To be a Beyonce – and not just another Michelle – in a city as large and diverse as Toronto takes a special set of skills. And while some of those vying for a head-up in the homo hierarchy may rely on cutthroat tactics or a weak gag reflex, Ryan G. Hinds has made his way to the top of the glitter pile on the old-fashioned winning combination of charm and talent. A diva in the most humble sense of the word (if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron), Hinds has established himself as a critically-acclaimed cabaret artist, theatre performer, writer, and editor at Crew Magazine. With past credits including sold out shows at Just For Laughs in Montreal, World Pride 2014, LA Pride, and Nuit Blanche, this glamazon-on-the-go will be setting up shop for a season-long residency at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
Premiering September 28th at 8pm, Starry Notions allows the audience to experience and explore everything from Disney villains to Aznavour chansons, Grace Jones tangos, Roy Orbison ballads, and the theatre music of Kander & Ebb through Hinds’ mesmerizing and energetic cabaret performance. Backed by a trio of musicians, the show is part Broadway and vaudeville, part stand-up comedy, part performance art, and all fabulous. We caught up with the star himself this week to chat about life on-stage, life off-stage, and whatever falls in between…
Tell us a bit about yourself. What should people know?
I’m a 35-year-old singer/actor/dancer/writer. Totally a cat person, extreme Virgo, and have maintained sobriety since the 90s. Doing theatre and cabaret is how I pay my bills, and I’m totally excited/nervously anticipatory about my first residency. Expect lots of laughter, a few tears, and singing galore!
Life on stage is known for its ups and down. What are the biggest challenges and best rewards about what you do?
Challenges include the irregular hours and keeping my performer life separate from my personal life. I put a lot of my heart and soul onstage, and it’s sometimes difficult to take it back at the end of the night! The rewards are big though; I get to travel a lot, see a lot of my dreams come true, and get to know and work with both famous and infamous people. Giving people a good time is pretty satisfying, and there’s nothing in the world like the exchange of energy between a performer and the audience.
What drew you first to the world of performance arts?
To be honest, it’s the only life I’ve known. From early childhood, I was drawn to the idea of telling stores and being different characters, and was lucky enough to have a mother who was supportive and encouraging without being pushy and obnoxious about it. For me, it’s the rehearsal process that’s most rewarding.
Being in a studio with a team figuring out ways to entertain and illuminate is addictive; when things click, when you realize that something as small as arching an eyebrow or taking a tiny pause before belting a big note at the end of a song or re-arranging the words of a sentence can make a whole audience go nuts, you feel a hot flash of creative energy, and that feeling is addictive. It might sound a bit “precious artiste,” but there’s a spiritual aspect as well… Religion gives many people order in their lives and the tools to deal with the obstacles the world gives them, and performing does that for me. “The show must go on” is my version of “Hail Mary, full of grace.”
Cabaret has seen a big revival in the past few years. Any theories as to why that is?
The days of every theatre in the city hosting long-running shows are gone now, which means there are performers here who are among the most talented in the world who just don’t have the chance to show what they can do. There’s simply not enough work for actors in the city anymore, and so many of us started to create our own showcases. In particular, people like Sharron Matthews, Jeni Walls, and Jenni Burke did excellent work in setting the stage for the cabaret explosion. Theatre schools now teach cabaret as part of the curriculum, so there’s a new generation of performers coming up who’ve been taught that it’s part of the cultural fabric of the city. Cabaret is a bastard art form: part theatre, part music, it’s both and neither at the same time. It’s honest, it’s revealing, and it’s intimate… If you do it right, the audience will respond, and that’s what I believe is fueling this revival – the sheer talent of the people here in Toronto combined with the hunger of audiences for authenticity on stage.
Given your history of successful solo performances at Just for Laughs and World Pride 2014, what has been different or special about headlining your own cabaret residency at Buddies?
I call Buddies “Queer University” because it seems like every artist who is LQBTQ in Toronto has graced the theatre’s stages. My first Toronto performance was at Buddies and I’ve both flopped and had major successes at Buddies, so while I’ve performed across Canada, the US, and Brazil and worked alongside celebrities, it continues to be the place where I feel “home.” I am who I am because of this theatre. Specifically with my residency, “Starry Notions” is a lyric from the first song I’ll be singing, and I chose it as the title because I remember being a teenager and walking out onto this very same stage at Buddies having all these ideas about the performer I wanted to be and the career I hoped I’d have… and here I am 16 years later, all of my “starry notions” having come true!
SPOILER ALERT: Who is your favourite character that you portray in the show? Outside the show? Who/what is your dream role?
Hedwig & the Angry Inch has been a special part of my life. I was an extra in the film version and then got to play her, and I can’t wait to do some of those songs again after 10 years. In every show I’ve done, there’s a song with a sailor motif, usually cute and playful and fun, but this time I’ll be doing Charles Aznavour’s “Sailor Boys” which is dark, sad, and dramatic; it’s thrilling to sing, and I can’t wait to be that person!
Outside of this show, I had a wicked time playing a composite of Grindr profiles in lemonTree Creations’ dance show MSM [men seeking men]. It was a really sexy and physical show, and every second of creating and performing it was rewarding… If I could do theatre like that for the rest of my life, I’d be a happy guy. However, my ultimate dream role is Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar… I love singing 70s rock, particularly bands like Styx, Pink Floyd, and Aerosmith, and Judas is pure 70s howling. My friend Kiki Moritsugu says that playing Judas means “you sing your balls off,” and as someone with a big voice, that’s a challenge I want!
The Gay Village in Toronto can sometimes get a bad rap. What role do you think it plays in modern and the future of local queer culture?
We all love and hate the village, but it’s what you make it; Buddies is a good example of that (as both a theatre and a party space). I like having the sense of community the village offers, but I also think sticking to any one geographic area of the city makes for a boring life. I live near Kipling and Lakeshore, and maintain my queer visibility as much in Etobicoke as I do downtown; while I see more and more that queer culture isn’t confined to the village, Buddies and The 519, Pink Triangle Press, Steamworks, and Glad Day are important community anchors that keep the village relevant.
Finish this sentence. I love Toronto because…
…of the cute boys, the smart audiences, and riding the Queen streetcar late at night. Next to my residency, it’s the best show in town!
What are three things you can’t live without?
Glitter, iced tea, and for the rest of the year, the fabulous musicians I’m working with: Ross McInytre on bass, Julian Clarke on percussion, and Mark Selby at the piano!
What style trends are you obsessed with right now?
Natural hair, big sunglasses, leopard-on-leopard, and the art of redefining basic black.