The Pulse: Dec. 5, 2023

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  • 8°C: A mix of sun and cloud. Clearing late in the morning. High 8. (forecast)
  • Purple: The High Level Bridge will be lit purple for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. (details)

A drag performer dressed in Christmas attire holds presents and poses amongst Christmas decorations.

Lilith Fair takes Roxy main stage

By Colin Gallant

A multi-hyphenate drag performer is bringing a new musical to life at Theatre Network's Roxy Theatre, something they said is a step forward for the validation of their art.

"I think this is the biggest thing that I've personally worked on," Zachary Parsons-Lozinski, a.k.a. Lilith Fair, told Taproot. "I don't think drag queens are often given big opportunities in the theatre world. To be given the opportunity to be in a world-debut musical at a theatre with a history of excellence, like the Roxy, I am not taking this for granted."

With Bells On! The Musical is based on Darrin Hagen's (of Guys in Disguise) play With Bells On!, with music and lyrics by Tommy Newman and book by Newman and Devanand Janki, who also directs. It's about a chance meeting in a broken elevator on Christmas Eve between a suicidal accountant named Ted (Thomas Jones) and a seven-foot tall drag queen named Natasha (Lilith Fair).

Parsons-Lozinski saw the debut of the source material at the original Roxy location. Casting in With Bells On follows their Sterling Awards win for their role in Hagen's The Pansy Cabaret. (Parsons-Lozinski uses he/they pronouns as a civilian, and she/her pronouns in drag.)

This is also the singer-dancer-playwright-comedian's tenth anniversary of debuting Lilith Fair, and they have ratcheted up professional success in the role in recent years.

"I think the thing I'm most proud of is that for the last four years, coming out of a pandemic and lockdowns, drag has been my full-time job," they said. "I haven't had to subsidize my income by waiting tables or working at a coffee shop. To be this weirdo, sex positive, punk rock, brat, drag queen making a living in what is traditionally known as the most conservative province in the country — I feel very rock and roll."

Parsons-Lozinski, who hails from Edmonton but has lived in Calgary since 2019, said that though the show takes place in a confined setting with just two actors, it never feels small. "The music is so expansive, as far as genre and tone," they said. "We are taken on a pretty big journey, despite the fact that we're really just in one space for so long."

Like with The Pansy Cabaret, Parsons-Lozinski is delighted to play a three-dimensional character in the musical, rather than a drag caricature. They said the lack of roles like these have been a factor in creating their own shows.

"Most of the time, if you want to do theatre in drag and not have the drag be the joke, I think it's necessary for authentic voice to be utilized in the process of creation," they said. "I think there are a lot of ideas about what drag is, but what is often missing from those stories is that … there's a whole community aspect to it. There's a whole cultural aspect to it, and that is often missing from scripts written by people who don't really understand that quality of the art form."

