This weekend, tune into Fruit Loop‘s first virtual event, Pride at Home, for an evening of entertainment and celebration. The event runs from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday. The cast of performers will be live-streamed directly from The Starlite Room. You will get a chance to see Cedar Wildcat, Duke Carson, Artasia, Bea Lissima, Hakka Mei, Dominique Kinisky and many more. The 90-minute show will be available for viewing on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch.
We talked to Keith Andony, the co-founder of Fruit Loop Society, and the entertainment director, Joshua Wolchansky, about this year’s programming, the challenges of organizing a virtual Pride celebration, and what Edmonton LGBTQ2S+ community means to them.
Fruit Loop Society has traditionally hosted an in-person Pride celebration. What are the challenges that come with organizing this virtual event?
Keith Andony: I would say it’s got a lot more challenges than what we were accustomed to, in terms of our in-person event. So the technical components of basically producing a TV show — it’s like an hour and a half long TV show that’s built around the format of a Canadian Idol or like, a Pride Idol concept, where we are featuring our performers. And we’re really allowing quite a significant emphasis on the performers and their messages. Our in-person events are very much audience-focused. So we’ve had to challenge ourselves in terms of, how does an organization that is very focused on satisfying an audience, can satisfy an audience virtually?
Some of the performers are singing. And this is actually part of the challenge of running an event of this type, on platforms like YouTube and Facebook, because they have artificial intelligence algorithms that will shut your broadcast down if they detect copyrighted content. And we’ve had to work with both. Even though we’ve contacted them and we have the appropriate authorization to run this event, virtually. It’s just that sometimes there are basically robots that are listening and we have to figure out how to trick the robots.
How has this year’s event changed?
KA: Fruit Loop always works with the community partners at our in-person events. And so we’ve reached out to our past community partners, which are usually non-profits and charitable organizations supporting the LGBTQ2S+ community. And they are sending their virtual messages and reminding the community that they’re still there, and they’re still providing services and they’re having to adapt as well. So that would be groups like the Edmonton Men’s Health Collective (EMHC), HIV Edmonton, the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies & Services at the University of Alberta, and the NAIT Pride Committee. You know, the parade has always been such a significant focus of Pride. And we had to innovate and figure out ways to get those people who were central in the parade, to still allow the broader community to know that they’re still helping out and we’re still thinking about them.
It’s very challenging because it’s new to us. And we have been left in charge of producing an hour and a half long TV program. And we have spent the last seven years refining our skills around in-person, face-to-face events. So changing the format to an entirely different concept has been really challenging and it pushed us to grow in new ways and to challenge ourselves, to make sure that we’re getting the message out, in these times for people.
What can people expect to see at the virtual event?
KA: So I think the key message that we’re really trying to strive for, is acknowledging the diversity of the LGBTQ2S+. We’ve got a really great cross-section of the community being represented. We have an emphasis and a real highlight on people of color, female performers. We’re still doing some drag, but one of the drag performers is from the Two-Spirit community. So we’ve really, really tried to make sure that even in a virtual climate, we’re still seeking to ensure that it’s many people from across the community that we can connect to, and able to highlight.
We are featuring drag and burlesque and we do acknowledge that we are probably getting some family viewers, so in regards to some of the content…. I believe in burlesque it’s called a Boston Show, which means that there’s no nudity. And also because we’re streaming on Facebook and YouTube, we have to make sure that we meet community standards. So we do acknowledge that this show is primarily for the LGBTQ2S+ community and their allies. And some of the content might be a little bit provocative, but we’re trying to do it in an educational and informed way.
Joshua Wolchansky: The new platform has given us an opportunity to not only highlight and showcase some incredible entertainment, but to also produce some pre-recorded vignettes where the viewers are provided an inside view of how the performers create their acts, tips for budding performers, and why Pride is still relevant in 2020. We will also have pre-recorded shoutouts from community partners and allies of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
How have the artists adapted to the online format?
KA: Well, I think one of the significant differences is that typically drag and burlesque performers are reliant on tips in a live show. And so we’ve had to figure out a way to provide compensation to the performers. Because we don’t believe that performers should be paid in exposure, they should actually be compensated in the same way that any other professional would hope to be compensated for their talents.
How can people support participating artists through this virtual show?
KA: You’ll be able to virtually tip during the show. So you’ll be able to do like an e-transfer during the show, to the various performers.
Why was it important for your team to put on the event in a virtual format this year?
KA: I think it’s even more important at this juncture, to still maintain visibility and allow people to know that for Pride, there are still ways that we should be acknowledging the challenges of the various members of the community. While we won’t have an opportunity to protest necessarily, or march, or to have the parade, we are making sure that the voices that need to be heard — we’re trying our best to amplify them and get those messages out to the community and Edmonton at large.
JW: We’ve been humbled and honoured to be able to partner with some incredible partners to bring the Pride event online. Pride was historically a protest, led by trans Black women who were fighting for a space to belong, to exist. Over the years, pride has evolved; we now celebrate pride to celebrate the accomplishments and the wins of the community. It is also an opportunity to reflect on whose labours and toil we have to thank for those wins.
What has the response been so far?
KA: I would describe it as overwhelming support. To our knowledge, this is the largest virtual Pride-related event in Edmonton — if not the province. We are actually getting people from across the world who are tuning into Pride at Home. Because Edmonton is known, at least nationally, as the city that kicks off the Pride season. So the other Canadian centres, which have also flipped to virtual programming, are looking to us to see and understand what we’re doing.
The event is meant to provide support for the Edmonton 2 Spirit Society (E2S). How does the event support this organization?
KA: That’s the queer group for the Indigenous community, Edmonton, and Treaty 6. And Fruit Loop has worked with them over several years, and they provide events and activities for the Two-Spirit community, and advocacy as well. We will be highlighting them — there will be a segment and some content explaining who they are, during the event. But then we will also be donating some proceeds from our Prairie Fairy fundraising beer that we have in conjunction with Sea Change Brewing.
How can Edmontonians support your organization at this time?
KA: I would say, make sure to check out our Friday Mixes and keep supporting Sea Change Brewing because they’re keeping us alive as well. We are incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to develop such an authentic partnership with such a phenomenal local Edmonton company.
What are you most excited about?
KA: I’m excited that we have international visitors who are going to be learning about the Edmonton queer scene and that we are able to feature some phenomenal talent from across the province, and they are going global.