I go a matinee performance of Starwalker, a musical by Corey Payette. Its world premiere, the show was co-produced by Urban Ink, Raven Theatre & The Musical Stage Company. The Cultch’s York theatre is packed; I had decided just a few hours before to attend and I purchase one of the last available seats in the house. As a professional queer, I am excited to witness queer joy on stage.
“Starwalker is a rebellion through an outpouring of joy. It recognizes our shared history, our complex relationships, as we build towards a new future bursting with love.”
[Director’s note, Corey Payette]
Starwalker follows a young Two-Spirit person – Star – in a journey of self-discovery, courage, and vulnerability. This growth is nurtured through Star finding romantic love with Levi, and Star’s adoption into the drag house Borealis. When they met, Levi tells Star that Mother will love them due to the synchronicity between names: Star/ Borealis, as both relate to the night sky. Levi then takes Star home to the house to meet the family.
Set in “East Vancouver”, specific neighbourhood undisclosed, we learn that Mother Borealis managed to purchase a house when that was still a realistic achievement (many years ago; hold for laughter). The house is a centre hub of activity with the drag family Borealis living all together. However, not all is well at home. I mean this literally, Mother is sick! She refuses, despite active encouragement, to get assessed by a physician. Mother minimizes the concern for her health and keeps the level of its severity from all but her eldest child. Despite its promise of joy, the theme of medical trauma is central to Starwalker’s dramatic plot.
Theatre is all about the suspension of disbelief… but it took every ounce of will power to not stand up on my chair and yell out the referral number for Home Care services (604-263-7377) when all the characters are under the delusion that Mother *has* to go to the hospital to die. Calling this number would have connected the chosen family members of Mother Borealis to a community health nurse.
Community Health Nurses (CHNs) work closely with your family doctor to plan and provide your care. Part of the nurse’s role is to provide information about physical comfort, medications and procedures. The nurses will listen to your concerns and talk about choices to help you and your family make decisions. They assess and discuss with you the type and amount of help you and your family may require and adjust these as your needs change. They can also refer you to other team members as needed. Nurses are available 7 days a week to visit homes based on assessed need. Community health nurses will provide you with the information for contacting evening, weekends, and on-call services.[Vancouver Home Hospice Palliative Care Service brochure]
Not knowing about community health nurses creates a significant conflict. Mother is clearly unwell and in need of medical intervention, but she has also been very clear in her wishes: no hospitals. Sissy respects this despite the great distress it brings, whereas Levi identifies that Mother is no longer in the correct state of mind to make this type of decision. There is concern that Mother is suffering unnecessarily. Not to mention that it is very emotionally upsetting for the rest of the family to see Mother’s decline – feelings of fear, helplessness and uncertainty in the face of severe illness abound. (me: oh no! this seems so hard! I or any of my colleagues, could come by and sort this out!).
Star, who has experienced significant trauma in hospitals relating to their upbringing, is avidly against Mother going to the hospital… mostly because Star themselves does not want to go to the hospital. In a beautiful scene, with great stage lighting, Mother ends up being taken away by EMS at the end of a righteous drag show held at the House of Borealis. Mother is brought to Saint Paul’s Hospital (meanwhile, my CHN brain is going… what neighbourhood are they in East Van to be brought to SPH and not VGH… are they in *gasp* my catchment!?! When I asked a CHN colleague who had also seen the show, her theory was that it was in the “cool” part of East Van… likely around Commerical Dr. [Robert & Lily Lee] but really, East Van could also represent: Ravensong, Evergreen and South! ).
Mother’s hospitalization triggers the climatic fight between Levi and Star: one begging for the other to show up, be vulnerable, trust, face fears; the other lost still within their past, …yet
(As I kept my little community health nurse butt in my seat and my mouth shut)
Mother could have had a home death! Mother could have been assessed by a community health nurse, who maybe would have called her doctor and got her all comfy and her paperwork sorted! Star could have shown up for Mother and the family while also not been stressed or forced to go the hospital! Mother’s wish to not go to the hospital could have (easily) been respected while simultaneously Levi’s concerns over her need for medical attention could have been met…
I knowwwww, it’s a play and a 5th business nurse character who swoops into the second act doesn’t perhaps hold the same dramatic tension… as Star showing up, performing ceremony and with the family giving Mother “permission” to die. Mother also dies very beautifully, with this super amazing costuming from the hospital bedding into a sparkling flowing gown… but I’ll just say, we can get a hospital bed into your home!
So I must at least pitch a 5th ! As we build towards a new future bursting with love, consider the importance of community health nursing! Consider our luck to live in a place that actively invests in a home dying program… consider that Mother might have also passed away at a hospice (yet another alternative to the hospital). Consider how this theme of medical trauma resonates for folks who watched the show… and how many could have learnt about home death or community-based nursing as viable options within our city! Consider art as propaganda spreading the message that HOME IS BEST !
Alright, I will come down off my soapbox… as I really did enjoy the magic of Starwalker, and I hope to see more works that blend drag into theatre/theatre into drag while being geographically rooted here in the city (on the unceded traditional territories of xʷməθkwəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh nations.). I also would really be into a drag family literally owning a house in East Van and regularly performing in said house and attending very regularly– and then if this happens irl, that someone is sick… CALL ME OKAY?