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Headlines: Dec. 5, 2023

By Mariam Ibrahim

  • The Community Property Safety Team has become a permanent part of Edmonton Fire Rescue Services. Since its launch as a pilot program in April 2022, the team has inspected 593 properties, issued 295 enforcement orders, and secured 320 vacant properties. In a release, the city said the team's efforts are expected to lead to a 31% drop in structure fires in areas it targeted this year, including downtown and Alberta Avenue.
  • A new report from Homeward Trust highlights challenges Edmonton is facing with its ambitious plan to end homelessness. While the city has successfully housed 8,500 people since 2017, 72% of whom have remained in stable housing, the report says the city is still falling short of its targets because of factors such as the pandemic, addictions and mental health crises, inflation, and increased population. "We still have work to do, and we still fail people," Homeward Trust CEO Susan McGee told the community and public services committee meeting on Dec. 4. The 2017 plan estimated the city needed 900 new supportive housing spaces. Since then, 430 units have been created, but another 1,300 are still needed. The city said it is working to update the plan since so much has changed since 2017.
  • Two Alberta writers have been selected as the 2024 Writers in Residence for libraries in Edmonton, St. Albert, and Strathcona County. Premee Mohamed, an award-winning speculative fiction author, has been selected as the Writer in Residence for the Edmonton Public Library. Mohamed will be based at the Stanley Milner Library, where she will support and inspire local writers. Katie Bickell, a short story writer and novelist, will serve as the regional Writer in Residence, providing programs and consultations at the Strathcona County Library and the St. Albert Public Library during the first and second parts of the year, respectively. The Writer in Residence program is in its 10th year and is a collaboration among the Metro Edmonton Federation of Libraries.
  • Edmonton International Airport says its passenger numbers have nearly returned to pre-pandemic numbers. By the end of the year, the airport is anticipating it will have welcomed 7.4 million travellers, which is about 90% of its pre-pandemic numbers. With the busy holiday travel season approaching, the airport is also expecting thousands more passengers compared to its average volumes. The airport is also continuing its construction work on the departures road on level two next to the terminal, which began Sept. 26 and is expected to last into 2024.
  • Porter Airlines is introducing daily non-stop flights from Montréal to Edmonton International Airport starting May 1. Flights from Edmonton to Montréal begin May 2. The new route will enhance connectivity between Edmonton and Eastern Canada, the airline said in a release. The new service will be operated on the 132-seat Embraer E195-E2 aircraft.
  • The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team is investigating a fatal police shooting on Dec. 3. The Edmonton Police Service said in a release that officers responded to reports of a man with a knife at 99 Avenue and 111 Street around 8:30pm. During a confrontation, an officer shot the man, who died from his injuries. Police said a knife was recovered from the scene.
  • The Edmonton Police Service is asking for witnesses to an assault on the Coliseum LRT Station platform on Nov. 26. Police said a 55-year-old woman was severely assaulted by two 12-year-old girls, leading to her hospitalization with significant head and facial injuries. The two girls fled, but were arrested nearby and charged with aggravated assault in connection with the attack. "While we have charged the two youth suspects, we understand there were witnesses on the platform at the time of the assault who we are looking to speak with," Staff Sgt. Ian Brooks said in a release. Anyone with information is asking to call police at 780-423-4567 or #377 from a mobile phone, or by contacting Crime Stoppers.
  • Marla Smith, an Edmonton woman who uses a motorized wheelchair, says she was unable to attend a community event on Nov. 28 because the venue, Metro Cinema had limited accessibility. The event, aimed at fostering a sustainable and inclusive Edmonton, was organized by Coun. Michael Janz. The Ward papastew councillor acknowledged the issue but said that changing the venue wasn't possible, and that adding accommodations such as a second ramp would have created further accessibility concerns. Smith, who has been unable to attend previous community events because of a lack of accessibility, is advocating for better inclusion such as improved snow clearing and safer ramps. "When it comes to civic engagement, it should be as barrier free as possible," Smith said.
  • A stolen car collided with a Valley Line Southeast LRT train on 66 Street near the Whitemud Drive overpass on Dec. 4, causing damage to the train. The Edmonton Police Service said the driver disobeyed traffic signs, struck the train, and fled the scene on foot. Despite deploying a canine team, police were unable to locate the driver. In a separate incident, a vehicle was hit by a Valley Line train on Nov. 30 near 75 Street and Roper Road. Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, branch manager for Edmonton Transit Service, said that a learning curve is expected since the line is still new. "We are confident people will adjust to the new system if they obey the rules of the road," she said.
City Councillors sit in a semicircle at the front of the council chambers in Edmonton.

Council passes budget without playing chicken

By Ashley Lavallee-Koenig

Edmonton city councillors last week voted 12 to one to increase property taxes by 6.6% during the 2023-2026 budget adjustment, an outcome that spurred some to explain why they had an apparent change of heart from the last time they debated a budget.

"We did hear some others, like Coun. Knack and Coun. Cartmell, also try to justify why they had voted no last year but are voting yes this time," said co-host Mack Male on Episode 244 of Speaking Municipally. "Coun. Knack talked about how it'd be pretty hypocritical to support basically every amendment to increase the budget and then vote no against it in the end," Male said. "We avoided that budget chicken."

The lone vote against the budget adjustment was from Coun. Rice, who has recently been accused of creating a hostile work environment.

Messaging from councillors after the vote was relatively consistent, with several framing the tax increase as a daily cost of $8.71 for the continuation of 70 services — a comparison that fell flat with the show hosts.

"I've never once thought about my City of Edmonton property tax as a per-day expenditure, nor do I actually think that $8.71 per day is a number that gives me a whole lot of joy," said co-host Troy Pavlek.

Pavlek expressed concern that councillor messaging about property taxes was unclear, especially pointing out that a third of property tax revenues go the province.

Male said only Coun. Janz touched on the role of the Alberta government in the tax increase during his closing remarks.

"He talked about the photo radar funding going away, the province reducing the amount that it actually pays in property taxes, and that the province has this really large surplus," Male said. "And yet, councillors are left debating whether or not they should cut the grass once or twice a year. He (Janz) was essentially doing all of the work, the heavy lifting there, to criticize the province, and nobody else mentioned it — and it wasn't in the news release."

Councillor final remarks also zeroed in on the approved $3 million in funding for responding to encampments, and concerns about the budget-saving motion OP12 and its effectiveness.

To hear more about the budget adjustment, Coun. Rice's bullying allegations, and an update on Warehouse Park, check out the Dec. 1 episode of Speaking Municipally.

Photo: The fall supplementary budget discussion began on Nov. 21 and was finalized on Nov. 28. (Mack Male/Flickr)