Several months ago the Winnipeg Free Press had a short review of the book, Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter, that immediately made it onto my "must read" list. Just a few weeks later I was listening to Shelagh Roger's "The Last Chapter" on CBC Radio one afternoon and heard her in conversation with the book's author, Alison Wearing and her dad discussing the book and the stories it tells. I was taken with the warm and witty banter between Alison and her dad, but also with the immense courage it must have taken for Alison to have written the book, and even more, for her parents to have given their blessing for her to tell their story.
This week I was thrilled to discover that Alison Wearing was bringing her one-woman play (from which the book is based) to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival this year. Mike and I were able to take in her first performance at the Winnipeg Fringe last night, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
Alison takes the audience from the time her mom and dad met through to the present using family pictures, music, a simple set, and monologue. The story weaves its way through what her life was like as a child in Peterborough Ontario pre and post her dad's coming out. When Alison's dad did finally come out of the closet and began living as an openly gay man, Alison was twelve years old. She makes the ironic confession that it was just as her dad had broken free of his "double life" that she felt she had to begin living hers - terrified that neighbors and friends would find out her dad was gay.
I laughed a lot through out the show. There are handfuls of funny moments, especially for those who also grew up and came of age in the 1970's and 80's. I knew there would be emotionally charged moments and themes, but I was caught off guard by how deeply the show would impact me. It was the ending, when Alison again takes the role of her father and begins to "conduct" the Toronto Gay Men's Choir through a recording that began my emotional response. Alison later states, "my father could not help being gay any more than bats can help hanging upside down." Her journey through her father's story of coming out resulted in a woman with a deep and abiding love for her father, his partner, and the life he made for himself.
After the show ended, Alison turned to the audience with tears welling in her eyes, thanking us for coming to see the show. She wasn't expecting many people in the crowd and was overwhelmed with the nearly-full room of people. It was amazing for me to again see the power that "story" holds for people. Even though she has written her story into a book and performed her play countless times, the telling of it and the reaction of people around her still holds power for her. It held power for me too, as my tears began then too.
As we were leaving the room, a 30-something year old man approached Alison, held her hand and said, "I am your dad". I could only imagine the way watching and experiencing Alison's story and discovering the beauty with which it has played out was deeply impacting for him. After walking from her, he turned to his waiting partner who embraced him and pecked him on the cheek, and they walked out, hand in hand. It was profound for me.
There was a short time for Alison to sell and sign her book afterward. I walked toward her with red eyes and nose and thanked her for offering her story.
Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter is playing at Venue 11 a the Red River College Princess Street campus until July 27th.