Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter by Alison Wearing: Interview

Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter by Alison Wearing: Interview

Being a gay dad in the early ’80s was a big deal. So was having one
By:  Feature Writer, Published on Thu May 09 2013

Interview with author Alison Wearing about her memoir, Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter, about growing up with a dad who came out of the closet in the 1970’s when she was 12.

The moment of truth arrived on an ordinary day in the kitchen of an unremarkable red brick house in small-town Ontario.

It was 33 years ago and Alison Wearing was 12. She remembers the ugly beige linoleum with brown squiggles, and her toes curling around the rail of the stool as she watched her mother unload cereal bowls from the dishwasher that never quite got the dishes clean.

“There are a lot of things about Dad that you don’t know,” her mother said, as she lifted out the cutlery basket.

Something about the word “gay” hung in the air amid the clink-clink of knives and forks.

Then the crushing realization that the world as she knew it had just ended.

That moment and the family’s long journey from turmoil to acceptance comes to vivid life in Wearing’s new memoir, Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter, released this week.Alison Wearing's memoir, Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter, about growing up with a dad who came out of the closet in the 1970s, is out this week.    Alison Wearing's Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter, Knopf, 304 pages, $24    Alison Wearing with her dad, Joseph, in 1982.

These were the days long before the phrase “same-sex marriage” made headlines or gay couples appeared on sitcoms. People actually used the word “fairy.” Toronto Pride Week hadn’t yet launched. And the thought of an openly gay premier was about as out-of-this-world as The Jetsons.

The only thing young Alison knew about “gay” was that it was Very Bad News. Something to do with boys kissing other boys. In other words, gross. And pretty much the worst thing that could happen.

So as her father, Joe, came out in his 40s, his daughter went underground. He left their Peterborough home and spent most of his time in Toronto. She and her two brothers visited on weekends, relished his gourmet meals, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and eccentric circle of friends. But back home, she became a storyteller and an actor whenever people asked about him.

“My life in theatre started then, I had to create,” says Wearing, now 45.

“All these questions would come at me. I had to invent on-the-spot stories about my life that would be acceptable.”

Years later, those same skills have come full circle. Now she’s used them to tell the truth. And she’s done it in an engaging and poignant account of her family’s experience, which happened to parallel gay liberation in Canada.

The story, she soon discovered, is much more than the one she set out to tell.

“It’s not just about having a gay father. It’s about seeing your parent as a person, having what you think of as an imperfect family and dealing with it,” she says.

“It’s about what happens when someone in your life is not the person you thought they were. How do we embrace that and accept them and grow through that?”

That middle-class red brick house offered up all the key ingredients: secrecy, longing, conflict, acceptance, love, laughter and a rollicking cast of characters.

Joseph, now 77, was a politics professor who gave his preschoolers bonus minutes in the bath if they could recite the names of every prime minister. He was also an amateur musician who rolled out pastry for croissants on weekends, and then conducted an imaginary orchestra to the blaring Verdi “Requiem” while they baked.

There was her marathon-runner mother who preferred nourishing her kids with piano playing. And two brothers who showed creative genius when it came to tormenting their sister.

It was a story that practically told itself, first as a 30-page script for her one-woman stage production that premiered in 2011, and now as a full memoir.

Cocooned in the turret of her neighbour’s house in Stratford day after day, the memories poured out “and I’d have to race to keep up with it.”

Her own part was finished in a couple of months. But she knew there was more to tell. She went to get an opinion from her dad, who lives in Toronto with the partner he’s been with for 30 years.

He disappeared to the basement and came back with a box he hadn’t opened for three decades. Inside were clippings and scribbled diaries full of more details than she ever wanted to know.

“Instantly I knew, here’s the rest of the book right here.”

Now she had a way to tell the other side of the story in her father’s voice. And it’s a compelling one, as Joe Wearing grapples with his conflicting desires and tries to come to terms with living as both a gay man and a doting father.

Despite mixed feelings of having his personal life made public, he had seen his daughter’s stage version and believed in her work.

“He said ‘I don’t want to meddle. You’re in the driver’s seat. You use whatever you feel you need,’ ” recalls Alison.

Before the book was even out, Wearing started hearing from people who had gone through similar experiences or were facing them now. This week, she and her dad are attending a meeting of Gay Fathers of Toronto, a support group they were among the first to join years ago.

There’s one more story she wants to share that didn’t make the book. It’s about her own son, Noah, who at 13 is just around the age she was that day on the kitchen stool.

Not long ago, one of his buddies was over and spotted the mock-up of her book cover.

