Everyone’s Welcome In This Tipi

It’s nearing 4 p.m. in Kim Tallbear’s office. The view outside is that of a cool and darkening winter day, but inside her office, the glow…

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It’s nearing 4 p.m. in Kim Tallbear’s office. The view outside is that of a cool and darkening winter day, but inside her office, the glow from her desk lamp bathes the room with a warm light. It’s cozy. When Tracy Bear and Kirsten Lindquist enter, the warmth intensifies and the room becomes lively as the three discuss their upcoming L.A. debut. They are ready to take their live storytelling show — Condom Fairies and all — to an international audience.

And yes, you ready that correctly — “Condom Fairies.”

Inspired by Bed Post ConfessionsBed Post Confessions in Austin, Texas, the trio has been promoting and exploring decolonized sex positivity through their show Tipi ConfessionsTipi Confessions since 2015. Featuring spoken word presentations, burlesque performances, and a string of anonymous audience confessions, the show aims to create an all-inclusive space that invites the audience and performers alike to probe the world of sex and sexuality with an Indigenous perspective. The show also doubles as a point for scholarly discovery as part of the Faculty of Native Studies Research-Creation Laboratory. Seated around a table in Kim’s office, the three shared their insights and experiences producing the show.

Kim: We needed a closing event for the Indigenous Masculinity Symposium that we put on here in 2015. I was pretty familiar with Bed Post Confessions, and am friends with one of the producers. I said “oh, maybe they’ll let us do a version of that show — it’s so awesome!” And they did. It came together really easily that first time. We thought it was going to be a onetime thing, and then it came off so well — people loved it — so we decided to do it again.

Kirsten: The next one was “A Little Sex on the Prairie” and was part of the University of Alberta Prairie Sexualities Symposium — that was titled “Prairie Confessions.” And then we coordinated with the dramaturg Donia Mounsef [from the Department of Drama] — and Tracy and I both took a stab at performing as well as producing.

Tracy: [Laugh] Well, I’m not performing anymore… but I really do enjoy being the emcee and co-producing. I love watching the various Indigenous and non-Indigenous people come up with ideas and various definitions and expressions of sexuality and gender. I don’t think that, in Edmonton, we have a venue for people to express that sort of thing. Tipi Confessions really fills a lot of gaps.

Kirsten: I think that’s why we came to a consensus on using Tipi Confessions rather than “Prairie Confessions” –- there’s no closet in a tipi. And everyone is welcome in our tipi.

Kirsten: I’d always talked about doing burlesque, and so I was like, “oh, I’m just going to do it,” and Tipi Confessions provided a safe space to do an Indigenous or pre-colonial perspective on burlesque.

Tracy: It’s weird; sometimes emceeing is a real blur for me. It’s a different person who gets up on the stage than who I am right now.

Kirsten: You really feed off the audience. And you can’t prepare for the energy of the audience.

Tracy: Especially when you’re reading confessions somewhat on the fly. Kim and Kirsten often read them beforehand and they’ll put them into themes if we have time. There’s not too many that we leave out.

Kim: There’s a few.

Tracy: But probably about 98 percent go on stage, so I never know what I’m going to get.

Kim: The first time we did this, Jody Stonehouse was our lead emcee, and then Tracy co-emceed with her. And then, Tracy was just kind of a natural. I’ve emceed too before, but I don’t think it’s my thing. [Laughs]

Kirsten: But you’ve also performed.

Kim: Yeah, the performing I’m more comfortable with than the emceeing actually. You don’t know until you get up there — and we just fill in the role we think we’re good at. Also, I’m too much of a mother hen. I want to be like “where is everybody, are they coming on? Are they doing the social media?” I can’t stop thinking like that, so it’s better that I’m on the side being nervous. [Laughs]

Tracy: For me, emceeing is absolutely amazing. I love the audience; I feed off the audience. Their energy is really quite palpable in the room, so it’s a lot of fun for me. I leave all the nervousness to Kim. [Laughter] She makes sure things are okay and sits in the background doing busy things, I feel like I just need to be in my zone.

Tracy: I feel like it’s a lot of academics right now — and their family and friends. Obviously at NAISA in Vancouver, there was a big conference of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people working in Indigenous studies — that was our main audience. It would be really cool to branch out to the broader community.

Kim: With Bed Post Confessions, they’ve been going for about 7 years now, so they have a pretty loyal following in the Austin area. One of the interesting differences here is that a lot of our references — not completely, but a lot of them — are trying to recapture a sense of sex positivity after the sexual traumas of residential schools and colonization. In Texas, it’s about the sexual trauma meted out by the church. For us it tends to be more against colonial structures — which could include the church, but it’s a little bit different. I’ll be interested to see how as our audience fills out, as we do a couple shows a year in Edmonton regularly and we get more well-known out in the community.

Tracy: Some of them are really quite poignant. Some of them are really funny. And some of them are really sad. The audience instantly gages it. You can feel their reaction. One of the significant ones that stands in my head, because it made the audience gasp — I think it was in Saskatoon — and the confession read “I’ve been married 30 years to my loving wife; I know I’ve been gay since I was fourteen. This is the life I have to live.

Kim: The emcees take turns reading them. I usually say “this is a hard one” when it’s sad.

Tracy: I usually say that, “Tipi Confessions isn’t just about being funny — these are people’s confessions, and we have to respect that.”

The really awkward one we had was when my daughters had come. At that point my daughter was 24, my oldest. And I knew exactly which confession was hers.

[Kim and Kirsten laugh]

Tracy: I knew her writing! So, I should have handed it off, but…

Kim: I wonder how she felt having her mother read her confession. [Laughter] She could make another confession “At the last Tipi Confessions, my mum read my confession!” [Laughter]

Tracy: So, we have Condom Fairies. With rainbow wings. And they have these boxes that hold condoms and lube that we get donated. They handout the [confession submission] cards. The cards say “I confess” at the top, and then they’re blank. So [the audience] write on them, fold them, and put them in the jar.

Kirsten: I’m going to do a PhD around this show and placing myself as both a performer and a co-producer. [I’ll be looking at] the energy within the show and the interaction with the audience. But then, what happens after the show? How do people talk about it? [When we add a website], will we lose the intimacy of being able to see people? And what happens after that? How does that intimacy change? When we’re in a live venue together, we’re accountable to each other. So what will happen online?

Kim: For me, I knew that this show was going to be a great performance and I thought that that alone does good work in the world. It’s sort of creating change through performance. Seeing the language that SHRC has around research creation, allowed my ideas for doing arts based research to really blossom in ways that I didn’t think were possible. Not a lot of people know this about me, but I was on a 1992 Indigenous slam poetry team in Boston, and I stopped when I went to graduate school. Back then I knew the transformative potential of getting up on stage and doing socially justice focused spoken word, and I really believed in that. So this is an opportunity to bring that kind of work and time back into my academic work.

Tracy: I work a lot with missing and murdered Indigenous women, and my dissertation was about erotica. So having to write about it, you write about it from a theoretical framework of the erotic and talking about sexuality and gender. And here we have Tipi Confessions, which puts [some of that theoretical work] into practice. I really like the amalgamation of theory and practice. This idea that sexuality and gender and sensuality and the erotic can be a part of our everyday lives again, as they were in pre-colonial times matters.

To learn more about Tipi Confessions and to watch for their next event, check out their Facebook page.Facebook page.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.