With all the summer festivals being cancelled due to COVID-19, it’s sad to think that my original musical CLITORIA: A Sex-Positive Superhero! will not get to play this August at the Guelph Fringe Festival as planned. I’m hopeful that the festival will be rescheduled, and that the Vixen of Kink will rule the night once again, after a wonderful run at the Toronto Fringe Festival last summer. I was very excited to bring home this campy, wild ride; I also know that some people have been surprised by my portrayal of a sex-positive superhero.
From Kiwanis to Clitoria
As a singing teacher starting up my own business with many young students, I knew it was a bit risky to be producing a musical about sex. Despite my 7 years of teaching experience and advanced certification from the Royal Conservatory in classical singing, would parents want to send their kids to singing lessons with Clitoria?
The truth is that my young students are who I wrote the show for.
Not that the show is meant for young kids to watch; it’s not. The goal of the show is to entertain and educate adults (and young adults) about the value of accepting people for who they are, so that these children can grow up in a world with less shame.
Sex in the Age of DoFo
In 2018, the dynastic conservative Doug Ford was elected Premier of Ontario with only one campaign promise: to scrap the 2015 Sex Education Curriculum. Updated from 1998, this curriculum was drafted by teachers, parents, child psychologists, and experts to include instruction on sexual identity, gender identity, and sex outside of heterosexual reproduction. Apparently, 40% of Ontarians thought this was a controversial idea, and that parents should be the ones educating their children about sex.
“What did you learn about in school day?” I overheard a father asking his pre-teen daughter one day in a coffee shop.
“We learned about STIs.”
“Sexually transmitted infec—”
“I don’t want to talk about that.”
As a kid, this is pretty much how this conversation would have gone down in my house as well. Unlike math, history, or English, it would seem that sex is not a school subject you can talk about freely with your parents.
Fringe by Fire
In November 2018, I was accepted into the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival by lottery draw. I had no show—no script, no characters, no cast or crew—nothing. The application was $29, and I figured if I got in I’d have to get my butt in gear and write something. I realized quickly that I would have to write about whatever was going on in my life. There was no time to make anything up.
Late 2018 into early 2019 was a strange brew. As I came to know myself better sexually, my marriage became strained at a time when we had planned on starting a family. Doug Ford scrapped the sex ed curriculum precisely as I was experiencing a kind of sexual renaissance, underpinned by tremendous guilt and shame. My teen and pre-teen students—many of whom are queer—were staging rallies, walk-outs, and protests to defend their right to an inclusive sex education that validates their identities.
My students were so fearless and inspiring. They were shouting out loud the things that I still struggled to admit to myself. And yet, they were all too young to vote. Despite many of them being tax-payers through part-time jobs, they had no legitimate voice in the political process.
I realized that it was up to us, the adults in the situation, to do something. In the face of such incredible strength shown by these children, there was no longer any excuse for my fear to speak out. Quite frankly, it was embarrassing.
I also thought about the advantage that I had growing up in a white, middle-class, conservative family. I realized that I was in a unique position to be able to speak to these folks because I know them. The more I thought about it, the more I felt it was my responsibility.
Sex-Positivity for Dummies
I set about writing a show about a straight, monogamous couple buckling under the constraints of a traditional, vanilla relationship. I threw in a dash of everything that would make me excited to see a show: superheroes, weird science, sexy costumes, dumb songs, big characters, dirty improv, and as much camp as I could cram in.
In other words, I tried to write the worst show possible and just see what came out.
Thankfully, due to the contributions of stage manager Justine Cargo, director Christopher Wilson, sound designer Tim Lindsay, the Toronto Fringe tech staff, and a dream cast—Matthew Bradley, Jada Rifkin, and Ursula K. Manifred—my first musical came to life on stage in a way that was so much more than I had ever envisioned.
Critical and Commercial Success
In July 2019, CLITORIA played to wonderfully receptive audiences at the Toronto Fringe Festival in one of their biggest venues, the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. It won the Patron’s Pick Award for highest audience attendance in the venue, and received rave reviews.
In August 2019, the Ontario Conservatives reinstated the updated sex education curriculum with minimal changes.
CLITORIA is my love letter to my young singing students and their bravery to stand up for themselves and who they are. They inspired me to do the same.