Last year a hurricane tried to stop it. But in 2021, a global pandemic isn’t keeping the Halifax Fringe Festival down as it returns live at venues across the city this September.
Featuring more than 25 shows at the usual haunts like The Bus Stop Theatre and Neptune Theatre’s Scotiabank Stage, the annual unjuried and uncensored performing arts festival is branching out with performances at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Point Pleasant Park, among others.
While things will look a little different with what organizers characterize as “hugely limited capacities” due to gathering restrictions, the very fact the festival is taking place without a Zoom to be found gives hope that we’ve turned a corner.
One of the performers taking advantage of the more traditional Fringe venues this year is Tom Hearn, who performs his solo show Gay Garbage at Neptune Theatre’s Scotiabank Stage on Argyle Street. It is a show that takes its name from a homophobic comment made by a past audience member.
“One night, I was performing at a sold-out show with a bunch of other comedians and a woman came up to me and another comedian who happened to be straight, and told him she loved him because he didn’t do that ‘gay garbage’,” Hearn explains.
While his first reaction was to brush away the comment with a laugh to the woman’s face, it soon gave way to a wave of creative anger. “I took that horrible comment and spun it into a positive,” says Hearn.
“It’s about fun. It’s about taking those moments in our lives that have pushed and beaten us down and flipping them on their head and celebrating them.”
Billed as a sketch comedy show with music, sketches, original characters and impressions, Gay Garbage is the epitome of the comedy genre that brought Hearn from the Maritimes to Central Canada in 2014 to study at Toronto’s famed Second City. He would eventually come to collaborate with The Second City’s current artistic director Carly Heffernan.
“We’ve been wanting to work together on a project like this for a while and the timing just happened to sync up and I’m just so happy to have her directing the show,” says Hearn.
Having a pair of new eyes on the material he has been working on over the course of the pandemic has been instrumental in shaping the final product.
“I’ve been staring at these words, characters, and points of view for so long that it is refreshing to have somebody come in and bring their flavour on top and really hash out the comedy,” says Hearn.
Before The Second City, though, Hearn’s journey to the comedy institution began in New Brunswick while studying at Mount Allison and performing with Sackville’s Live Bait Theatre.
“Theatre was something I thought of pursuing when I first moved to Toronto, but it just ended up falling aside as I fell in love with sketch comedy and realized it was what I wanted to do,” he says.
It was in its character-driven base that would eventually attract Hearn to the genre.
“People always assume I am a stand-up comedian, but I don’t like to do stand-up because I like bringing elements of my life into my characters,” he says. “It is easier for me to put on a wig or a silly costume and still say the same things I would in a stand-up set, but through the mask of a character.”
And while being queer is a part of what drives Hearn’s comedy, he says it doesn’t define who he is or what he does on stage.
“Inherently, my comedy is just going to be because that’s who I am, and that’s my perspective on the world,” he says. “But everybody will find a reason to laugh at my show and I ask them to laugh with me, not at me.”
Despite knowing its provocative title may cause some potential audience members to hesitate, Hearn says Gay Garbage is relatable, regardless if you are gay, straight or somewhere in-between.
“It’s about fun,” he says. “It’s about taking those moments in our lives that have pushed and beaten us down and flipping them on their head and celebrating them.”
Gay Garbage plays as part of the 2021 Halifax Fringe Festival with performances at Neptune Theatre’s Scotiabank Stage from September 2 through September 12. Visit halifaxfringe.ca for complete details on this and the other shows at this year’s festival.
Editor’s Note (25 August 2021): This article was edited to reflect the correct venue for Gay Garbage.