C/O Stephanie Montani

Supercrawl may look a bit different this year, but the important pieces remain the same.

Since it began in 2009, Supercrawl has become an integral part of not only Hamilton’s arts and culture community, but the city’s larger community as well. The festival showcases local talent in a range of areas from music and theatre to visual art and fashion, and also offers space to vendors and food trucks. One of Hamilton’s signature events, the multi-arts festival truly offers something for everyone, bringing together people from across the city and featuring the treasured memories and traditions of many.

“[Supercrawl] started as a small grassroots experiment on James Street North, putting local people together—artists, vendors and businesses—and seeing if we could potentially draw some more people than were at the time coming to the local area. And from there it grew,” explained Tim Potocic, the festival director, in an interview with CFMU. 

For many students, Supercrawl’s mid-September timing lends itself to being the perfect introduction to the Hamilton arts and culture community.

“[T]he timing of Supercrawl has always worked out really nicely with new students . . .  it ends up being an amazing time for new students moving in and we've seen them come to the event. It's like their first weekend in Hamilton and this huge thing is going on and there's a massive circus in the middle of downtown,” said Lisa La Rocca, the festival’s vendor coordinator.

Typically, Supercrawl takes place during the second weekend of September. Planning for each weekend is a year-long affair, with the team starting to think about the next year almost immediately after the festival wraps up. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Potocic, La Rocca and their team to pivot quickly and search for new ways to continue to present and promote local artists—not only for those in the music industry, but also for those in visual arts, fashion and theatre.

We are ones to try to push through anything,” said La Rocca.

With the available funding, they launched several virtual events while keeping a close eye on the latest developments and changes to provincial regulations. They have offered livestream events, including a fashion and drag showcase, talk conferences, theatre and music concerts, and their murals have also continued to be displayed on James Street North. 

"We've been utilizing the options that are available to us and have shifted to livestreams when we couldn't do shows in-person, and when we could do in-person, we're doing socially distanced hybrid performances with a livestream component—it's been challenging with lots of cancellations, rebookings and attempts at execution, but we're still going strong!” explained Potocic in a statement.

When small outdoor gatherings were finally possible in Sept. 2020, Supercrawl launched its Skytop Live Concert Series with a cap of 100 physically distanced attendees. Visitors were provided a face mask and screened for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure upon entry to the venue. La Rocca noted all the protocols worked well and the events ran smoothly.

“I’m really proud of how [the Skytop Live Concert Series] was managed and done. I think that people that came felt safe and felt like it was appropriately managed for the situation we were in. The bands felt great to have a performance opportunity in front of an audience,” said La Rocca.

The organizers of Supercrawl have also opened a venue of their own, Bridgeworks, on Caroline and Barton Street, to continue hosting small live concerts. Their latest free live concert series kicked off this year’s Supercrawl and lasted from Aug. 20 to Sept. 26. It ran both in-person, for up to 50 attendees at Bridgeworks, and as a livestream online. The 50 live audience members were chosen through a lottery from a list of those who had signed up to see the show. 

So far, the reception to the Bridgeworks concert series has been filled with excitement and positivity. The artists were also overjoyed to see the live reactions of audience members. To cater to everyone’s comfort levels, Supercrawl will continue to offer opportunities for both on-site and online viewing of the events, public health guidelines permitting.

“We're going to continue also offering live streams, even when we can have more audience, to make sure that everybody who wants to see it, with their different comfort levels, that our programming is available to them. We're going to do that for as long as we can still offer it. And we did see, offering the audience tickets [for our events these past few weeks], some people were more comfortable still watching it at home. And that's totally fine,” said La Rocca.

Part of Supercrawl’s success in maintaining its large presence during the past year can be attributed to its mature and rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic. From their online events to smaller in-person concerts, none of it would have been possible without timely decision making and attentiveness to public health guidelines. 

In a continuous effort to protect the health and safety of the artists, staff, volunteers and audience members, this year, following its announcement that as of Sept. 1, Supercrawl and Sonic Unyon mandated a proof of full COVID-19 vaccination with Government of Canada approved vaccines or an official documentation of a negative COVID-19 test conducted within 48 hours prior to entry to the event. 

The vaccination mandate came into effect after much deliberation with other arts organizations about how to best approach the coming months as restrictions continue to be lifted in Ontario. They examined other businesses' responses to changing guidelines and worked closely to develop new policies. Shortly after Supercrawl’s vaccine policy update, the Government of Ontario also released its statement on COVID-19 vaccination mandates. 

“There's been a lot of really good examples of the community, the artistic community and music community working together to figure out what's going on to make sure everybody is informed and on the same side,” explained La Rocca.

While there has been a great deal of change in the format of Supercrawl and how the festival operates over the last two years, the most important pieces have remained the same. The festival continues to showcase a range of remarkable local talent, while offering the community a number of opportunities to come together and connect, whether it’s in person or virtually.