“Oh wow, is that your mom’s book?” he asked.

“Yeah it’s about her dad. My grandfather’s gay,” replied Noah. Then off they went to the kitchen to see what was in the fridge. Just like that.

“That was a beautiful moment,” says Wearing. “Here we are one generation later and he just tosses that one off and then says ‘what do you want to eat?’

“I would never ever, ever have imagined that would have been possible in my lifetime.

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Thank You Toronto Star!

Chilina Kennedy highlights SpringWorks

Indie theatre and arts festival for Perth County runs May 9-19
Chilina Kennedy, who played Mary Magdalene with Paul Nolan as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar at Stratford last year will perform at Spring Works May 13-14.

STRATFORD SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL

Chilina Kennedy, who played Mary Magdalene with Paul Nolan as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar at Stratford last year will perform at Spring Works May 13-14.

By:  Theatre Critic, Published on Fri May 10 2013

The “big” Stratford Festival doesn’t officially open until May 27 (although some shows are in previews already), but you ought to pay a visit to Perth Country until May 19th to see its younger sister in action.

SpringWorks is an indie art and theatre festival with a lot to offer, including original cabaret performances by stars like Chilina Kennedy, new play readings from authors such as the team of Marion Adler & Scott Wentworth and intriguing full performance evenings with people like the dynamic singer-songwriter Kate Ashby-Craft.

Eileen Smith is the Artistic Producer and she has packed the town with a whole assortment of interesting projects at a variety of venues.

Here’s some of the highlights.

CABARET – Always a popular form in Stratford, these loose-lined evenings are truly a case of “one size fits all,” where a first-rate performers can take a chance on material they’ve always wanted to do. All of these are at Factory 163, located at 163 King St. A few of the choices:

Chilina Kennedy, the star of West Side Story and Jesus Christ Superstar is back with an evening of her own original songs, May 13-14.

Versatile actor/singer Ari Weinberg is joined by some unnamed but bound to be special “friends” for One Man Rodeo, which he describes as “a cabaret that’s a roll in the hay” on May 17.

Popular Toronto songstress Gabi Epstein was named “Top Cabaret Act of 2012” by the Times Square Chronicles and her engagingly personal show, Gabaret, on May 18 will prove why.

COMEDY – Award-winning writer/performer Christel Bartelse dazzled audiences around North America with her solo show, ONEymoon, about a woman who marries herself. She revives it at the Church Restaurant (70 Brunswick St.) on May 10 and then presents the sequel, Significant Me at the City Hall Auditorium (1 Wellington St.) on May 11.

MUSIC – The incredibly versatile Kate Ashby-Craft has been performing and recording for three decades in styles that range from rock to country to folk. Here’s a chance to hear her in the elegant surroundings of The Church Restaurant, with a dinner/concert package available on May 18.

Barbara Dunn-Prosser, Debora Joy and Janet Martin are definitely Three Little Maids who know their way around both Stratford and the musical theatre/light opera repertoire. They salute both on May 19 at Factory 163.

THEATRE – Marion Adler and Scott Wentworth are accomplished authors as well as veteran Stratford actors. Their latest work, Forgiving PeterPan, is a new adaptation of Barrie’s classic story. It will receive a staged reading on May 12 at City Hall Auditorium and May 14 at Factory 163.

Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter is the bittersweet memoir by Alison Wearing about growing up with a gay father. She performs it on May 16 & 19 at Factory 163.

These are just a few of the dozens of works (also including children’s theatre, spoken word, dance and visual arts) that are on display at SpringWorks.

For more information, go to springworksfestival.ca or phone 1-888-559-5077.

Setting Up For SpringWorks @ Stratford City Hall Auditorium!

Today, the SpringWorks team started building our first venue of SpringWorks 2013 – Stratford City Hall Auditorium. And so begins our first steps on this year’s 11-Day Theatre Marathon and we couldn’t be more excited!

The day began at Long & McQuade, who are our generous equipment sponsor, where the team, headed by Eileen, picked up sound and lightening equipment to build our visiting companies a full theatre in the beautiful Stratford City Hall Auditorium.

Tech Guru Stephen and Tech Volunteer Jeff Making the Plan

Tech Guru Stephen and Tech Volunteer Jeff Making the Plan

Sound Equipment waiting to be set up

Sound Equipment waiting to be set up

Tech Guru Stephen & Tech Volunteer Jeff focusing lighting trees, generously supplied by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Education Department

Tech Guru Stephen & Tech Volunteer Jeff focusing lighting trees, generously supplied by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Education Department

Tech Volunteer Jeff Discussing Lighting Tree Placement

Tech Volunteer Jeff Discussing Lighting Tree Placement

While Stephen and Jeff did their work, Eileen, Christina, and Jessica build some signage to let the city of Stratford know SpringWorks is on it’s way!

