Cultch Femme Fest 2024 showcases female-identifying artists

Femme Fest 2024 showcases new works from female-identifying artists.

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Femme Festival 2024: Fat Joke

When: April 25-May 5, various times

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Where: Vancity Culture Lab, The Cultch, 1895 Venables St., Vancouver

Tickets and info: Thecultch.com

Femme Festival is the Cultch’s seasonal showcase of work by female-identifying artists and spans everything from traditional theatre to hybrid performance art.

Now in its seventh season, Femme Festival 2024 presents four unique works from Canadian-based artists delving into issues ranging from Métis history to immigrant community experiences and contemporary issues of identity.

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Among the works premiering at this year’s festival is Fat Joke.

Presented by the Cultch and Neworld Theatre in association with Rumble Theatre, it’s the latest work by Studio 58 graduate and playwright Cheyenne Rouleau. Active on the Hollywood North scene as well as local standup, Rouleau’s show mixes elements of comedy, personal story, fact and myth-busting to peel back the layers on all things ‘fat’.

The word is being reclaimed by fat activists, fat studies in academia and the fat community to return it to its original purpose as a descriptive term akin to tall, short or skinny. It’s also being reclaimed to politicize it in response to its negative connotations in society.

Vancouver-based actor Rouleau discussed the development of Fat Joke since starting the project in 2019.

It began as an office staff-sharing exercise where she confronted fatphobia in the workplace with a talk on the history of anti-fatness, anti-Blackness and other related subjects. From there, she created a PowerPoint presentation presented to friends and colleagues for feedback. This made its way to Neworld Theatre’s Chelsea Habelin, who contacted Rouleau about commissioning it into the full-length theatrical work.

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Dramaturged by Rumble Theatre’s Jivesh Parasram, Fat Joke premieres in the Vancity Culture Lab at the Cultch next month as part of Femme Festival 2024.

Q: How did you come to create Fat Joke?

Rouleau: As a woman, as a young fat woman, I always felt that there weren’t many roles out there for that demographic. I decided to create something that could become part of the theatre canon for people like me to have something interesting to do onstage. The parts I go out for can be grouped into several categories. In theatre, it’s mom, maid and nurse roles because apparently that is what our bodies suit. In film, I get the quirky, funny sidekick supporting role to the thin ingenue but having no life beyond that.

Q: So you wrote yourself a lead role to be able to be represented in reality?

A: They don’t produce Hairspray every season and other lead rolls like that are few and far between. It’s a bit better in theatre, but in film if you are a fat person with a lead part, the role is usually about your weight or your struggles with it. It’s not a fair, or honest, representation of how the majority of people really are, let alone the other cultural implications.

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Q: Given the BMI index as a measure, almost the majority of people fall into the ‘fat zone’ don’t they?

A: That chart was made by a eugenicist who only measured white males. No white women, no men or women of colour, who all carry fat and weight differently, were included. He was a mathematician not a doctor, and it was based upon a formula that has no bearing on health. It’s wild to me a bad math equation thought experiment is still used as a way to qualify for surgeries, health insurance, etc.

Q: Is that an example of the kind of material you cover in Fat Joke?

A: Some, but without making it too preachy or a TED talk or something. It’s mostly going to be my story, my account of life with a lot of jokes. But I will be including information about how we got to this place we are at today and contemporary fat activism.

Q: You’ve included a glossary of terminology discussed in the play, which is unusual. Why is that?

A: It’s really hard to get through to people when you are talking about fatness because the word has such stigma. I thought it was important to be clear what the words mean that I’m discussing in the show so we don’t have to over-explain it and people can become comfortable with it. If you don’t know about the fat activism movement, it can be quite confronting. This makes it easier.

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Parifam features, from left, Foojan Nixie Shabrang and Nazanin Shoja. Photo by Sina Pourzal /sun

Femme Festival 2024: Parifam

When: April 4-14, various times

Where: Historic Theatre at the Cultch

Tickets and info: thecultch.com

The Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre and the Medusa Theatre (Vancouver) offer up the world premiere of Canadian-Iranian playwright Aki Yaghoubi’s story of Parifam Mana who reconnects with an old friend, which opens up a trip into hidden truths of the past and their affect on the present day.

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The Savage Society presents You Used to Call Me Marie, with Tai Amy Grauman as Iskwewo and Aren Okemaysim as Napew. Photo by Benjamin Laird /sun

Femme Festival 2024: You Used to Call Me Marie …

When: April 18-28, various times

Where: York Theatre, 639 Commercial Dr., Vancouver

Tickets and info: thecultch.com

The Savage Society (Vancouver) and the NAC Indigenous Theatre present playwright/actor Tai Amy Grauman’s Métis love story set in the world of the Callihoo women in Alberta. Eight stories intertwine in this historic journey across the Métis Nation from early days to the present.

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Homecoming, by Kamila Sediego, produced by Urban Ink. Photo by Emily Cooper Photography /sun

Femme Festival 2024: Homecoming

When: May 2-12, various times

Where: Historic Theatre at the Cultch, 1895 Venables St.

Tickets and info: thecultch.com

Urban Ink (Vancouver) mounts Kamila Sediego’s work that asks whether you can come back to a home you lost or never knew. Set in Canada, it covers the story of the lives of three generations of Filipina women. Shifting between Canada and the Philippines, the piece explores cultural identity, family bonds, delicious food and the afterlife.

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