s too easy for Us to forget about the atrocities that others face in Countries like Iran.

With a deep interest in  Izad’s show, and the “Starving Artist” cliche in mind; I invited Him out to dinner.   I must admit My motives may have been a bit self-serving.   Not only was I getting to spend some one on one time with one of Canada’s up and coming “Premier Playwrights” ;  I also begged the favour of an Interview.  It turned out to be a Wonderful time, and the chance for some intelligent, talented, and thoughtful company!   I’d like to share that Interview with You.

Me:  Tell me a little bit about Izad….

Izad:  I was born in Germany, and then when I was 5 we moved to Victoria, (B.C.).  I didn’t really start doing Arts until I was fourteen.    A late starter, I began with Choir, then I went on to Musicals and everything else….band, strings, jazz band, leadership, musical improv, community theatre….

Me:   So, it was like You found Your niche(?)

Izad:  Oh Ya, I found it!   Then after  High School I went to the Canadian College for Performing Arts, for 3 years, where I got My diploma.  After graduation,   I stayed in Victoria for a couple of Years and did a lot of new works with the local companies.

Me:  Other people’s works?

Izad:  Yes, other people’s.  A lot of musical theatre, a lot of weird side gigs.  Like, I would play patients at the hospitals for exams. I’d do the teller training for the B.C. credit unions, and play customers for their new tellers.    I’d sing in a lot of churches and a lot of story telling at Old Folks Homes.  So, I made that My career for a couple of Years. Then  I moved to Vancouver where I was picked up by an Agency….that whole film and TV thing.  I booked quite a few commercials. Then I got a Children’s Theatre Tour, last Year, which I did for almost a full Year.  On and off I did Summer Festivals, and that’s when I  started writing Borderland.

Me:  And this was Your first piece?

Izad:  Yes, My first piece.  During this time I also trained at The Banff Center for two weeks, with directors from New York.  I discussed with them My idea;  and they were very, very encouraging, that I should take the time to write this.  I wrote in little towns, in the middle of nowhere;  across B.C. and Alberta…..anywhere I could find WiFi, (Laughs).    I kind of just threw it together, and it turned out way better than I thought it would!

Me:  And was The Fringe circuit the first place/time You performed it?

Izad:  Yes, yes it was the first time.  I did do a preview in Victoria, and then  right to Montreal.

Me:  And how did Montreal go?

Izad:  Montreal was hard.  I was a late acceptance, so I wasn’t even in the Program.

Me:  So it made a big difference,  even with the review, it was still hard?

Izad:  Ya, that was really all that got Me My audience period.  And, I got pretty decent houses.  But it was just that much harder.  If they know about Your show prior to, then they look for it.  It was harder in Montreal than here, (Hamilton). The show was a lot different,   I made a bunch of changes after Montreal.  Changes for the better.  But it was, the perfect place to start.  It was a friendly, very open environment.

Me:  Going back to the beginning….When You moved to Victoria as a child, did You live in an Iranian Community?

Izad:  No, the Iranian Community is very small in Victoria.  My dad did work with some of them….but, no.  I identify as a Canadian….an Iranian Canadian,  not Persian….but Canadian.   All My influences came from Canadian culture.  This show was Me connecting to those Iranian roots.  I realized that I needed to appreciate more, what I have here.  And I wanted to understand better why My parents feel the way they do about certain things.  Why they react the way they do about things I say, you know(?)

Me:  So was it Your intention,  to one day use this platform, to bring these issues to light….to the public?

Izad:  No.  I planned to do Musical Theatre forever!  It just kind of happened.  Then, I applied for Fringe.

Me:  There was a scene in the Play where Navid calls home to speak to His Mother.  That ends very Tragically….or at least in  My eyes it did.  When You reach out to the people You Love the most, and they shut a door in Your face; that’s devastating!  Did You experience similar tragedy in Your personal life, when You came out to Your Parents?

Izad:  No.  They were like, Ok.

Me:  (Visibly relieved, after a difficult question I felt compelled to ask)   Ohhhhh, You are so fortunate Izad.  I’m relieved…..

Izad:  Mmmm,  They were like….Ya, We know!   Why would You ever think that We wouldn’t Love You?  And I had this whole defense ready….like the monologue in My Play.  That whole scene came from a friend, whose Mother said, “I would rather You be dead than a Lesbian!”. Then, Her friend is Muslim and came out to her Mother, and they haven’t spoken in 8 years! But in the play, I needed Navid to lose everything in the end….

Me:  Well Ya, because in  Iran, he would have right?

Izad:  Yes.  And eventually, I may make changes to make more of a Political Statement.   Quite often in these Countries, people are rejected for immigration status if they are gay.  It depends on who gets their case.  And quite often they are rejected, and sent home where they are killed.

Me:  What can people do to help these causes from here.  Are there things?

Izad:  Yes, there is the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees out of Toronto.   And We can work on changing Our Immigration laws. Too much Onus is put on Young Immigrants with a language/understanding barrier; to prove that they are really gay, and in Danger!   They are too afraid!  And getting awareness out there.  I am surprised, tho maybe I shouldn’t be; at the amount of people that come out of My show saying….”Oh, We didn’t know!”.

We went on to talk about many things….Entitlement, World views, the changing environment, (how Izad seems to be bringing the storms with Him!  LOL), and a bunch of other interesting topics.  It was an absolutely Enjoyable time,  with an Intelligent and Talented Up and Coming Performance Artist.   Watch for His name, “Izad Etemadi”,  as I predict we will see much more of Him in the years ahead!

*  There is also a Netflix Movie that He recommended We watch….” Jihad for Love”.