Monday, 28 November 2011


 Harvey Fierstein (Photo by David Shankbone)

Bugs' column originally ran in the November 27, 2011, edition of his Abominable Showman column in The Charlebois Post.

Lord knows how many times I’ve (unsuccessfully) requested an interview with Harvey Fierstein, but I know many folks who’ve met and worked with the theatre legend over the years. And I’ve heard mostly good stuff. For which I’m happy because the gravel-voiced actor is something of an icon not just in theatre circles but in the gay community where his work – from Torch Song Trilogy to his adaptation of La Cage aux Folles on Broadway – have helped advance the cause of gay civil rights across North America.

So this week as The Vancouver Playhouse premieres its month-long run of La Cage, I dug up some of Fierstein’s most famous quotes – and blabbed about Fierstein with entertainers like John Waters and Scott Capurro, as well as literary legend Felice Picano.  

You'll also find below a recent 20-minute interview with Fierstein in which he discusses his upcoming Broadway musical Kinky Boots currently in rehearsals (Cyndi Lauper wrote the music and lyrics) based on the 2005 Golden Globe Award-nominated British-American comedy film about a traditional British shoemaker who turns to producing fetishism footwear in order to save the failing family business and the jobs of his workers.

Cast of La Cage at The Vancouver Playhous, until Dec 24
Fierstein’s first role in theatre was as an “asthmatic lesbian cleaning woman” in the Andy Warhol play Pork, which opened on May 5, 1971 at LaMama theater in New York for a two-week run and then was brought to the Roundhouse in London for a longer run in August, 1971. “So, did I work with Warhol?” Fierstein once asked rhetorically. “I worked with him less on that play then I did on other things. He actually did a portrait of my rabbit and some other stuff. Warhol was definitely... Warhol.”

If you can imagine Fierstein rolling his eyeballs, that’s because most folks who knew Warhol thought of him as a vampire who sucked the talent out of other artists for his own personal gain.

As John Waters told me a couple years ago when I asked him his thoughts on Warhol, “I didn’t meet Andy until I made Pink Flamingos [in 1972]. I’d met a lot of the people in the movie business but I hadn’t met him because he’d been shot [by Valerie Solanas in a 1968 attempted murder] and I didn’t want to meet another bunch of lunatics! Andy invited us to screen the movie at the Factory. When it was over he told me, ‘Wow, you’re going to make the exact movie again’ and asked what I was doing next. He said, ‘I’ll pay for it.’ It was Female Trouble. And I know why [I refused] – it would have been Andy Warhol’s Female Trouble.”

Like most folks, beginning with fabled NYC poet John Giorno (“I was the Factory's first superstar and he was getting rid of me,” John told me over lunch once. “It was the beginning of a pattern for Warhol”), Fierstein moved on. “Pork was in 1971, and I stopped hanging out at The Factory by like 1973,” Fierstein says. 

His Tony-winning play Torch Song Trilogy – about an effeminate Jewish drag queen who adopts a gay teen – is really a collection of three plays rendered in three acts: International Stud, Fugue in a Nursery, and Widows and Children First! Before it opened at the Richard Allen Center in October 1981, the book was published by my mentor Felice Picano, The New York Times bestselling author of Like People in History whom I call The Godfather of Gay Lit.

(Picano is the founder of two pioneering gay presses, SeaHorse Press and The Gay Presses of New York, which in addition to Harvey Fierstein, also launched the literary careers of Dennis Cooper and Brad Gooch. Moreover, with Andrew Holleran, Robert Ferro, Michael Grumley, Edmund White, Christopher Cox and George Whitmore, Felice founded The Violet Quill, considered to be, to quote Wikipedia, “the pathbreaking gay male literary nucleus of the 20th century.”

(Incidentally, Felice isn’t just a literary legend – he is a world-class name-dropper like me. And I’m still determined to get Montreal’s Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival to host a historic panel with the three remaining living members of the Violet Quill – Edmund White, Andrew Holleran and Felice – which my buddy, playwright Brad Fraser has told me he’d love to host!)

