Fil-Canadian Anthony Raymond Yu directs queer staging of ‘Dog Sees God’
From left, Marcy (Alia Rasul), Van (Ethan Saulnier) and Tricia (Lisa Alves). CONTRIBUTED
TORONTO — Filipino Canadian Anthony Raymond Yu has founded a new theater company, rejznkliv, and is directing a queer and colored staging of “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” for its inaugural production.
Bert Royal’s dark comedy imagines familiar characters from the Peanuts comic strip as teenagers dealing with issues from identity to sexual abuse.
While the original comic spawned a musical, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and a recent animated film, “The Peanuts Movie,” this particular play is pegged as an “unauthorized parody.”
The production will be performed for the Hamilton Fringe Festival. This year’s festival features more than 40 groups staging musicals, dance, comedies, magic shows, dramas and family entertainment in more than 300 performances across 11 days in the downtown Hamilton area.
“The direction I’m taking it in is pretty different from the ones I’ve heard of and seen,” Yu says.
“What’s neat about the script is that, except for one word, nothing indicates what each character’s race should be.
“I’ve cast actors who are mostly of color, with the majority of them identifying with the LGBTQ+ community.”
Out of the cast of eight, four are ethnic minorities: Filipina, Jamaican and Vietnamese; and six identify with the Queer community. An actor of Indigenous Canadian heritage had originally been cast but had to drop out of the production.
“They’ll bring the issue of same-sex relationships between ethnic minorities to the forefront, which you very rarely see in theater and film.”
“As a gay director, I want to see people like me onstage, telling our story for the Queer community. I want us to know that we should never be held back because of our sexuality. I want us to be proud of who we are.
His theater company’s name and its spelling “was inspired by the International Phonetic Alphabet spelling of my favorite English words: ‘raze’ and ‘raise,’ to destroy and to build, and ‘cleave,’ to cut apart or to stick together.”
“I found it fascinating how a pair of words can sound the same, and yet mean their exact opposites. Along with inspiring the company name, these sets of words are the foundations of rejzndkliv’s goal, which is to break down walls and build bridges to overcome what divides us and bring us together.”
Born and raised in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, to Filipino immigrants, Yu was drawn to theater in high school, having acted in “The Wizard of Oz” and “Honk!”
He went on to study acting at Sheridan College and theatre and drama studies at University of Toronto and has since worked with groups such as Filipino Canadian theater company Carlos Bulosan Theatre.
He had noticed in his own experiences with auditions that, unless a company was looking to fill ethnically specific roles, Asians and other actors of color rarely showed up.
Stereotypes aside, he notes that gender and sexuality are not immediately known. “And of the queer people I’ve met at auditions and shows, very few are from ethnic minorities.”
After sending out audition notices highlighting his search for these kinds of actors, the results gave him new insights to work with.
Yu reports that of the people who auditioned for his play “approximately 80 percent identified with the Queer community; only one identified as non-binary; none were trans; and no more than 25 percent were of ethnic minorities.”
These statistics filled him with questions. “What prevents actors of underrepresented communities from auditioning? Are the methods of outreach inadequate? Could it be that some queer actors of color are not out due to cultural stigma, and auditioning for a queer play would immediately out them?”
He decided to open his criteria to include allies: “For actors who can’t be open with their gender or sexuality, but wish to be among people they identify with.”
“When it comes to playing gay characters and interracial couples, many ethnic communities still experience deep-seated homophobia. Although we can’t change the script to address race and homophobia, I’m certain the presence of ethnic diversity and inclusion in queer theater will help start the conversation.”
“Being a gay Filipino Canadian, I really want Filipinos and other people of color who identify with the Queer community to come see the show.”
rejzndkliv’s production of “Dog Sees God” runs July 20-30 at The Players’ Guild of Hamilton, 80 Queen Street S., Hamilton, Ontario. Visit Fb.com/rejzndkliv.