SpringWorks' Sandwich Board (generously donated by Let Them Eat Cake) and Emerging Artist Sponsor RBC Banner

SpringWorks’ Sandwich Board (generously donated by Let Them Eat Cake) and Emerging Artist Sponsor RBC Banner 

Week One Calendar & Posters, built by Christina and Jessica

Week One Calendar & Posters, built by Christina and Jessica

 

Week Two Calendar & Posters, in progress, built by Christina & Jessica

Week Two Calendar & Posters, in progress, built by Christina and Jessica

SpringWorks begins in two days, opening on Thursday May 9 with Fairy Tale Ending: The Big Bad Family Musical at 6:00 and then Three Little Maids at 8:00. It’s not too late to get tickets and to start your SpringWorks experience off right!

 

 

 

 

Stratford’s Alison Wearing pens memoir

Laura Cudworth By Laura Cudworth, The Beacon Herald

alison

She had wanted to be Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie.

Now, the idea makes Alison Wearing laugh. But in many ways, her new book, Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter, does make her a pioneer.

Hers is a fascinating and comical telling of what it meant to grow up with a gay father in Peterborough in the 1980s when there was no such thing as a gay community there — and, at 12 years old, Wearing had no sense of what gay meant anyway.

“It was as though my father was secretly from Uzbekistan – he was secretly an Uzbek. I had no context for that. We didn’t have the word ‘gay’ yet. We had homosexual and schoolyard taunts. I knew it was bad news for the family,” Wearing recalled.

Before her father came out, her childhood was relatively ordinary. Her father, Joe, was a political science professor and amateur choral conductor. Her mother was a pianist, marathon runner and stay-at-home mom. While her father made croissants, she spent many happy hours with her Easy Bake Oven.

When her father came out, she “went in.” She describes her life as “theatre” from then on – she found herself inventing stories on the spot to cover up anything that might out her as the daughter of a gay man.

Wearing ended up living a double life: the one full of heterosexual goodness she pretended to live in Peterborough and the sometimes-too-honest life in Toronto where her father spent weekends.

As her father grappled with who he really was, he kept a diary and other documents. When he came to terms with being gay, he stopped writing in the diary, which was stuffed into a box and shipped down to the basement.

When Wearing was working on the book, he gave her the box.

“It was like a deep sea dive down into these memories,” Wearing said.

It was an act of courage to give them to her, but an even bigger act of courage to give them to her knowing segments would appear in the book. It’s something that catches up with them as they wait for the book’s release May 7.

“He’s 77 now. He’s at a place in his life where it’s not about him anymore but about how he can help those who follow. He’s removed, he’s not that person anymore. But when he thinks of his neighbours reading his diary or little old ladies at the genealogical society where he hangs out reading it, it’s uncomfortable,” she said.

It’s left her feeling protective of her dad as they wait for the reaction to her book.

Her father is a pioneer too, of course, though he doesn’t see himself that way.

In being a pioneer, there’s always risk.

Wearing deftly puts her family’s evolution in the middle of the politics of being gay in the late 1970s and the 1980s. It was a time when there were police raids on bathhouses in Toronto, which ended in arrests and phone calls to employers.

There have been drastic changes since then. There are gay dads on TV and books on parenting for gay parents. There are Gay-Straight Alliances in high schools.

Even so, there are not many books like Wearing’s. It shines a light on how she, her family and the gay movement were left groping in the dark until they finally found their way personally and politically.

“I hope the book goes out and does a whole lot of good. I hope it continues what my dad and hundreds of others started,” she said.

Even before the book has hit the shelves, Wearing has started to get notes from people who thought they were the only one with a gay dad and parents who have not come out to their kids yet.

Her dad was at the first meeting of the Gay Fathers of Toronto group. There were only about six of them then and their main concern was how to come out to their kids. Today the group is thriving and still dealing with that same concern.

“Now, 35 years later, they’ve invited me and my father to come to a meeting. I’m really looking forward to that. In a way it’s like stepping back. To walk into that meeting really will be like throwing myself back 30 some years.”

Her book is hilarious, sad, thoughtful, sensitive and honest.

At first Wearing wondered if it would appeal only to people who have gay parents, but discovered through performances of the theatre version it appeals to anyone who has a family.

“It’s about family. It’s about anyone who has ever been challenged by family and it’s about coming into the fullness of ourselves regardless of what the world says.”

