Meet the emerging queer artists Buddies is showcasing in this year's Queer Pride Festival

Ajahnis Charley, Janis Mayers and Babe Waters represent the next generation of 2SLGBTQ Canadian excellence.

Ajahnis Charley, Janis Mayers and Babe Waters represent the next generation of 2SLGBTQ Canadian excellence

From left: Ajahnis Charley, Janis Mayers and Babe Waters. (Photography John Paillé, MUA Mikey Elliot, hair styling Israel Garcia, graphic design "Whose Land is it Anyway" Chris Rouleau)

Over the past 15 years, the Emerging Creators Unit at Buddies in Bad Times has offered dozens of queer artists the opportunity to take their craft to the next level. Alumni have included Jordan Tannahill, Heath V. Salazar and Teiya Kasahara, and this month three new exceptional artists join them: comedy writer and performer Ajahnis Charley, artist Janis Mayers and performance artist and event producer Babe Waters.

Having worked over the past few months with mentors Tawiah M'Carthy (an alumni of the program himself) and Philip Geller to create new work, the trio will be virtually sharing excerpts and/or talking about their projects and processes from June 19-20, with the sharings happening on the 19th and a Q&A panel and social event on the 20th. It's all part of Buddies' Queer Pride Festival, which will feature over 100 artists and 25 events from June 15-27. You can reserve your (free) tickets here — but first, get to know Charley, Mayers and Waters and their respective projects a little bit in the interviews below. 

Ajahnis Charley. (John Paillé)

How about we start things off by introducing ourselves?

Babe Waters: Shé:kon. Babe Waters yónkyats. I'm a 2S femme performance artist and event producer, and I've been touring and performing around the world creating art over the last decade across multiple disciplines from film to drag to wrestling and everything in between.

Janis Mayers: My name is Janis Mayers. I'm a graduate of Seneca College's corporate media production program. Upon graduating I became a personal trainer; health wellness and physical training led me to the arts. I have been working in the Toronto arts scene for the past three years [as] a performer involved in collective creation. During the pandemic, the gyms have been closed, so I have been pursuing playwright and dramaturg workshops and have been hyper-focused on my writing and development as an actor.  

Ajahnis Charley: I'm Ajahnis Charley (he/him, they/them), a Toronto-based comedy writer and performer. My arts practice includes sketch comedy, news comedy, improvised theatre and whatever hobby I've spent the last two days obsessing over. As a non-binary performer of Caribbean descent, much of my work explores intersectionality and the rules dictated by prevailing cultures. My 2020 solo sketch show THOTS & PRAYERS is an example of that exploration, as it delves into gay culture and who gets to decide what it is. I'm also the co-founder of Canada's first all-Black sketch troupe "Untitled Black Sketch Project." And I'm 5'4" which most of all makes my accomplishments a triumph.

Tell me a bit about the work you'll be showing at Queer Pride.

BW: I'll be showcasing a brief panel discussion about immersive theatre and consent with regards to audience participation and engagement. I'm creating a tongue-in-cheek game show meets fever dream immersive piece titled Whose Land is it Anyway? and through it I aim to have the audience have a direct effect on the outcome of the pieces based off their choices throughout the show. This is to showcase that regardless of intent, your actions affect how we are both treated and represented in media and pop culture settings. Since we are still under restrictions and lockdown, I will be using this time to further explore the understanding of how to actively engage an audience and involve them directly in the art that they are consuming.

JM: The project I'm developing is titled Park Life. It's my first self-produced show. The story takes place in Regent Park and follows the life of a young woman navigating her way out of socioeconomic barriers. I grew up in that area; I'd like to share some stories before the old neighborhood is forever gone. Some of the themes I'm working with are the negative impact of gentrification, poverty, addiction and endurance. 

AC: I'll be presenting the first act of 27 Club, a fusion of traditional play structure with sketch comedy about a world where youths have until the age of 27 to make a great contribution to society, or else they're executed. It's like The Hunger Games meets Broad City. It's fun!

Babe Waters. (John Paillé)

Who or what inspires you as an artist these days?

JM: Life is chaos and beauty.  My current project is inspired by where I grew up and the people that have impacted me in both positive and negative ways. Growing up here in a city that's constantly changing, there has been a lot of magic and difficulty. I also love poetically driven physical theatre. 

AC: Robin Thede and A Black Lady Sketch Show, Tim Robinson's I Think You Should Leave, Debra Wilson's work on MAD TV and Chris Fleming are all iconic and inspire me in terms of structure, language and just focusing on the sort of humour that strikes me, trusting that an audience will catch up. Also, the physicality and speed of cartoons have left a huge impression on me, which will become very obvious in [my] show.

BW: I've always been drawn to the sincere yet awkward nature of late-night and public cable access style TV but am hyper-aware of the lack of representation of both myself and those around me in it. I tend to blend those things together in my art to create what I wish I was seeing, almost like a QTBIPOC UHF utopia. I'm also just massively inspired by other artists in my communities, the resiliency and unapologetic nature of our storytelling and the way so many people blend different mediums to create new beauty against all odds is amazing. One of my main art outlets is producing events that showcase the talents of those around me and introduce everyone else to their wonderful work. If you were to twist my arm and ask me across all of pop culture who I draw from the most, though? John Waters and Miss Piggy.

What have you learned about yourself or your work through the process of this program?

BW: I've learned that I still approach theatre in a less conventional way that's kind of from a mish-mash of my own personal experience self-producing shows for most of my career. The work has shifted and changed form, including titles, many times throughout this process, and a lot of the input from our guests has helped draft a better understanding of how Whose Land can operate and be the best show it can be. I've definitely gained a few new skills, and being able to listen to two very different artists also talk about how they interpret each session to their work has also been immensely helpful. 

AC: I learned that people are accessible and mentorship is available — I just have to reach out. The pandemic took away some of my collaborative feels, so it was nice to be back in a space that prioritizes community as well as creation. 

JM: With things constantly changing I've learned to think outside the box [and] not worry too much about the outcome of a project but rather allow it to inform me and enjoy creating theatre in a new way. Letting go of what I know and being okay with the unknown.

Janis Mayers. (John Paillé)

Obviously, these remain strange times. But the end at least seems near, and I wondered, as we start to rebuild, what's something you are hopeful about — perhaps something positive that could come out of all this, specifically with respect to the queer community?

JM: It has brought up many conversations about social justice and the queer community: having a safe space to navigate; positive opportunities where people can be themselves completely, not having to hide and express their truth; to have the right to be a beginner. Respect and honour the multitude of voices in our community — I'd like these changes to be sustainable for years to come.

AC: It's been a terrible time for the planet. We know this. Yet at the same time, this moment of global quietude gave me the first period of my life where people actually seemed keen on listening to what I have to say. For this hot minute, BIPOC and queer voices seem to be of interest. Will we lose that in our rush to reopen? I hope not.

BW: What I'm hopeful about, or at least desperately hoping for as we start to rebuild, is change. I see a lot of people just asking for things to go "back to normal," and normal wasn't good for almost anyone. I don't want to see our community sacrificing their health and sanity to be underpaid and overworked and underappreciated. I do not want to see any more shows cast entirely of cis-het white performers. I'm really hoping that we can create more care and innovation in our spaces so that we can celebrate and honour ourselves and one another. We have an opportunity to do something new and exciting, and I really am looking forward to the next wave of queer resilience and thrivance.

The Emerging Creators Unit runs June 19-20 at 7:30pm as part of Buddies in Bad Times' Queer Pride Festival. Reserve your tickets here


Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2020s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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