By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Lately I feel like I’m constantly on the edge of a vortex. Swimming. Trying to keep my head above water.”
— Local Diva, Liam Salmon
In January when his “one-person drag queen drama” premiered in podcast form, playwright Liam Salmon can’t possibly have predicted how eerily the opening line of Local Diva would resonate by April.But then, who knew just how indispensable podcasts would prove?
Salman’s play launched The Alberta Queer Calendar Project, a joint initiative by Cardiac Theatre and What It Is Productions, to showcase the talents of by queer Albertan writers and “broadcast to the world.” The aim? One original podcast drama a month for 2020. So far three, all by Edmonton writers, are up and running.
Salmon, who shares producer duties with Cardiac’s Harley Morison and Jessica Glover, traces the idea back two years to the inspiration of Toronto’s PlayMe podcast, audio versions of new (and newish) Canadian plays. “We wanted to feature queer Albertans,” says Salmon. “Our voices aren’t always as audible as elsewhere in the country….”
A playwriting grad of the National Theatre School in Montreal, Salman returned immediately to his home town after his time in the East. “There’s something about Edmonton that just feels more interesting to me…. Emerging (as a theatre artist) in Toronto is so different, so hard. Financially it doesn’t really work. In Edmonton you have more of a place, more access.”
Salmon spent four years in the Citadel’s Young Playwriting Company while he was doing an Education degree (in pre-COVID days he’s been teaching pre-school). He never gravitated to theatre via acting. “Playwriting made a lot of sense to me,” he says. His first play, All That’s Left, which premiered at Nextfest, chronicled the fortunes of a gay kid in a straight family. Silence of the Machine, in which “a perfect A.I. is forced to get pregnant” in order to prove her female credentials, premiered at the U of A’s New Works festival, won a prize at a horror fest, and was produced by Calgary’s Theatre Basement. “Sci-fi and horror elements really appeal to me….”
The Queer Calendar Project producers spent about a year collecting submissions before the January launch, says Salmon. Their call was to “any queer-identifying writer from or residing in Alberta.” There were no stipulations about queer content, characters, themes. In fact, Salmon’s own original submission was about a straight couple. But as a one-person show in which a drag queen talks, Local Diva seemed more easily suited to the podcast form.
Most of the podcast dramas are under an hour, says Salmon of the calendar roster. They come in a wide variety of forms, subjects, styles: comedies, dramas, musicals, true stories…. Some of the writers are more established than others. If he’s noticed anything that the queer submissions share, it’s perhaps that they seem to have a special insight into what it means to be an outsider, to be outside looking in. “It brings a different texture to the work.”
As for Salmon himself, he figures “the last thing anyone needs at the moment is a head-on COVID drama. “Too much too soon…. The world feels on standby.” He’s thinking comedy; it’s more oblique. “A comedy about a theatre trying to put on a COVID production and what a terrible idea that is? A social-distancing comedy about woman falling in love with an A.I. toaster?”
Meanwhile, you can consult the Alberta Queer Calendar. The episodes for January through March are available at queercalendar.ca or any podcast archive, each sponsored by an Alberta arts organization:
January: Local Diva, Liam Salmon’s “one-person drag queen drama” with support by Glass Bookshop
February: À vendre, Émanuel Dubbeldam’s “family drama” written and recorded in French (with English subtitles), with support by L’UniThéâtre
March: Suspension, Hayley Moorhouse’s “dark, absurdist comedy,” with support by the SkirtsAfire Festival and Edmonton Arts Council.
The full schedule of releases, available at queercalendar.ca, has been delayed by the current travails. Pending is April’s episode, Pretty Ugly by Brett Dahl, supported by Theatre Outré.
The podcasts are free; donations to the Queer Calendar’s Patreon campaign are welcome.