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The more I talk to performance and visual artist Kyle Loven about his hit show, the more expansive Me Love BINGO! grows.
It’s got bingo, yes. And Kyle is in drag, true. But it’s not drag bingo, exactly: it’s an exercise in tragicomic storytelling. Wait, also it’s a kids-show-for-adults with some PG-13 jokes. There’s pop music playlists and a bedazzled set. And a queer holiday romcom vibe, based around the fictional festival of Festiball. And also… puppets?
“Yes, the audience is actually playing bingo. But there’s so much more that’s happening in the room, in the experience, in the nuanced storytelling, than just playing bingo,” Loven tells the Straight, ahead of the show’s opening night. “We really use bingo as this metaphor for life, in these ideas of luck and chance.”
The show, which started as a glorified games night in Loven’s Seattle living room with seven friends eight years ago, has now grown into its own month-long theatrical extravaganza. Loven has gone from hot-gluing a gold sequined curtain onto a makeshift “set” to putting on a holiday spectacular. Me Love Bingo! now comes complete with full production crew and–in a first for the show–three other cast members: Leslie Dos Remedios, Jenna Klein, and Joey Lespérance.
“The entire cast is all queer people, all four of us. And that’s really lovely. It’s important to me to be making this space that we are,” Loven says.
While Me Love BINGO! is for everyone, the show is undoubtedly queer. From the drag costumes to the pop playlist to the “super tacky and gaudy” decorations, everything runs on a sense of camp. But it’s more than about making a fun show: while everyone with “open loving hearts” is welcome, the production is built around, and towards, festive queer joy.
Loven loves the holidays (“It’s so ridiculous that everyone’s putting their home in drag for an entire month!”) but understands it’s not an easy time for many LGBTQ2S+ folks.
“The holidays can be such a difficult time of year for the queer and trans community,” Loven reflects. “This emphasis on biological family and digging up the past and going back home and traditions—all these things are like, not always helpful or positive or safe places and can make so many people feel like they just don't belong, that like the holidays, don't include them.
“What we're really trying to do here is make this unconventional holiday space and experience, so even just for one night that you can come and experience community.”
Previous Me Love BINGO! performances have often been one-off events, at queer arts festivals or fundraisers, or in the amenities room of Loven’s condo building in 2016 when he moved to Vancouver to be with his now-husband and waited for the feds to process his spousal sponsorship application.
Each iteration has let him discover more about the character and the universe that the show inhabits. Show themes may change, but Loven’s role as a “tragic clown figure” telling stories to bring an audience together remains the same.
“I always describe it as the world of Me Love BINGO! or the land of Me Love BINGO!,” Loven says. “It really is this place for me that is encompassed [by] its own rules and logic and sense of fun and camp.”
Anything can be possible at the show. When Loven performed at the Vancouver Art Gallery as part of its 2019 Pride programming, he was struck by the connections that appeared between the different audience members.
“There would be these like, 75-year-old rich white ladies who are subscribers to the Vancouver Art Gallery or whatever, and they’re sitting playing bingo next to like a 20-something genderfluid queer person, and they were just like, connecting,” he says. “Not in this forced way. It’s just because you’re sitting next to each other. … We really make an opportunity for connection.”
And while there is audience participation, it is very much optional. Loven stresses nobody gets picked on, or coerced into joining games. It’s feel-good holiday fun, an alternative pantomime, a theatrical spectacle that gives everyone a little slice of Christmastime camaraderie.
“Even at this large scale with 200 audience members, it still in many ways still feels like we're in my living room.”
The Arts Club Theatre Company production of Me Love BINGO! runs until January 1, 2023 at the Newmont Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre. Tickets are available here.