Our Top Culture Picks of 2019

Orville Peck at the Commodore, August 27

For me this was going to be a battle of the killer art shows: The VAG’s ongoing Cindy Sherman Retrospective vs. The Polygon’s mesmerizing The Clock by Christian Marclay. Both had that “world class” patina that we so desperately covet in this city, both had outstanding pedigrees. But then my wife forwarded me a video from yesterday’s Christian Dior Show in Miami, and lo and behold, who did the legendary design house get to close their event? None other than the masked country crooner who I saw at the Commodore in August. A bit of background if you’re not familiar with Peck: he wears a fringed mask, he’s a cowboy who likes to sing about gay hustlers. He’s a mix of Chris Isaak, Roy Orbison, Nick Cave and David Lynch and he may or may not be from Abbotsford. What he is for sure is on a seriously upwards trajectory in the business and his Commodore show seemed like a chance to catch him when he was still a relative unknown. Also it gave me that rare chance to wear my cowboy hat in town.

The show was near perfect: tight, compact, full of energy. If this wasn’t Vancouver the dance floor would have been full of dancing bodies, but it is so it was full of all creeds and sexes practicing the White Man’s Overbite. But not even that could distract from the feeling that this kid is going to be a major star. Here’s his Dead of Night: watch this and tell me I’m not right. —Neal McLennan, food editor 

It’s Just Drag Brunch at Colony, November 23

Whatever doubts I had that a daylight-hours drag show could be as fun as a midnight one were dispelled when a 10-year-old fan strolled to the centre of the room in a sequin jacket—with host Kendall Gender’s invitation, of course—and performed an epic death-drop and cartwheel combo to the strains of “Toxic.” At least I think it was “Toxic”: it was almost impossible to hear the music over the mimosa-fuelled roar of the crowd.

Was the four-hour (family-friendly!) brunch probably a nightmare for the poor Colony staff, sprinting table to table to deliver avocado toast and boozy coffees to tables of competing bachelorette parties? Probably. But for those of us lucky enough to be soaking up the spectacle from the perch of a booth, it was the ideal way to amp up an otherwise dreary Saturday morning. Continental Breakfast performed a weirdly topical duo with a puppet; Jaylene Tyme—as Dolly Parton, of course—found a baby in the crowd to serenade, in a bold contrast to the acrobatic splits Gia Metric was perfectly executing in the middle of the restaurant. Turns out, I like a little drama with my eggs, and Vancouver’s drag scene delights at any time of day. The next It’s Just Drag Brunch runs January 25—hopefully that dancing kid is there, but no promises. —Stacey McLachlan, executive editor 

The Sound of Music at the Arts Club Theatre, December 6

You can look at this pick one of two ways.

The cynic would probably say, “So you couldn’t think of anything you did in the first 11 months of the year and are just name-dropping a play you saw two weeks ago?”

There’s also the cool, smart way of seeing it: “Wow, so thoughtful of you to pick something everyone reading this also has a chance to see, unlike your fellow, selfish editors who are simply bragging to us. (AND YEAH I KNOW, STACEY’S PICK IS A RECURRING THING BUT WHATEVER GO WITH IT.)

In all honesty, The Sound of Music at the Arts Club Theatre really was exceptional. The setting (the historic Stanley), the pitch perfect singing and the impossible-to-hate source material (even if you haven’t seen the movie, you know all the songs, believe me) combined to make for a delightful show. Really, the only thing more impressive than the acting (Burnaby’s Synthia Yusuf was magic as Maria, the role Julie Andrews made famous) was the directing.

Arts Club artistic director Ashlie Corcoran helmed this one, and did a wonderful job framing a classic. She also was somehow able to get seven children of varying ages to hit every a single note and ace all the stage directions. It’s not exactly cheap, but tickets won’t be lower than they are right now. The Sound of Music runs until January 5 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Theatre.—Nathan Caddell, associate editor

Kuroko at the Cultch, November 7

With some hesitation, I admit I haven’t quite grown out of my high school drama club persona. I’d call myself a dreek (a portmanteau of “drama” and “geek” that a fellow 10th-grade thespian made up) if it was a term recognized by anyone anywhere. I’ve also been writing the culture section of our print mag and finding “5 Things to Do in Vancouver This Week” for 75 weeks (yeah, I counted). This is all to say that, as an adult, I’m at the theatre every chance I get. But naming Tetsuro Shigematsu’s Kuroko as my favourite culture pick of this year isn’t exactly hard. A sad, touching and funny drama set in Japan incorporating themes of family and authenticity starring an on-the-rise hafu artist? I was all in. I love watching all kinds of theatre, but feeling even a small part of my own community represented on stage is a different kind of connection. I’ve long admired Tetsuro’s storytelling ability and the grace and intimacy with which he tackles difficult subjects, and this show was no exception. Yeah, I’ll play favourites—this is mine.—Alyssa Hirose, assistant editor

The Darlings at Transform: A Cabaret Festival, October 4

Thanks to a late friend who got me into RuPaul’s Drag Race—and the fact that both Netflix and Crave make it possible to now watch all one-million episodes of the series—for me 2019 was the Year of the Drag Queen. I’ve seen a lot of local shows to pair with my couch intake, but the one that I can’t stop thinking about was the Darlings performing at the new Transform festival this past October. The non-binary drag performance collective featured Rose Butch, Continental Breakfast, PM and Maiden China—and I still struggle to put into words what made it so damn moving. Rose Butch opened with a staccato spoken word and movement piece; Continental Breakfast gave a heartbreaking open letter to Trump, followed by  a modern dance/interpretive piece from the four of them together, and all of it had me in tears by the end. It was challenging and beautiful and unlike anything I’d ever seen before—the kind of piece that has you wanting to thank the performers at the end. 

I haven’t found an upcoming performance from the group yet, but guaranteed I’ll be there if I do. Go.—Anicka Quin, editorial director