Like his Tony-winning musical La Cage aux Folles (the music and lyrics were written by Jerry Herman and the book was written by Fierstein based on Jean Poiret’s 1973 French play of the same name), Fierstein says, “I’m not adverse to the idea of Torch Song as a musical. It would just be different. Because the play will always be there exactly as it was, and in a musical you could tell a lot of the story through songs.”

Besides his leading role in the film version of Torch Song Trilogy co-starring Matthew Broderick and Anne Bancroft, Fierstein also appeared in the 1996 Robin Williams vehicle Mrs. Doubtfire, playing Williams’ makeup-artist brother opposite his on-screen partner and real-life stand-up comic Scott Capurro. When I first interviewed the acid-tongued Capurro in 1997, he had nothing but nice things to say about Williams and Fierstein – but nothing nice to say Hollywood’s “Black Pack” (which consisted of Magic Johnson, Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy) just weeks before Murphy dropped his $5 million (U.S.) libel lawsuit against the National Enquirer for that tabloid’s eye-popping cover story headlined “Eddie Murphy’s Secret Sex Life—His Transvestite Hooker Tells All.”

Openly-gay Capurro – like Fierstein – is ferociously out and last time we blabbed, Capurro told me, “I was a closeted comic in Los Angeles for three years and I hated it. I don’t know how [comics like] George Wallace do it without talking about being gay. [Comic actor] Anthony [Clark of the old CBS sitcom Yes, Dear]—he’s queer. I don’t know how he does it.”

Cast of La Cage at The Vancouver Playhous, until Dec 24
Fierstein would go on to make headlines dressing in drag in the Broadway musical adaption of the 1988 John Waters film Hairspray, playing the role of Edna Turnblad, first made famous by the late, great Divine in the original film. Discussing Divine’s talent as an actor, Waters told me, “Divine once passed a lie detector test, when he passed bad cheques! He passed a lie detector test and I think that was brilliant acting!”

When it comes to drag, Waters added, “After Divine’s death I don’t think anybody did it better than him.”

But Fierstein is pretty damn good. And funny. “I think the average voice is like 70 percent tone and 30 percent noise,” Fierstein once noted. “My voice is 95 percent noise.”

About working on the stage, Fierstein says, “You really, really, really have to love what you are going to do in theatre because it is an unmerciful life. It’s six days a week. It’s eight performances a week. And that’s doing the exact same thing over and over and over again.”

Fierstein, now 59, also admits to being picky about the roles he plays. “To me, if a heterosexual has a right to do it, then I have a right to do it,” he says. “And if it's important to the gay youth – who are now setting the agenda – then it’s important to me.”

The Broadway hit musical La Cage aux Folles – starring accomplished Canadian actors Greg Armstrong-Morris as Albin and David Marr as Georges, and directed and choreographed by Max Reimer, also artistic managing director of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company – plays at The Vancouver Playhouse (at 601 Hamilton, part of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Complex) from November 26 to December 24. Click here for more info and tickets.

Bugs is Senior Editor-at-Large of The Charlebois Post - Canada (CPC) where he also writes the weekly "Abominable Showman" theatre/arts/pop culture column.  Click here for CPC archives of Bugs' interviews and columns.

Thursday, 24 November 2011


Freddie Mercury died of AIDS-related bronchial pneumonia  on November 24, 1991

When Queen frontman Freddie Mercury died of AIDS-related bronchial pneumonia on November 24, 1991, he decided in his last hours to publicly disclose his condition, no longer caring what the world thought – and keen to shape his own obituary, unlike Rock Hudson six years earlier. That gesture undoubtedly helped educate many rock fans about HIV and AIDS in an era when gay men were still dropping dead like flies all over the damn place.

No doubt it made one of my old friends – a well-known Canadian rock journalist from the era who prefers to remain nameless for this story – think about his own mortality. In fact, my colleague was befriended by Mercury when Queen taped two live concerts at the old Montreal Forum on November 24 and 25, 1981, for the famous 35MM live film Queen Rock Montreal.

“He wanted to sleep with me,” Mr. Rock Critic told me, pointing out the band had rented out the entire floor of a Montreal hotel. “He chased me down the hallways! Lets just say I ran the 100-metre dash in record time!”