Another core piece of the festival, and part of its particular appeal to students in the past, is the opportunities it offers for exploration and discovery and those opportunities are something the festival organizers have also strived to carry forward.

“We really just want everybody to feel like they can be involved and are involved in and can enjoy Supercrawl programming. I think that is the most important thing; we try to find something for everyone. That's in music genres, but also in representing as many different artistic genres as we can . . . we really want everybody to feel like there's something for them to see and something for them to do,” said La Rocca.

Supercrawl has become an important part of the Hamilton community and the student experience over the years and even throughout the pandemic they have continued to offer opportunities for people to come together, explore and enjoy themselves. Moving forward, the festival will continue to showcase local talent and offer these crucial community events in any way they can and in the upcoming months Supercrawl fans still have much to look forward to, including more music series, two new murals and an exciting outdoor event to be revealed in the upcoming weeks.

Photos C/O Kyle West

By: Andrew Mrozowski

Concluding McMaster’s Pride Week, the Pride Community Centre in conjunction with Queer Outta Hamilton, put on one of Hamilton’s only open stage drag show at downtown’s Sous Bas. With the turnout being so large that a line extended down the block, this was truly a night that people were going to be talking about for a while.

As I went down the stairs into the club, I was immediately met with the loud chatter of hundreds of people in a dimly lit room. The music played so loud that I could feel it vibrating up from the floor into my bones. Host Troy Boy Parks, a Guelph-based drag queen who knows how to control a crowd, stood on a single runway connected off the main stage.

Drag herstory begins in the mid 1900s during a time when homosexuality was prosecuted. Drag was used to escape the harsh realities of being an outcast of society. Only being practiced at clubs within the back corners of cities, queens would perform allowing the LGBTQ+ community to play with the concept of gender and sexuality in a time when they were not allowed to do so.

[spacer height="20px"]Drag was also the community’s reaction to freedom of speech during a time when it was hard to come by. Instead of picketing, they chose to stand up in an elegant way, a way that people would talk about for years to come.

As the LGBTQ+ community became more socially accepted within the world, so did the concept of drag. Present day drag has evolved much more than its predecessor. Modern drag is very much an entertainment-driven performance in which a person dresses extravagantly to amplify overexaggerated male or female characteristics.  This along with the rise of drag in popular culture, through the reality TV show, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, made drag culture mainstream.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race”, hosted by world-renowned queen RuPaul Charles, enables drag queens from around the United States to compete in various challenges to prove they have what it takes to be America’s Next Drag Superstar. Concluding it’s tenth season in 2018, along with four seasons of an all-star spin-off series, RuPaul has given queens, both amateur and professional, a platform to notoriety within not only the queer community, but society as well.  

[spacer height="20px"]As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I know that it can be hard to find your own identity, especially in a society that is not always accepting of others. Some queens do drag because it is their way to express their feminine side in a society that prohibits showing that.

Queens also gain a lot of confidence being on stage performing in front of a crowd with a group of people appreciating them and what they do. This is in part thanks to the success of RuPaul’s Drag Race creating a positive look at drag culture. Confidence on stage can add to the person’s own confidence as they feel validated that others appreciate their craft.

Other queens look at it as creative medium. As a man who has only dressed up as a grandmother once for Halloween, I will be the first to tell you that make up is hard to do! Makeup takes a lot of artistic skill to achieve the look you have in your mind, and some queens find this self-expression to be a form of art in itself.

[spacer height="20px"]Every queen has a different take on how they want to deliver their drag extravaganza and what it should contribute to the LGBTQ+ community. Whether it be comedic relief to take the edge off or a rally to vote against a pumpkin president, drag will always be the first voice heard from the community and will always be ever-present.

Standing amongst hundreds of chattering people in a dimly lit room, my eyes flutter back and forth from the stage to the people surrounding me. Watching queen after queen putting the bass in their walk down the runway, I ponder on how we got to where we are today. If you asked me a year ago what I thought about drag, I would have said I don’t care for it.

Enter all my friends, both gay and straight, who didn’t stop raving about drag, I decided to give it a chance. What I ended up seeing was members of a shared community who didn’t care how others looked at them.

I saw members of a shared community who have so much love for one another. RuPaul ends each of her shows by asking contestants: “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” These are words that constantly flow through the LGBTQ+ community.

Drag creates a sense of belonging and safety because you are in an environment amongst people who feel the same way as you. At a drag show, I feel safe because I know that the people around me will always care and support me, as I would them.

Although Pride Week at McMaster must ‘sashay away’ for another year, the progress the community makes will stay and continue to be built upon.

To the future generations of queer youth coming to McMaster, I say this: do not be afraid to be who you are and share it with the rest of the world. Sometimes it seems unfair but be proud. Stand up and fight for what you believe in, but also remember to have fun too.

Be it through drag or another medium that may rise in the years to come, there will always be an audience there for you. To close with the immortal words of Mama Ru, ‘Good luck and don’t fuck it up!’

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