Izad Etemadi knows what it’s like to throw on a hijab, speak with a Middle Eastern accent and pretend he’s a woman.
He has, after all, been doing just that for the past three years.
Etemadi’s performance is part of a one-man, interactive comedic show called Love With Leila, in which he plays an Iranian woman name Leila with a beard who wants to please her parents and lose herself in love, while at the same time coming to terms with who she is, how she acts and looks.
“I’ve always found the minute that you can laugh about something, everything else really hits deeper,” said Etemadi who grew up in Victoria. “Everyone is able to find something to relate to, find a bit of themselves in not only the story, but the character, which is really lovely … it all comes a very truthful place.”
Etemadi admits hitting the stage as a woman wasn’t always his goal as a performer, but one he fell into. Etemadi was attending the Canadian College of Performing Arts and brainstorming ideas for performances with his fellow classmates when he decided to channel his Middle Eastern heritage. He envisioned his Iranian aunts and started imitating their accents, and how they walked and moved. It was then Leila was born.
Since then, her character has captured audiences of all ages around North America, and will be coming to Victoria this week as part of the third annual OUTstages Festival put on by the Intrepid Theatre Club.
The five-day festival features some of the country’s best queer artists and shows and kicks off the Pride season in the city. For Etemadi, the over-the-top performance also comes with an important message.
“Even though we may look different, sound different, talk differnet or do different things at the core we all experience the same emotions. We all fall in love, we all get hurt, we all want to impress people, we all screw up,” he said. “Regardless of what your exterior is, or where you come from or what religion you follow, we all have things in common.”
OUTstages Festival runs until Saturday, June 24. Love with Leila hits the stage June 21 to 23. For more information visit intrepidtheatre.com.