Anais West and Sara Vickruck’s play challenges preconceptions of relationships with music and poetry
Nirosh Saravanan // Contributor
From March 5 to the 10, the poetic musical Poly Queer Love Ballad plays at the Queer Arts Festival’s SUM Gallery. Poly Queer Love Ballad follows the story of two lovers with contrasting views on relationships and affection. On one hand, there is Nina (played by Anais West), a polyamorous bisexual poet. And, on the other, you have Gabbie (played by Sara Vickruck), a monogamous lesbian songwriter. This contrast is showcased throughout the play, unveiling the divergent mentalities of both characters. The play has received much critical acclaim, with the Georgia Straight stating that “the complicated intimacy between old-fashioned romantic Gaby…. and polyamorous Nina…. is beautifully mapped in Vickruck’s songs and West’s passionate poems.”
The play was inspired by “the lack of representation they [West and Vickruck] have seen of stories of this kind,” said director Julie McIsaac. “For example [Nina] is bisexual and polyamorous and we haven’t seen these kinds of stories on the main stage. So, stories where women are experiencing [these] challenges are important. [The characters] encounter these challenges because they have different perspectives and different wants and needs,” McIsaac mentioned. Overall, the story and the characters were aspects the creators of the play thought were relatable and true to many underrepresented groups in today’s society. Because they haven’t seen these stories on stage, the crew for Poly Queer Love Ballad decided this was a play that needed to be portrayed for the world to see.
When asked about polyamory, a subject not often touched upon in the mainstream media, McIsaac stated that “it is certainly something that’s part of communities and [that is] the everyday life of lots of people. You could say it’s not necessarily part of mainstream in terms of the conventions we have around relationships, around heteronormativity, around a certain kind of relationship that equals marriage, that equals kids… Those are the conventions that we are used to seeing acted on stage.” Polyamory is still not part of normal, day-to-day conversation, yet it is still talked about. However, the peak of the polyamory conversation took place in the 1960s and 70s during the sexual revolution, when open relationships were socially accepted. “There are lots of healthy, beautiful ways to be intimate with each other” McIsaac said, which describes the experience of people breaking the hegemonic views of love.
One of the main values McIsaac gathered from the play is that, in any relationship, communication is key regardless of its form. At times, it is terrifying to speak aloud, and when the topic of communication emerges, it is even more scary to tell the truth. “Something that has been really hammered home for me is the necessity of being clear of what you want and need. Sometimes we assume the other person is automatically going to key into what our needs are, or what we want from them and it’s really not fair to put that on someone else, to read our mind and read our hearts…. Even someone that you have a really good bond with.” The play demonstrated, with its diverse cast and captivating story, that there are various perspectives on love. “Nina, who is versed in polyamory is taking Gaby along in that journey around agreement and boundaries… You see them navigating that part of the relationship, having that difficult conversation and finding that common ground and finding compromises. Really, every relationship requires that,” McIsaac said.
If you are wondering why a slam poetry musical might capture your attention, wonder no more. For Vickruck and West, as much as they are collaborators they are still individual artists, and they will make your imagination fly and open your mind to new possibilities. The harmony of Vickruck’s musical skills and West’s poetry talents slowly become more intertwined through the course of the play. Tickets can be bought at the Queer Arts Festival website. The show runs at the SUM gallery from March 5-11, costing between $10-$20.