Vivek Shraya Has Turned Her One-Woman Play Into A Book
The Canadian LGBTQ icon talks about her just-released theatre book, the future of live performances and her ultimate pop star…
By: Christopher Turner
Photo by: Heather Saitz
Early last year, Canadian LGBTQ icon and multidisciplinary artist Vivek Shraya brought her solo show How To Fail As A Popstar to Toronto’s Berkeley Street Theatre for a limited run. The show, which chronicled the disappointments and small victories of a struggling brown-skinned performer in a white music world, opened to rave reviews from press and theatregoers. Shraya was hailed for seamlessly blending storytelling and music in a show punctuated with humour.
“This is my story growing up in Edmonton as a brown, queer kid and being obsessed with MuchMusic and wanting to make it as a pop star,” Shraya said at the time.
The show was intended to play across North America throughout 2020, but ultimately only ran for a few dates in Toronto before the COVID-19 pandemic forced theatres and performance venues to shut their doors. Since the pandemic-prompted lockdown, small theatres have remained empty in darkness, and Shraya had to rethink the future of her deeply personal musical journey. One of the solutions was the release of a paperback theatre book that includes the play, colour photographs from the show’s 2020 production in Toronto by Dahlia Katz, a foreword by its director Brendan Healy and an afterword by Shraya herself.
Just before How To Fail As A Popstar: A Play was released, we caught up with Shraya (a former IN cover girl) to talk about the theatre book, how the pandemic affected her life both personally and professionally, her ultimate pop star, and much more.
Tell us about How To Fail As a Popstar.
The book features the play but is structured like short stories, so that any reader can engage with the narrative. This was also how the play was originally written.
The play and the book really dig into what it’s like for a young person who is trying to break into the music industry. Can you tell us a bit about your own personal experience?
Without giving away too much, my story is similar to the classic music biopic, except I was a small-town queer person of colour with a big dream.
In your opinion…who is the ultimate pop star?
My teenage self says Madonna. My present self says Beyoncé.
The intended North American tour of How To Fail As a Popstar was cancelled in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Do you have plans to pick up the tour again in the future?
We have received some exciting invitations from Germany and in the GTA, but I’m trying to not get my hopes up so that when these shows happen, they will be pleasant surprises!
That being said…what is the future of theatre and live performance for the next year?
My sense is a lot of writing and development is happening right now in the theatre world. And I know that some companies are continuing to find creative ways to virtually pivot, like how Canadian Stage, Evergreen Brickworks and I collaborated on an extended music video version of the final scene from the play [watch it below or at vimeo.com/475282865].
How do you think we can be supporting our LGBTQ artists right now?
The best way we can support queer artists right now is buying their work, but for many this might not be feasible. Social media following (and sharing) is another form of currency and can help not only to build audiences for artists but lead to opportunities.
Did you find that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed you or affected you in other ways?
For one, it’s made me incredibly grateful for public presentations of art like theatre and even music live shows which, at times, I used to dread. Now I dream of being in crowded, sweaty, smoky, loud rooms!
Were you able to find a creative outlet through the past few months? What can we expect next from Vivek Shraya?
Creatively, I spent most of last year doing some form of writing, as this can be done from the safety of your home. I was excited to receive support from CBC to work on writing a pilot script based on the play, and I’m crossing my fingers to hear about potential next steps…
How To Fail As A Popstar: A Play is available online and in bookstores on March 1 in Canada and April 1 in the USA.
CHRISTOPHER TURNER acted as guest editor for this issue of IN Magazine. He is a Toronto-based writer, editor and lifelong fashionisto with a passion for pop culture and sneakers. Follow him on social media at @Turnstylin.