Instead of a formal book launch, Wearing will be performing Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter with five new scenes from the book during the Stratford SpringWorks Festival on May 16 at 8 p.m. and May 19 at 2 p.m. at Factory 163.

The Beacon Herald Tells SpringWorks’ Story!

This year’s SpringWorks program includes more than 50 events

Donal O'Connor

By Donal O’Connor, The Beacon Herald

Friday, April 12, 2013 3:40:19 EDT PM

Director Heather Davies gives an overview of her stage adaptation of the novel Judith, a reading with music and pigs that will be part of the SpringWorks festival in Stratford in May. (SCOTT WISHART, The Beacon Herald)Director Heather Davies gives an overview of her stage adaptation of the novel Judith, a reading with music and pigs that will be part of the SpringWorks festival in Stratford in May. (SCOTT WISHART, The Beacon Herald)

More than 100 artists will perform at six venues.

Daytime and late night performances are geared to audiences of all ages.

Theatre, readings, music, art, poetry, cabaret and comedy — even a fashion show — are in the mix.

In a program spread over 10 days, SpringWorks in its third season will roll out more than 50 events featuring 34 companies. Shows are centred in Stratford but venues include St. Marys and Listowel.

“ We cover all the arts,” said artistic producer Eileen Smith, who unveiled the program Thursday at Revel Caffe, a venue earmarked for free poetry recitals.

The fringe-style festival starts May 9 and offers one-hour performances at a variety of times and locations. The festival is programmed so that shows won’t conflict with Stratford Festival matinees or evening performances.

Among the better known performers is actor-singer Chilina Kennedy who last year wrapped up three seasons of acclaimed performances at the Stratford Festival.

She’ll be presenting a cabaret show celebrating seven years of original folksong writing.

Highlighting some of the many shows, Smith mentioned other awarding-winning performers and performances.

Gabi Epstein, for instance, chosen as top cabaret act of 2012 by Times Square Chronicles, and Razzmatazz for Kids, an interactive children’s musical show, winner of an East Coast Music Award.

The Tank Range Project, which returns to the festival with a new show. And Judith, an adaptation from a novel, both speak of rural life.

“It’s one of the things we feel is an important part of the festival. So there’s a voice of regional people to be heard,” said Smith.

The Tank Range Project deals with the expropriation of orchard lands in Meaford for use as a tank range during the Second World War. Judith is a young woman who attempts to redeem her rural past by returning to the countryside to take up pig farming … in the Prairies.

Two dance shows are in the extensive lineup this time around, one from a returning company with a brand new performance and a performance from a new company.

“They are spectacular dancers,” said Smith.

Dinner and show packages at the Church Restaurant have been added with the featured show ONEymoon with award-winning performer Christel Bartelse.

It’s a show in which the character, seeking the perfect partner, marries herself.

“Not is she only a comedienne. She’s a tap dancing, singing, insanely energetic person,” said Smith.

A significant part of the festival is geared to youth, from the very young to teens of high school age and the programing of several works in progress allows audiences of all ages to experience and perhaps become motivated by the creative process.

That applies to not just to kids.

Actor Marion Adler, for example, will be presenting an adaptation of the novel Peter Pan entitled Forgiving Peter Pan that focuses on a mother’s view of the death of her flier son in the First World War.

“When these young men arrived at the front their life expectancy was 11 days. And they knew it,” said Adler, giving a hint of what’s to come.

“It’s going to be a journey.”

Several current and former Stratford Festival performers are included in the performances. Roy Lewis, for instance, will present his new play The Blue God with the help of several other professionals. Smith will herself be part of that.

Venues for the performances include Factory163, City Hall auditorium, Revel Caffe, The Church Restaurant and Stratford Perth Museum.

“Each year we get a little further along,” said Smith. “The community is supporting us in all kinds of different ways.”

Smith said some directors, performers and audiences have been returning year after year. There’s also lots of participation from schools in Perth and Huron counties.

The SpringWorks website includes a calendar of events giving details of show times and venues.

There are opportunities for volunteers both technical and otherwise and tickets can be ordered on line.

Tickets are $20 for general admission for adults and $10 for children under 12. Discounted package deals are available.

SPRINGWORKS THANKS THE STRATFORD SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL FOR THIS BEAUTIFUL WRITE-UP IN THEIR MONTHLY NEWSLETTER SCENENOTES

Stratford Festival – SceneNotes: Familiar Faces at SpringWorks 2013 Stratford and Perth County’s indie theatre and ARTS Festival features actors from this and other stratford festival seasons

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The third annual SpringWorks indie theatre and arts festival is almost here! Created by Hermione Presents, the multi-disciplinary festival runs from May 9 to 19 and will feature more than 100 performing and visual artists in more than 50 events, from fully staged plays to dramatic readings to award-winning dance and late-night musical cabarets.

