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Tomboy Survival Guide blends story, spoken word, music and memory: Ivan Coyote chats about the creative process

Part anthem, part campfire story, and part instructions for dismantling the gender stories we tell, Ivan Coyote and an all-tomboy band uncover the beauty in realizing they were handsome all along. A blend of story, spoken word, music and memory in a fearless, wry-humoured and tender insight into gender issues, defying the norm, and finding your identity.

By Jasmine Proctor

Deeply authentic, artistic, and entertaining—these are the words that come to mind after our conversation with Ivan Coyote about the collaborative piece, Tomboy Survival Guide, a performance that has, according to Vancouver’s own award-winning storyteller, been an ongoing creative process. The show is one of stories and music, blending together the two elements to take the audience on a journey to “navigate the narrow halls of public washrooms, skirt the threat of being picked to be a flower girl at their aunt’s wedding, [and] triumph over tying a double Windsor knot.”

This story-infused piece is ultimately a collaboration between Coyote and three other artists—Alison Gorman, Pebbles Willekes, and Sally Zori—all of whom work with one another outside of Tomboy, specifically with the Vancouver-based soul/Motown/funk band, Queer as Funk. The friendship between the four artists, Coyote says, has allowed them to become like co-creators together on the performance.

Coyote describes the construction of the piece as more of a loop-like progression rather than a linear succession, where pieces from both the stage production and the author’s memoir, Tomboy Survival Guide, were reimagined and edited along the way. “For instance, when one of the pieces was written, and I knew I was going to put it in the book, I took it into the rehearsal with the guys and we crafted music for it.” But in collaboratively constructing the lyrics and music for the show, the author edited the written work to create both a better performance piece and “a more tightly edited, better written piece on the page, as well.” In this way, the process of creation was less straightforward, and instead, more ongoing.

“There’s no better editor than a live audience,” Coyote says when asked about this artistic process. “The audience teaches me, tells me, and the act of performance influences the text.” Having performed the piece everywhere from Vancouver’s very own PuSh Festival, to the Sydney Festival this past January, Coyote says the performance has evolved over the years through this organic artistic process. “The first show is not the same show we did [three months later].” As such, the storyteller relays that this upcoming Surrey performance will be more of a “Tomboy Survival Guide 4.0” and a different version than they have performed in the Lower Mainland previously.

Coyote’s three words to describe the performance? “Come. See. It.” And you should. Described as a show where audiences should “come in and expect to be entertained,” there is no doubt that Tomboy Survival Guide will allow everyone to take away something different and unique from its deeply personal stories, music, and performance. Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 10.17.41 AM

Tomboy Survival Guide will be performed at Surrey Civic Theatres, Centre Stage at Surrey City Hall on March 10 at 7:30pm. Get your tickets here.

Ivan Coyote is the award-winning author of eleven books, the creator of four short films, and has released three albums that combine storytelling with music. Ivan is a seasoned stage performer and long-time road dog, and over the last twenty years has become an audience favourite at storytelling, writer’s, film, poetry, and folk music festivals from Anchorage to Amsterdam. Ivan’s 11th book, Tomboy Survival Guide, was released in September 2016.