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From Page to Stage

Pride & Joy

Two leaders of the TSO sit stageside for a conversation ahead of Toronto’s legendary Pride festivities
May 16, 2023

This Pride Month, the TSO welcomes Thorgy Thor, the drag performer who rose to fame for her creativity, uniqueness, nerve, and fierce musical talent—specifically, her virtuosity on the violin—on RuPaul’s Drag Race

At this Special Performance, Thorgy will team up with TSO Barrett Principal Education Conductor & Community Ambassador Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser and the Orchestra for a thrilling, theatrical show unlike any to ever grace Roy Thomson Hall.

For ​​Bartholomew-Poyser and TSO CEO Mark Williams—both members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community—the show is close to their hearts, offering both a crucial moment of joy and celebration, and an opportunity to create a welcoming space within a concert setting.

Williams and Bartholomew-Poyser sat down to chat about Thorgy’s uniqueness as a musician and performer, the joy of creating new 2SLGBTQ+ safe spaces, and the power and universality of drag.

Why was participating in Pride so important for the TSO?

Mark Williams: From my perspective, we are not only the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, but we’re also Toronto’s symphony orchestra. We exist because the City of Toronto and the people who live here want us to exist, so what’s important to them is important to us. It’s undeniable that Pride is an important part of life in Toronto—and not just for those of us from the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

We have many people from the community who work in this organization, we have many people in this organization who are allies, and we want to connect with this important festival.

Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser: For me, Pride is unthinkable without music. Pride is a celebration, and you can’t have that celebration without music. So it’s a natural fit because we are a group of musicians working at a really high level to bring our talents, our creativity, and our imaginations to the music of the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

Thorgy is also a professional musician, working in New York, playing multiple instruments. So it was really a great idea to have her as a headliner bringing her creativity to the stage.

What makes a Special Performance memorable?

DBP: I think there are a lot of ingredients that make a Special program unique. A lot of them have to do with connection—I want people to leave the show feeling more connected to the artist, that they learned and experienced something new, and that they experienced some surprises. There are lots of surprises in this show. I’m not going to tell you what they are, of course! But it’s about having those moments of connection, those moments of intimacy—all these emotions in a one- or two-hour event. That’s also what makes every one of our Special concerts a little different, because every performer is unique. 

Is this the first time that we’ll officially have drag at the TSO?

DBP: I’m gonna go out on a limb and say yes, which is pretty exciting.

What do you think about the power of drag—why is it resonating so much, and why is it creating such conversation right now?

MW: Drag is quite a fascinating art form in that it can be used in a very, very deeply artistic and thoughtful way. It can be used for political or comedic purposes. There’s an element of fantasy; there’s an element of beauty.

DBP: As somebody who’s not a drag performer but has worked with them: The spirit of drag is creativity. The spirit of drag is about each performer pushing their own creativity to the max, and bringing that to audiences in ways that are incredibly impactful. 

What’s interesting is that each drag performer creates their own world. You have comedy drag. You have fashion drag. You have drag stars that are amazing at dance. They’re able to create their own world, that element of fantasy and suspended disbelief. When you’re with a drag performer and they’re holding court, it’s phenomenal.

MW: Isn’t that a RuPaul quote—“You’re born naked and the rest is drag”? That resonates with me so much. I think on some level, we’re all performing drag. We have professional lives, and I joke frequently about ‘getting in my CEO drag.’ I have to play CEO today, so I put on the suit and the tie, because people need to see me looking like what they think a CEO looks like. But I’m still the same person doing the same job. That is drag. We’re all doing it, all the time. I think maybe part of its popularity is that we all see ourselves in it somehow. 

Daniel, you’ve said this is the most important concert you’ll do all year. Why is that?

DBP: In my life, I’ve benefited so much from having safe 2SLGBTQ+ spaces, and those spaces are being invented in new ways. I’m seeing people in my friend group, people across the country and North America, finding new ways for us to be together and remain united as a community. As a conductor, when I’m standing on stage and I see an audience full of 2SLGBTQ+ community members singing and dancing and laughing—and when they know the inside jokes that maybe not every member of even the orchestra does, which is one of my favourite parts—that just fills me with great joy. 

It gives me deep satisfaction to be able to create space like that, because maybe it’s the one thing somebody needed at that moment. Maybe it’s the only time that month or year that somebody will be able to find a space where they feel comfortable. There’s also something to having the concert hall be a place where everybody can feel safe—It hasn’t always been like that, and that’s changing. 

MW: I’m very hopeful that there will be people in the audience who might never have stepped foot in this building, but will know that this is a place and an organization that’s for them, and that they should feel safe and welcome here.

What else do you want people to know about this show?

DBP: Thorgy is one of the most thoughtful, dedicated, creative people I’ve ever worked with. People often want to know, ‘What’s she really like?’, and she’s just a 100%-dedicated artist. She not only has this huge gift for drag, but also just as a hard-working, nuts-and-bolts professional musician.

I love the moment when she’s not in drag during the concert. First, Shane comes out and plays. But then when he releases Thorgy, you can see it in the eyes of the orchestra: “Oh, we get it. Oh, wow.” It’s a really powerful thing.

MW: I think for the program, your headshot should be you, and another one of you in drag.

DBP: Oh. Oh, wow.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 


From Stage to Page is a TSO.CA series featuring exclusive content that takes you inside the hall and provides a behind-the-scenes look at the artists, music, and stories that bring our TSO performances to life, straight from the pages of our house programs. Explore From Stage to Page articles on TSO.CA.