There is another fun Montreal connection with Queen, featuring yet another old friend of mine, legendary CHOM deejay Tootall whom I like to say has the sexiest voice on Montreal radio. Anyway, Toots broke Queen’s #1 worldwide hit Crazy Little Thing Called Love right here in Montreal on CHOM back in 1980. 

TooTall of Montreal's CHOM FM

“What happened was CHOM deejay and man about town Doug Pringle was in London and sent me a tape of Crazy Little Thing Called Love which was apparently on the British forthcoming release of The Game but he said they weren’t sure if they would release it in North America since it sounded so un-Queen like,” Toots told me. “So he sent me the song and I kept on playing it. The station’s music director – who shall remain nameless – didn’t like it and gave me grief. Of course when the album did come the song was on it and it became a big hit – the Number One song of 1980.”

I also recently asked Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford what it was like to rise to showbiz fame in the 1970s at the height of the homophobic “disco sucks” movement.

Samantha Fox and Freddie Mercury atop Barkers
Photo: Courtesy Samantha Fox
“I saw Freddie, it must have been in the early 1980s, and I was going to Mykonos with friends from London via Athens,” Halford recalled. “We got to the hotel [in Athens] and did what we all did then – the clubs, the parties. At one club Freddie was holding court at the other end of the bar. We were two ships passing in the night. He waved, I waved. The place was packed and we never got the chance to connect. The next day we all went to Mykonos and I was on a beach when his yacht sailed by.”

A few years ago I also had a heart-to-heart with openly-lesbian 1980s pop siren and British pin-up Samantha Fox about the showbiz closet. When we discussed Freddie Mercury, she recalled rubbing elbows with British pop royalty in a nightclub above London’s iconic Barkers department store on Kensington High Street 25 years ago this past summer.

“It was an outrageous party! The place was filled with naked women painted green,” Fox said. “And everybody was there: Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Pet Shop Boys, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, even Gary Glitter. And Queen was playing. I had just one [hit] song [at the time], but Freddie Mercury pulled me up on stage and said, ‘Do you know Johnny B. Goode?’ And I said, ‘Yeah!’ So we sang it together!”

May 2012 update: To mark the band’s 40th anniversary, the Queen officially-approved Queen Extravaganza contest begat a concert tour by official Queen tribute band the Queen Extravaganza, which headlined Montreal's Bell Centre on May 27, 2012, which I attended. It was a truly excellent tribute, and Montreal native Marc Martel of the Juno Award-winning band Downhere was the (no pun intended) Freddie Mercury deadringer who won the Queen Extravaganza contest. Check out Martel’s winning audition here:

June 2015 update: British pop star Mika has long reminded of Freddie, and he channeled Freddie on his new 2015 album No Place in Heaven. One recent weekend in Montreal, Mika and I talked about his beautiful ballad Last Party, the emotional centerpiece of his new album and an ode to Mercury.

"The last time I saw you," I told Mika, "you imitated Freddie backstage from Queen's We Will Rock You: Live in Montreal 1981 DVD . . ."

"Yes! I remember — that interview is something straight out of Absolutely Fabulous," Mika replied, laughing. "The song Last Party started with this idea that I had, when Freddie Mercury found out that he had AIDS, he closed himself up in a nightclub and had a crazy party for three days, with drugs and everything. It was the worst possible thing to do after discovering that kind of news, but that’s what he did. That’s why that song is called Last Party, and it’s one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard."

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


 Lady Gaga in GAGA'S WORKSHOP at Barneys New York (PRNewsFoto/Barneys New York - Photo by David Swanson, Terry Richardson Photography)
New York retailer Barneys this week opened GAGA'S WORKSHOP, a take on Santa's iconic workshop which has taken over the entire 5500-square foot fifth-floor of the Madison Avenue Men's store. The Workshop is divided into elaborate structural shops, such as a jewelry shop created out of an oversized Lady Gaga-turned-spider and a boudoir in the shape of a giant wig. And Barney’s Barneys New York will donate 25% of sales from all items featured in Gaga’s Workshop to the Born This Way Foundation, recently founded by Lady Gaga and her mother. 

Logo for Gaga's Workshop
 The Born This Way Foundation was launched on November 2 and focuses on youth empowerment and equality – especially for gay youth – by addressing issues like self-confidence, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development to create positive change.

