Seeing ourselves, our likeness reflected in fictional characters both on stage and on screen is a vital catharsis. Representation is a thing, right?! Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get a rare chance to see characters we grew up with become layered with more substance we can identify with personally, be it racial, cultural, sex, gender or ability. One of such works is a play coming to the Hamilton Fringe Festival called DOG SEES GOD: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead. It’s described as “an unauthorized parody of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts Gang.” Genius! However, it is so much more than satire, it “speaks of the struggles for acceptance that many Queer-identifying people still experience today, especially in high school. It is a play of rebellion, resilience, love, and hope.”
Bent Q is thankful that Director, Anthony Raymond Yu contacted us to let us know about this production. We are happy we had a chance to connect and let our readers know more about it.
Bent Q: Anthony, thank you for reaching out to us! Can you tell us more about the origins and concepts behind the play?
Anthony Raymond Yu: DOG SEES GOD (DSG) is actually over a decade old! It was first performed in 2004 at the New York International Fringe Festival. It received Best Overall Production, and was picked up for Off-Broadway. Eventually, it did a sell-out run in Los Angeles and the UK.
This play is extremely close to me. I first read it in 2010, when I was several years out of the closet but nowhere near to accepting myself. It was the first Queer play I read, and it gave me a lot of hope. I had spent the last seven years using its monologues and scenes for school and auditions, all the while dreaming of how I would stage this show.
The play centres around CB, a teenager badly shaken by the death of his dog. With all of his friends too drunk, high, or burnt out to give him any comfort, CB turns to the one kid he bullied for some sense of peace.
I took a surreal approach to the script. Because this story is in CB’s past, I always have him onstage, even for scenes where he does not appear in the script. Characters come and go without noticing him, while others will pull him into the scene to play his part. What we see are visions that he conjures, creates, and relives to piece together his past and uncover how it all fell apart.
In casting an ethnically diverse cast and crew for this play, I immediately thought about what it means to be Queer within ethnic and cultural minority communities. In many of these communities, the disdain we still face ranges from ridicule, to rejection, to flat out violence. Considering this social reality significantly raised the stakes for DSG. Although the white Queer community has benefited a lot from the equal rights we’ve won, we still have a way to go for all of our siblings to benefit
Additionally, I thought about how cruel we can be to others, both unconsciously and deliberately. Characters are blatantly awful to each other, but sometimes they’re so subtly casual, we may not even notice. However, I also considered how we can be kinder people, and what it takes to flip the switch between one and the other.
Honestly, you’ll want to see this show at least twice! There are so many Easter eggs, both visually and textually, there’s no way you can catch them all at once!
BQ: rejzndkliv – that is an awesomely interesting name…what is the story behind it?
ARY: rejzndkliv (pronounced RAY-zind-kleev) comes from the International Phonetic Alphabet for 4 curious words: “raze”, meaning to tear down; “raise”, to build up; “cleave”, to cut apart; and “cleave”, to stick together. I always found these words fascinating: how can word sound exactly the same as its polar opposite?
From this inspiration came my company’s mandate: to tear down walls, and build bridges; to overcome what divides us, and bring people closer.
BQ: Can you tell us about the process and experience of casting this play?
ARY: Being an gay Asian-Canadian, I wanted to give Queer actors and actors of colour the opportunity to perform roles that are rarely given to us in mainstream theatre and film. However, to stop Ally actors and white actors from applying would be a missed opportunity for different communities to meet and learn from each other. Opening the casting to Allies would also provide a safe space for Queer-identifying actors who are not open about their gender- or sexual-identity to perform without outing themselves.
Although I had a great application turn out, I was a bit disheartened to see that only a handful of them were people of colour. It made me wonder what prevented actors of ethnic minorities from auditioning. However, this gives me an even stronger reason to reach out for future productions.
BQ: I understand this is your first time directing, which is super exciting – but you’re no stranger to show business at all, can you tell us bit about yourself and your performance history?
ARY: I was always a performer since I was young, however it was in high school, after performing in The Wizard of Oz and HONK! that I really wanted to pursue theatre! I studied pastry arts as a back-up skill, but after that I was off to Ontario for theatre school, where I studied at the University of Toronto and Sheridan College in Theatre and Drama Studies.
After completing my degree, I worked with Pirate Life, an interactive children’s theatre company. I also worked extensively with Carlos Bulosan Theatre, a Filipino-Canadian theatre company, where I performed in KALDERO – a TYA about food, heritage, and mythological creatures in a magical cooking pot. I also co-wrote and performed in ANAK – a play about a Filipino immigrant family and their struggles to stay together.
Beyond theatre, I enjoy singing (mostly in countertenor, which is the highest range for men), and I adore circus. I practice stretching and contortion as often as I can (I can almost sit on my own head!), and I plan on returning to aerial silks after the Fringe.
BQ: Hopes and dreams for the future of Dog Sees God?
ARY: I would love to remount the show in Toronto, especially for a teenage audience. The story navigates through so many challenges that teens face: sexual-identity, acceptance, bullying, shaming, sex, mental health, drug abuse. DSG would be an opportunity to discuss these.
Bert V. Royal also wrote a sequel to DSG called The Gospel According to Matt: Confessions of a Teenage Dirtbag. If I could get my hands on a copy, I would totally want mount it with the same cast as DSG!
BQ: How about rejzndkliv? Anything on tap moving forward we should keep an eye out for?
ARY: After Hamilton Fringe, my first goal is to digest what just happened. I stepped into this project thinking I had a good idea what I was doing, and was most certainly wrong! I want to examine this experience so my next production can be more effective and efficient. However, there are several stories I would love to develop soon: namely, a Queer approach to a classic fairytale.
Hamilton Fringe is taking place from July 20th – 30th, for more information visit www.hamiltonfringe.ca
For more information about this production of Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead visit rejzndkliv.wordpress.com/
For tickets to Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, visit www.hamiltonfringe.ca/shows/dog-sees-god/