Musicals are effective at allowing audiences to step into a character’s experience. Love, family, growth and community abound in the story of Starwalker, a musical created by Indigenous, two-spirit storyteller Corey Payette. Starwalker will be performed, Feb. 17 to Mar. 5, at the York Theatre.
In creating the show, Payette says he drew on his background as a queer Indigenous creative in East Vancouver.
“This show is really just an extension, and a celebration, of that really diverse and celebratory community that already exists,” says Payette. “So it’s really just uplifting those kinds of stories, and saying these places should exist everywhere for everyone.”
While Starwalker is a fictional story about an Indigenous, two-spirit drag queen, Payette says the show reflects the beautiful reality of the community he has found in his neighbourhood.
The means of a musical
Payette says it was exciting to try something new with Starwalker. Having written a number of well-received musicals with historical settings, Starwalker sees a narrative set firmly in the present day, carried along by its modern pop/rock-focused score.
While the story of Star, the titular two-spirit drag queen protagonist, involves a navigating through the lingering effects of their own challenging past, Payette says the show is fundamentally a celebration, a “warm hug.” Starwalker allows audiences to see what the queer Indigenous community in Vancouver looks like today.
“It’s really exciting to get to write something contemporary that’s fun [and] lighthearted. There’s some serious themes in it, but ultimately it’s about love and joy – and finding family and home,” he says.
For Payette, gaining access to Star’s internal monologue, through music revelations makes things all the more rewarding when we can see them persevere.
“Even if they say a line where they’re speaking in a scene: there’s a moment that’s musicalized afterwards that helps you to understand why a character said that. What they’re feeling deep down that maybe they can’t share with everyone yet,” he says. “The great thing about the musical form is that when you can no longer speak, you sing.”
A love letter to East Van
Starwalker was deeply inspired by Payette’s experience of living in East Van. For example, he says the kind of cultural and creative blend in his neighbourhood is like nothing he’s ever seen. In this way, the blend of pop and rock, with Indigenous drumming, music that Starwalker often employs reflects the unique sound of Payette’s community.
“It’s like, where else would you have been able to hear something like that? But I do think that sort of thing exists in East Van,” he says. “It’s such a hugely populated area with Indigenous people. And you go to events and slam poetry, and you do hear drumming music played after a DJ set. So that actually is the richness of this community.”
But beyond the music itself, it’s the sense of community, connection and belonging that Payette has found which has inspired this love letter to East Van. The artist points to events hosted by organisations like Van Vogue Jam, a community partner of the show, that hosts diverse queer Ballroom dance spaces, as inspiration for Starwalker’s spaces where anyone can feel welcome.
“I wouldn’t say it’s directly lifted, for sure. But I can’t help but be influenced by this community because I live here,” says Payette. “It is such a welcoming and truly diverse place. And I think that, even though this is not based on that sort of event, it just sheds light on what exists here. And how this sort of thing is not new, and it’s been happening for a long time.”
In all, Payette hopes to be able to share that joy and community with audiences through the story of Starwalker. It’s something he and many others have been able to experience, and something he thinks everyone should find beneficial.
“I think people need a lot of joy right now,” says Payette. “That’s what I hope people will come away with: is really having a chance to experience new perspectives. And to celebrate this community, and this place that is so special, but then just have a really good time at it as well.”
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