Who is Barry Bilinsky? Besides being the guest curator and host of Dirt Buffet Cabaret on December 6, Bilinsky is an Alberta-based theatre artist of Metis/Cree descent, originally from Edmonton, Alberta in Treaty 6 territory. His work spans several disciplines, as a theatre director, writer, and clown-based performer. Bilinsky is the Artistic Director of Fool Spectrum Theatre, a clown-based theatre company in Alberta, as well as an Artistic Associate with Iiniistsi Treaty Arts Society, Alberta Aboriginal Arts, and the Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society. Bilinsky spoke to Ben Gorodetsky, Dirt Buffet Cabaret founder, over email about his DBC debut. Read on to learnwhat Bilinsky has in store on December 6.

Ben Gorodetsky: What kind of feeling are you hoping spectators experience at your December 6 DBC?

Barry Bilinsky: I hope people enjoy themselves! There are some high energy acts, some absolutely beautiful musicians, and artists from varying levels of political and cultural backgrounds. The concept for the show stemmed from exploring my frustrations having internalized tokenism so often that I assume that is what non-indigenous audiences are automatically looking for – some display of politics, spirituality, powwow, or insight into “Reconciliation.” I decided to gather some of my peers who may or may not exhibit those elements, but they do it because it is what they want to do and not to appease expectations. The idea may have began in a conflicted space, but the event looks like it will just be a ton of fun (okay… maybe a jab or two).

BG: I know you work with clown a lot, and clown often features an intoxicating element of chance. How much chance is the right amount for live performance, and when (if ever) does it tip over into chaos for you? 

BB: In all public performance, there is the potential for something unexpected to happen. I find that Clown is a fun art form because it deliberately stays in contact with the audience to gauge and ride those unexpected outbursts. The right amount fluctuates –  it entirely depends on the safety of the audience and the performer. If the audience ever feels as if the artist or circumstance is completely out of control or unsafe (physically, emotionally, or otherwise) – then that is the tipping point. The same goes for the safety of the performer. I appreciate the boundaries that are established in the Burlesque community to ensure the enthusiastic engagement and energy from the audience does not turn to derogatory or non-consensual actions. Clowns are chaotic so clowns are cautious.

BG: In what ways does your Indigenous identity and traditional teachings influence your artistic and curatorial identity? 

BB: I am grateful for the different perspectives and teachings I learned these past few years from several incredible opportunities working in Indigenous theatre circles. The powerful leaders I learn from (often strong indigenous matriarchs),  consistently bring the same teaching forward: The knowledge you attain is for you to contribute back to the various communities you serve and not to hoard for personal gain. This affects all of my work and I try to always ask myself who will benefit from the pieces I put forward. Sometimes, investing in yourself is also a contribution to the community; it is about balance.

BG: A cabaret or variety show can be a great opportunity for unexpected juxtapositions. Do you have a favourite artistic juxtaposition or fusion across disciplines that you’ve seen or experienced?

BB: I’ve worked with Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts for the past 4-5 years and we do these Fusion events that I love. The premise is centred on a visual/sculptural art form being influenced by live performance and vice versa. My favourite piece was one of our early Fusions where we painted the bottoms of powwow dancers’ moccasins and they danced on a 12’x12’ canvas while Lana Whiskeyjack painted beneath their feet. There really is no line between disciplines and it is fun to play in that sometimes.

BG: If you could curate anyone (living or dead, local or global) for a DBC, who would it be?

BB: I would do anything to spend an evening in Robin William’s presence.