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What WorldPride means for local Toronto dancers

Scott Fordham (back right) choreographing Deborah Cox and her cast of dancers at a past Pride Toronto event. Scott Fordham Handout

TORONTO – Sure, Torontonians know Pride Week as that bright, loud party in and around the Village with the nearly-naked parade, and this year’s WorldPride designation is bound to attract more people, getting even brighter and louder.

But there are certain Torontonians who stand to reap the benefits: Local dancers and entertainers.

Based in Toronto, Scott Fordham is an international choreographer who’s worked with celebrity acts including Nelly Furtado, Jully Black and Divine Brown, and opened for the likes of Katy Perry and LL Cool J. But he got his first industry gig with Deborah Cox at Montreal Pride, and he’ll be choreographing for Cox again at WorldPride this week.

“I’ve been with Deborah for six and a half years now,” said Fordham. “Because I started with Pride, I always make sure that year after year I contribute as much as I can,” he said.

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Choreographer Scott Fordham watching Deborah Cox rehearse his work at a technical rehearsal at a past Pride Toronto event. He’ll be choreographing for Cox again at WorldPride 2014. Scott Fordham handout

Fordham is using 12 local dancers for Cox’s show and is also putting on his own show, called Limitless, in which he cast 32 local dancers.

“WorldPride creates many opportunities for dancers to hit the stages, and not just in the Village but all over the city,” he said. “Because they’re using so many great parts of the city, like Yonge-Dundas Square and Nathan Phillips Square and of course the whole Village setup—there’s four or five stages.”

READ MORE: List of WorldPride entertainers with show times and locations

Not only is this year’s festival on a bigger scale, but Fordham thinks it’s responsible for a change in how performers are valued.

“Pride would roll around here, year in, year out, and people would be like: ‘Oh it’s just a fun opportunity to get on a stage and perform, or to see my friend who does drag do this, or to see one big act come into town.’ But now you’re seeing multiple big acts at multiple events; there’s always something to do, the street’s closing. And these acts are performing –yes it’s for fun, but they’re really being legitimized as performers.”
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He said besides exposure, WorldPride’s charity events offer networking opportunities, where you can “meet people who are really connected.”

And that’s what’s happening for some dancers in Marc Simcox’s A Chorus Queen, an “enhanced and revamped” version of a drag show he put on last year on a smaller scale and budget.

READ MORE: Full coverage of WorldPride

Simcox has been involved in drag shows for the last 10 years in Toronto, the Greater Toronto Area as well as Pride events in Montreal and Chicago.

“When I moved back up here two years ago, the Canadian Cancer Society actually approached me because they were looking to put on a fundraiser to raise awareness for cancer screening within the LGBT community,” he said, referring to the one-night-only run of his show in 2013.

This year, Simcox partnered with the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation, which offers direct services to people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS, who have helped in promoting the show and will receive the net profits.

The show features what Simcox calls “all the drag favourites” from the city: Farra N. Hyte, Devine Darlin, Scarlett Bobo, Bunni Lapin, Dyna Thirst—many of whom just got back from stints in Los Angeles, Chicago, Vancouver and Winnipeg, he said.

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The drag queens featured in A Chorus Queen. Clockwise from top left: Devine Darlin, Bunni Lapin, Scarlett Bobo, Farra N Hyte and Laydee Justice. Marc Simcox / Handout

But it’s also an opportunity for lesser-known Toronto-based performers to build their portfolio and network with professionals in the dance scene.

Simcox said he was surprised by the number of performers who came to open auditions since it’s a voluntary fundraiser, and called it “unfortunate” they had to whittle the ensemble down to just six.

“The commitment and the dedication and the passion that needs to go into it is actually the same as if this was a fully-paid job,” said Simcox.

And that’s what it will lead to for some—a natural part of the process, said the producer.

“You bring together a collection of actors, dancers, and then of course crew as well, and as time goes on, people are connecting, and people are becoming more comfortable and professionally networking amongst each other—so opportunities do arise,” he said.

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The male dancers in the ensemble of ‘A Chorus Queen.’. Marc Simcox handout

Simcox said that’s what happened to relative newcomer to drag, Lady Justice, who was recruited last year for the first show and “blew the show out of the water.”

“Now he’s got opportunities and getting bookings at some of the local bars on the street – so he’s flourishing, I think, because of the start that he got here at A Chorus Queen.”

A Chorus Queen runs until June 28 at University of Toronto’s Hart House Theatre from 7:30 p.m. with a two-hour running time. More info here.

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