“My mother and I have initiated a passion project,” Lady Gaga said in a statement. “Together we hope to establish a standard of Bravery and Kindness, as well as a community worldwide that protects and nurtures others in the face of bullying and abandonment.”

Gaga’s Workshop includes holiday windows, a dedicated Gaga interactive website, and limited-edition, exclusive products created in collaboration with Lady Gaga under the creative direction of Nicola Formichetti with artists Eli Sudbrack and Christophe Hamaide Pierson of assume vivid astro focus (avaf). The workshop has eight stations, including the Candy Shop, Toy Shop, Closet (for apparel and accessories), Library (for books, CDs, media, and paper goods), Gallery (for collectibles and specialty items), Jewelry, Boudoir (for candles and cosmetics), and Holiday.

Also, Eli Sudbrack and avaf have designed a giant facade that has taken over the 60th Street entrance to the store, creating the illusion of walking into the mouth of a giant monster-like Lady Gaga.

Gaga’s Workshop will operate during normal Barneys' store hours through January 2, 2012.

Click here for the official Born This Way Foundation website.

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Monday, 21 November 2011


 Sir Ian McKellen publicly came out in 1988: "Coming out a blessing, you know, it’s one that straight people don't enjoy."

This column originally ran November 20, 2011, in my weekly Abominable Showman column for The Charlebois Post - Canada ("All Canadian theatre, all the time") which you can also read by clicking here

The reason why rumours Richard Gere enjoys gerbils up his ass keep dogging the actor after all these years is because Gere not only worked at the Provincetown Playhouse in 1971, but posed for Playgirl (made for girls but "read" by boys) in 1983. Mostly, though, it’s because Gere starred as a gay man interned by the Nazis during World War II in playwright Martin Sherman’s internationally-acclaimed play Bent

Is it any surprise, then, that real, honest-to-God gay Hollywood matinée idols still refuse to publicly come out?

Since Bent debuted on Broadway with Richard Gere and in London’s West End with Sir Ian McKellen, folks having been trying to out Gere as a gay man (he’s straight, by the way) while McKellen publicly came out in 1988 at the height of the AIDS media hysteria.

Backstage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in February 1999, where he was portraying Prospero in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, McKellen – who began acting on the stage as a Cambridge undergrad in 1958 – opened a bottle of red wine and told me, “Of course you want people to come out, but the way to do it satisfactorily isn’t to do it on their behalf. No gay man would rob another gay person of that joy of finally taking control of themselves. And it’s a blessing, you know, it’s one that straight people don't enjoy. They never have to come out! They don’t know what it's all about and misunderstand it and get much more exercised about being outed than we do. They miss the point that coming out is the most wonderful thing you will ever do in your life whatever age you do it.”

The theatre world, of course, has long been quite accepting of gay actors. Broadway has rarely been as closeted as Hollywood where to this very day even the whiff of gayness can still ruin a young actor’s shot at career longevity and greatness. That is why John Travolta evidently so assiduously keeps up appearances, even after being outed by his Hollywood colleague Carrie Fisher, who told The Advocate last December, “My feeling about John has always been that we know [he’s gay] and we don’t care. Look, I’m sorry that he’s uncomfortable with it, and that’s all I can say. It only draws more attention to it when you make that kind of legal fuss. Just leave it be.”

Farley Granger
When it comes to Tinsel Town, the closet remains pretty much business-as-usual. Before Farley Granger died in March 2011 at the age of 85, the 1950s screen idol told me about the time he co-starred in Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 cult classic film Rope which was loosely based on real-life, early-20th-century gay killers Leopold and Loeb who committed a “thrill kill” to impress their mentor. In Rope the mentor is played by James Stewart while Granger and his co-star, the late John Dall, played the gay killers. Coincidentally, in real life, Granger was bisexual and Dall was gay.

“John and I did discuss the [gay] relationship between our characters,” Granger told me in New York City. “But we never discussed our own private lives. We discussed [sexuality] in terms of our characters, not our personal lives. You got to realize this was 1947. No one discussed those things openly then. People forget that. The word ‘gay’ wasn’t even appropriated yet.”

As for Dall, Granger adds, “I wasn’t attracted to him in that way – it just never would have happened.” 