SpringWorks is programmed so that audience scan attend Stratford Festival matinées or evening performances and still have time to enjoy a wide selection of its own eclectic offerings. Its fringe-style schedule offers one-hour performances at a variety of times and locations, and includes children’s programming, dinner-and-show packages with the Church Restaurant, art exhibitions across Perth County and much more.
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Chilina Kennedy, Marion Adler among artists featured
This year numerous Stratford Festival artists – from this and previous seasons – are performing at SpringWorks, including

  • Marion AdlerWith many Stratford Festival seasons to her credit, Marion presents Forgiving Peter Pan, her one-woman adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s classic story. The show is directed by Scott Wentworth, this year’s Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.
  • Anna Atkinson: The Fiddler in Fiddler on the Roof will share her singing and multi-instrumental talents in her Late Night Cabaret. Performing with her are George Meanwell, Ian Harper, Michael McClennan and Graham Hargrove.
  • Shane CartyAshleigh HenryBarb Barsky and Brigit Wilson: All will appear in On the Other Side of the World, a play inspired by the 30,000 Jewish people who, shortly before the Second World War, fled Europe to the only open port available to them – Shanghai. (The 6 p.m. performance on Monday, May 13, follows a matinée of Fiddler.)
  • Barbara Dunn-ProsserDebora Joy and Janet Martin: These three soprano friends, all members of past Festival seasons, present their musical revue Three Little Maids, recalling the course of their performing careers in a potpourri of classical, musical theatre and popular songs.
  • Chilina Kennedy: Chilina presents What You Find in a Bottle, a celebration of seven years of original folk songwriting by the Broadway and Stratford Festival star, with special guest Melissa O’Neil.
  • Roy Lewis: His new play, The Blue God, is “a romance of Painting, Love, Voodoo and Resurrection,” and is being read by Stratford Festival company members Bethany Jillard, Michael Blake, Sam Moses, Sarah Afful, Nehassaiu deGannes, Luke Humphrey and Tyrone Savage, with recent company member Xuan Fraser.
  • Brad Rudy: Currently in Fiddler and Romeo and Juliet, Brad is being joined by past Festival members Christina Gordon, Marion Day and Eileen Smith and past musical director Alan Laing in Festival Gems II – a collection of music and text from new works commissioned for the Stratford Festival over its illustrious history.

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These Festival faces and others join actors, musicians, dancers and visual artists who have taken their work to venues across the country in a bountiful showcase of our nation’s established and emerging talents. From cabaret to new dance works to a passionate play about hope, fear and pigs, the festival offers something for every arts lover. A full list of events is available online.

Thematic ties to the Stratford Festival
The Stratford Festival’s season theme of “the outsider” resonates through some of SpringWorks’ cross-cultural and diversity programming, which is part of the festival’s commitment to “sharing stories that need to be told and helping to assure all our voices can be heard.” These complementary productions include two works by award-winning Canadian playwrights: Alison Wearing’s Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard’s Salome’s Clothes.

There’s something (new) for everyone!
SpringWorks has been programmed for audiences of every age. For families and school groups, the festival will be offering workshops, sets of play presentations for secondary schools and upbeat musical performances. Meanwhile, the general public will enjoy new programming that includes free Coffeehouse Poetry Readings at Revel Caffe and art exhibitions at Gallery 96, the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus, the Art Salon Group of St. Marys and the North Perth Arts and Culture Council in Listowel.

With so much to see and do, you’ll want to stay for the entire 10 days – taking in as many Stratford Festival performances, Forum events and SpringWorks shows as you can! See all your favourite performers, experience something new and discover the feeling of being completely immersed in the arts.

Affordable, accessible and adventurous, SpringWorks offers tickets for just $20 for adults and $10 for children under 12. To order, and to find up-to-date information and schedules, visit www.SpringWorksFestival.ca.

You can also follow SpringWorks on Facebook and Twitter. Remember to share your thoughts and reactions to the performances!

Multi-Ticket Savings at SpringWorks!
Save $5 per adult ticket when you buy three or more tickets at once. You can book them all for one performance or spread them across several events – either way, you’ll pay $15 each.Click here for the SpringWorks ticket page.

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Photo credits
From top: Marion Adler; Chilina Kenndy; Anna Atkinson; Shane Carty;