My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Stephen Jackman-Torkoff: making art and Progress

by Drew Rowsome -

"I don't have a title yet," says Stephen Jackman-Torkoff of his contribution to the Works-In-Progress portion of Progress: International Festival of Performance and Ideas. "I'm one of those people who experience life and hope that everything falls into place. It will be a fabulous spectacle of some sort with deep ideas. I'm trying to be as courageous as I can be, to one-up myself."

Jackman-Torkoff has experience with conjuring theatrical magic out of thin air. "I have done other shows, cabaret, I call them performance collages, mixing music, acting and dance." This creative format began while at the National Theatre School and flourished while Jackman-Torkoff was part of the Shaw Festival company. He decided to do one of his collages as part of the cabaret series where the artists perform for, and attempt to out-perform, each other. "I didn't know what people did, so I did everything. There was poetry, a dance piece, a two-minute art show where I brought my paintings onstage. I talked about my life and made them laugh."

The explosion of disciplines, while possibly radical for Shaw, was typical of Jackman-Torkoff. "I tend to start big and then go small," he says. He also watched what the other artists did, responded to the criticism and bafflement, but stayed the course and performed time and time again. "I learned a lot," he deadpans.

Jackman-Torkoff has been learning at a rapid pace. Since graduating from the National Theatre School, he has been an assistant director for the creation of The Gay Heritage Project, a member of the Shaw Festival company, a song and dance man in Peter and the Starcatcher at Kamloops' Western Canada Theatre, created provocative videos for, just completed a run in Rob Kempson's hit Mockingbird at the Next Stage Festival, and even joined in The Festival of Clowns.

"Baby is a piece I developed with Adam Lazarus," says Jackman-Torkoff. "It's a bouffant show about a gay black 20-year-old trying to get adopted by the crowd. It's an outrageous, vulgar version of me." The costuming for Baby was a diaper and the performance was "on a bill with Phil Luzi's Bleed and a guy in an electric chair. It was a very dark evening. I can't believe some of the things I said and my parents have never forgotten. It was so close to who I am but not me." He shrugs. "I was 19-years-old..."

Jackman-Torkoff is also currently an artist-in-residence at Buddies where he is working on the recently workshopped The Black Boys Project. "I'm mixed race raised in a Richmond Hill white foster home," he says. "The Black Boys Project is three people who outwardly seem to identify with the gay and queer community but certainly different aspects. There is no shortage of topics and no holding back. Being black and queer seems simple but I need to define things for myself."

Sexuality and race can't help but infuse whatever Jackman-Torkoff creates, but he raves about the opportunity Progress has offered him. The Works-In-Progress are part of the Forest Fringe Microfestival which features four internationally acclaimed and cutting edge works. The presenting artists mentor four local artists who create the works-in-progress. Jackman-Torkoff is teamed with Christopher Brett Bailey who is performing the rock n roll-driven This is How We Die, described as:

Filled with tales of paranoia and young love, ultra-violence and pitch-black humour, This is How We Die is a blend of spoken word, storytelling, caustic humour and gutter philosophy with echoes of Lenny Bruce, William Burroughs, beat poetry and B-movies. A prime slice of surrealist trash and a blood-soaked love letter to the depraved, depressed and death obsessed.

"It's exciting," says Jackman-Torkoff. "His style lines up with mine. He's really funny." And Bailey takes his mentoring seriously. "He sent a 10-page email.full of ideas, books I should read and movies I should see, questions to ask myself. The artists are contracted to answer one question, he answered all of mine. I look forward to the piece revealing itself to me, as much as I plan things, you never know what will happen."

Progress: International Festival of Performance and Ideas continues until Sun, Feb 7 at the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St W.