Granger and Dall in Rope
But off the Hollywood studio soundstages, Granger says he never hid his gay affairs. “That never happened in Hollywood. I never hid. I never considered myself in the closet. When I had my relationship with Arthur Laurents during the filming of Rope, all of my friends knew about it. We went out to dinner together and went to parties together. It was the crowd we hung out with – it was a New York music and theatre crowd. None of those people cared a fig about whom you were having sex with.”

There it is:  “The New York music and theatre crowd. None of those people cared a fig about whom you were having sex with.”

Louis Negin
Like the time acting legend John Gielgud was arrested in England for cottaging in 1953. “John and I worked together in Much Ado About Nothing at Stratford and during that time I got to know him,” openly-gay theatre legend Louis Negin – the first actor to ever appear fully nude on a West End stage – explained to me. “At the time of his arrest he was starring in a play in London. He was petrified to go on the next night. How was the audience going to react? It could mean the end of his career. So when he went on it was an act of bravery. And the audience cheered him.”

That moment was a seismic change from just 25 years earlier when the first Broadway play to deal openly with gay life and drag culture was Mae West’s 1927 play The Drag. That play never even opened on the Great White Way because after West’s first Broadway play Sex (which she also wrote, produced and directed) was closed down by the NYPD in April 1927 (West was sentenced to 10 days in jail for obscenity), the Society for the Prevention of Vice vowed to ban The Drag if West attempted to stage it. 

But today, over 80 years later, La Cage aux Folles and Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical have become huge Walt Disney-esque successes on Broadway.

So when it comes to embracing gay matinee idols, change in Hollywood is as inevitable as the talkies were in 1927.

As my friend and colleague Michael Musto, gossip columnist for The Village Voice in NYC (and whom I like to call North America’s OTHER fabulous loudmouth columnist) told me a few weeks ago while promoting his new anthology of essays Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back, “I think everyone on Earth should come out, even if they’re not gay! The reality is, ‘Be proud, be happy and be honest about who you are.’ The cowering, the lies and the evasions create so much unhappiness. And the actors who have come out have never expressed any regrets about it, except for Rupert Everett. In general, they’re so much happier living free, open lives. And we now have the example of Neil Patrick Harris, who has made it huge on TV and now has a hit movie franchise. People used to say this could never happen to an out gay actor. Well, it happened.”

Bugs and Musto
Which brings me back to Sir Ian McKellen whose coming out in 1988 did not slow down his celluloid career – though admittedly McKellen never really was a matinee idol.

But the theatre legend does crave what only Hollywood can give him: About starring about in director Bill Condon’s 1998 masterpiece Gods and Monsters (the Oscar-winning biopic about unapologetically out Hollywood film director James Whale whose own film Frankenstein reinvented the Frankestein “monster” as an outsider and pop culture icon), McKellen told me as he sipped his glass of red wine backstage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, “I think it might be just what I sometimes dream about – and that’s to be in a classic, to be in a movie that lasts and lasts and lasts.”

Bugs is Senior Editor-at-Large of The Charlebois Post - Canada (CPC) where he also writes the weekly "Abominable Showman" theatre/arts/pop culture column.  Click here for CPC archives of Bugs' interviews and columns.

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Tuesday, 8 November 2011


Lucas Silveira was named Sexiest Man of the Year by Canada’s Chart Attack magazine (Photo courtesy Lucas Silveira)
I once had sex with a pre-op tranny, a she-male, a chick with a dick, if you will, and it was a complete and utter mindfuck.

But it took that night for me to understand things I never did before. Like the pre-op transwoman who fucked me that night never identified as a gay male before beginning her transition because she always identified as a straight woman.

Another transwoman I know still sleeps with women, not because she "became" a lesbian but because she always was a lesbian.

So it’s been strange watching how trans politics have transfixed America over the last few years, from transgendered male Thomas Beatie – who has given birth to three children since 2008 and was recognized in 2010 by Guinness World Records as the world’s ‘First Married Man to Give Birth’ – to Chaz Bono making international headlines on the reality TV show Dancing With The Stars.

