How this artist took her broken heart and turned it into art

Indie music sensation Lido Pimienta makes her theatrical debut this week with a play turning her bittersweet relationship observations into theatre.

Lido Pimienta debuts her 'live graphic novel performance' at the Rhubarb Festival this week

Lido Pimineta. (Alejandro Santiago Photography)

"There are actually several threads that make up this wet blanket of insecurity, disrespect and cruelty that we all take part in. It is so sad — but also hilarious."

Lido Pimienta, the Colombian-born artist at the helm of We Are in a Non-Relationship Relationship, turned this bittersweet observation into theatre. Premiering as part of Buddies in Bad Times' 38th Annual Rhubarb Festival this Thursday, the live show was woven from tales of breakup and heartbreak that Pimienta and her circle of friends had recently endured. In collaboration with local interdisciplinary director Gein Wong, the two were able to transfigure these anecdotes into a narrative concerning "nouveau adult" life in the big city — which, sometimes more than anything else, is about survival.

The Rhubarb Festival is fuelled by a similar modus operandi, with a queer-centric playbill hosting an array of never-before-produced experimental projects that overlap and synthesize the boundaries between theatre, dance, music, cinema and performance art. Over the past week, Buddies has showcased everything from the instant gratification of a haunted house cabaret to the vitality of a Queer Youth Arts Program highlighting some of Canada's most exciting new artists. Now in its second and final week, another onslaught of original one-time performances venture to resuscitate contemporary theatre by remodelling this sad but hilarious truth.

Lido Pimienta has been a regular name in the Toronto arts community ever since releasing her sophomore record La Papessa last year. And although she's a maestro of her own distinct synthpop sound, Pimienta has yet to take on a theatrical setting — until now. "It's not really what I do," she admits, "but I feel blessed to have it."


Billed as a live graphic novel performance, We Are in a Non-Relationship Relationship follows "a woman who still sees herself as a girl, and is 'sort of dating' a guy who 'sort of likes her.' We sit with her in her living room and hear her speak her 'not-so truth.' We know her. We know this character, we have seen her, we have been her and some of us will always be her. We want people to expect nothing, but take everything. We will all be together in our feelings."

Inexperienced onstage as she may claim to be, perhaps it isn't so startling to find Pimienta leaping from medium to medium. On La Papessa she fuses Indigenous tribal chants with SoundCloud-ready beats, shifting from intimate subject matter like mourning and self-love to urgent and global calls-to-arms like woman's rights and environmental preservation (consider her lead single "Agua"). The personal never lands far from the political, and Pimienta firmly believes the day she ceases being forthright about her experience will be the day she quits making art.

I am who I am and who I am is reflected in what I do. I have different identities and each of those influence certain aspects of my being in a particular or unique way.- Lido Pimienta

More than a decade ago, a civil war displaced Pimienta's family from her Baranqilla, Colombia birthplace to her current Ontario home base. In a NOW Magazine write-up earlier this year, the ascending musician spoke up about continuing to experience industry discrimination and being tokenized by festival bookers as the one woman of colour. She can't not factor these inequities into her artistic process.

"I am who I am and who I am is reflected in what I do. I have different identities and each of those influence certain aspects of my being in a particular or unique way."

Lido Pimienta and Gein Wong. (Courtesy of Buddies In Bad Times)

In mounting Thursday's show, Pimienta chose to work alongside Gein Wong particularly because of their mutual capacity to "laugh in the face of turmoil, especially turmoil experienced by a big chunk of the community because of their class or status."

For longer than any other Canadian new works festival, Rhubarb has been giving an exclusive platform to the independent artists who hazard to unthread and redress the realities they inhabit. In addition to each February's initiative, Pimienta would like to see more trans and two-spirited people filling mainstage and backstage positions, curatorial spaces and booking roles, year-round and throughout the entire industry.

"I just know I am grateful for the opportunity to experiment and express my ideas with the guidance of such a fantastic mentor. I am excited and terrified at the same time. I am going for it." 

We Are in a Non-Relationship Relationship. Created and performed by Lido Pimienta. Directed by Gein Wong. Feb 23. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto.


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