Pearle Harbour's Chautauqua pitches a tent at SummerWorks
by DREW ROWSOME -
The SummerWorks Performance Festival is full of daring, original, innovative and in some cases scary work. Perhaps the best example of all of the above is Pearle Harbour's Chautauqua, a :part cabaret, part tragicomedy, part old time tent revival" conducted by the glamorous grande dame herself. The "beloved bombshell, drag queen" agreed to talk about Chautauqua and Summerworks.
Drew Rowsome: Before we begin, can I just clarify, am I talking to Pearle Harbour or to Justin Miller?
Pearle Harbour: Can't you tell the difference with these womanly tones and wiles?
My apologies. Wonderful to finally talk Ms Harbour. I attended Pearle Harbour's Sunday School and you are intensely inspiring and charismatic. When are you going to found your own church or cult?
I feel like the best cults are the ones that are done around you. Jesus really had all the people sort of congregating around him, he wasn't necessarily being, "Oh yeah, I'm the everything." But everyone else just sort of thought, "Let's get behind this guy." It's sort of a passive marketing procedure, that sort of savior complex that he had. And I feel that, yeah, that works for me.
What made you decide to revive the Chaut . . . I can't really pronounce it. Chaut . . .
Ok. Try that one more time.
I'll probably have to try it a dozen more times.
Follow my lead. Ready? (The next few minutes are spent with Harbour teaching me, syllable by syllable, how to pronounce "Chautauqua." When I have repeated it several times to her satisfaction, we continue.)
I look around and I see that we live in troubled times. I see that we are farther apart than we have been before. And believe me, when you have ridden the world as long and hard as I have - (her voice drops two octaves) and I have ridden this world long and hard - you know when things are bad. You can feel it. Chautauqua is about bringing people together again. It's about recognizing the strength in people power. Sure you might call it a cult, but I think its a great place for like-minded individuals to get together and feel good about themselves again.
Why hold Chautauqua in a tent?
Tents are honest. Tents are very simple. A tent can't be anything but a tent. Even this conversation we're having on our phone can only do so much for us. Conversation isn't good. Community if you can trust anybody. Information if you can believe any of it. But a tent is just meant to shelter. To bring people in. To protect them. And I think there's something very beautiful about that. This is one hell of a tent by the way.
Was it manufactured in Canada?
Oh no, no. This is an old, old, antique piece. I did get some really fabulous designers to add some little special touches. Joe Pagnon and Haley Reap their names are. They did such a fabulous job of really making me feel at home in a tent. It's for 40 people only. That's the big exciting thing. So when you're in the there and you're with me, it's incredibly intimate. Like real intimate.
Do you have trouble being intimate with 40 people a night? Or is that a slow night?
You know I have done more. Let's just say that that crowd size is manageable. You don't really want to go more than that because you get a little worn out, your performance gets a little shaky around the edges. A little sloppy let's say. But 40 I can handle no problem.
Every single one who stepped in the tent. And we were sold out almost every night. It was always so beautiful to see these people coming together. Beyond ideology, beyond political opinions, having to go through something and see how they rose to the occasion or sometimes stumble. It was always really beautiful and everyone requires something different. Every audience is unique and they get a unique Chautauqua because of that, Because of what they bring to the space. It was an incredible experience. I was proven right, who would have guessed?
Have you ever been proven wrong?
Not to my knowledge. Confidence is king.
Are there other shows at SummerWorks you are looking forward to seeing?
Oh yes, the programming this year is phenomenal. There is a Garth Brooks musical . . . let me just pull this up, there's so much I'm looking forward to, essentially anything that's really gay, I'm sure you can sympathize with that. . . there it is, Nashville Stories. It sounds quite bonkers. And I'm really looking forward to what they pull out of their pockets. I've known a number of the team of Divine, which is a seemingly dystopian dissertation on water and divining water. And then I have a really wonderful number of colleagues in The Chemical Valley Project by Kevin Wong which deals with pipeline activism here in Canada, very immediate, very visceral. And I should also mention my good friends at Pandemic Theatre, they're doing a show called The Only Good Indian. It's a pretty challenging look at who and why we empathize with people. So I'm excited, I'm excited about all this. I'm finally getting the recognition I've so deserved.
Chautauqua includes music and song, do you find that music is a good way to get to people's hearts?
Absolutely. When first working on this piece, I found an old Chautauqua song which was later co-opted in the '60s. People forget its Chautauquan roots. It's called "One Tin Soldier." This song lives in the heart of every Ontarian. I don't exactly know why. As soon as I break into it and you have a tent of 40 people singing and screaming along in whatever key they feel is their truth. That is something to see. It actually is truly moving every single time.
Is there anything you would like people to know to be prepared for Chautauqua?
Be prepared? Bring themselves, bring your truth, and be ready. Not everyone is necessarily strong enough but if you follow my lead, we'll get there. And we'll be better for it.
Guaranteed. It's about connection. We'll connect whether you like it or not. I will connect with you.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk.
Oh, thank you so much. It's a full day of masturbation so I so appreciate that we got this out of the way early. You have yourself a wonderful day!