Right-wing pundits are still having a transphobic meltdown. During his 15 minutes, Beatie was called an "androgynous freak show" on a David Letterman Top 10, and Beatie duly visited with a slack-jawed Oprah. This year, ABC officials became so worried about Chaz Bono’ssafety both on and off the Dancing With The Stars studio lot, TMZ reports, that Bono was put on 24-hour protection leading up to the show.

Personally, I was horrified when my friend Dr. Margaret Somerville, founder of McGill’s world-renowned Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, was quoted by the London Daily Telegraph chastising Beatie: “You’re a woman and you’re having a baby. Just because you put on a clown suit doesn’t mean that you don’t still exist underneath.”

Then a couple years ago I was blabbing with Lucas Silveira, transman and frontman of one of the finest rock bands to ever come out of Canada, The Cliks. Silveira has just released his debut solo album Mockingbird and headlines my buddy Maggie Cassella’s Flying Beaver Pubaret in Toronto on November 26.

“Growing up sucked,” Lucas says. “It was extremely confusing. I didn’t have the language for it. I was 3 or 4 when I realized it – when I saw my brother’s wiener and I asked my mother when I was going to get one too. ‘When are you going to buy me one?’ Now I’ve bought a few!”

That doesn’t mean life, or sex, is no longer a mindfuck.

“[My transition] is as complete as it’s going to get,” explains Lucas, who is currently writing his memoirs which will be published by Random House. “At this point [physically I’m] going to stay [this] way because I don’t want to risk it. But transitioning mentally, I don’t like being called ‘she’ and having to pull myself out of my body every time.”

If Lucas’s identity is a problem for some, it most certainly isn’t for fans of The Cliks, including comic Margaret Cho, who says, “No one else can inspire such crushed-out admiration and full-on rock star screaming. I thought those embarrassing fangirl days were long gone for me, but The Cliks have brought them back with a vengeance!”

“She wants to kiss every time she sees me!” laughs Lucas.

Cyndi Lauper is also such a big fan she invited The Cliks to co-headline her 2007 True Colors Tour (a Vans Warped-style tour to raise money to fight for gay civil rights).

And Ian Astbury of The Cult loved Lucas and the band so much he invited them to open The Cult’s cross-Canada tour, which I saw them wind down with a truly massive concert at Montreal’s Olympia Theatre in April 2008.

Gives new meaning to riding the Trans Canada Highway, no?

“[My] audiences are a mixed bag of queer and straight,” Lucas says. “It started off more on the queer side since that originally was our major source of media coverage. Now we’ve got people of colour, moms, dads, trannies, queers and straight college kids.”

That’s because the alternative and mainstream press have finally come on board. After The Cliks conquered SXSW in Austin in 2007, The Boston Globe raved they “rock with primal, stylish ferocity reminiscent of the early Pretenders.”

Lucas adds, “The Austin Chronicle also got us a lot of attention and helped us stand out from the 1,300 bands that were there.”

The Cliks were invited back to SXSW in 2008 where they rocked The Dirty Dog.  “The place is a dive but we kicked it!” Lucas says. “I love Austin. It’s rock’n'roll heaven. It’s like a rock’n'roll Pride. Music is blaring out from everywhere.”

Signed to Warner Records in Canada, The Cliks made history as the first band with an (overtly) transgender male leader to be signed by a major record label, Tommy Boy Entertainment’s gay-friendly imprint Silver Label, where their CD Snakehouse got raves. The band also transformed Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me a River into a rock anthem.

But the heart of the band remains unmistakably Lucas – which explains his new solo album Mockingbird, which includes covers of Leonard Cohen’s I'm Your Man and Kanye West’s Runaway.
So what’s it like being a posterboy for transmen?

“I think other people consider me that,” says Lucas, who was named Sexiest Man of the Year by Canada’s Chart Attack magazine in 2009. “I got little kids coming up to me all the time. One 15-year-old in Albany said if it wasn’t for The Cliks he wouldn’t feel normal. If I can help them, then I’ve made a difference and it’s all been worth it.”

Lucas continues, “I am a very political person, I just don’t tend to bring it in my songwriting. Just being transgendered is political enough. God bless whoever gave me this body.”

Lucas Silveira headlines Toronto’s Flying Beaver Pubaret on November 26. Purchase tickets by clicking here.

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