LGBT Theatre

A guide to LGBT shows and theatre making in the UK (world domination 2015) We look forward to providing listings to the gay Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2013 – check back in June for full listings, or follow @TheatreLGBT to hear the latest.

We’ve MOVED!

by lgbttheatre

We’re now at http://www.LGBTtheatre.com

That’s right peoples. We put everything in cardboard boxes, hired a van, drank many cups of tea, had to buy more allen keys and made a fort in our new home.

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You’re invited to the house-warming on 01 August 2013 – http://www.lgbttheatre.com – far easier to remember don’t you think?

See you there!

 

 

One Play – No Gender – 31st July to 25th August

by stephaniegunner

Papercut Theatre is a company on a mission. Committed to breaking new ground within the writer/director relationship, it’s been steadily nurturing new writing through a series of innovative

Papercut's appropriately Scottish-hued XY logo for Edinburgh 2013

Papercut’s appropriately Scottish-hued XY logo

projects since 2011. From budget cuts to intimacy to illegal organ transplants, no subject is off limits to the fledgling writers Papercut supports. It’s the most recent topic that’s got us all excited though, as Papercut seeks to break down pre-conceptions of gender behaviour and identity; by removing gender prescription altogether. XY is a short play event incorporating 16 plays from multiple writers, all of whom were given a simple brief: write a play without specifying the gender of any of the characters, or as Papercut’s website succinctly puts it: “One play. No gender. Endless possibilities”. Right up our alley I think you’ll agree, so we jumped at the chance to catch up with Artistic Director Melissa Dunne, as she prepares to take the issue of equality to Edinburgh…

Hello Melissa, thanks for taking some time out from Edinburgh prep to talk to us! How excited are you to be taking the project to the festival?

Very. This is the first time Papercut Theatre will be taking a project to Edinburgh. It’s a daunting task and the producers and I are working very hard to make it all happen, but every now and again we catch ourselves and think, ‘Wow. This is going to be so cool.’

It does sound like an intriguing idea for a show. Does XY’s gender-blind focus feed into your main goals as a theatre company?

Papercut Theatre’s main goal is to interrogate the writer/director relationship, with a special focus on questioning the way we’re taught to write and direct plays in the UK. I suppose taking gender out of the equation causes writers and directors to really examine how much they take for granted in terms of the sexes in their work. Something that was previously unconscious to them – how they think of gender – becomes something very conscious.

Artistic Director Melissa Dunne

Artistic Director Melissa Dunne

On your website you say you’re more interested in developing
writers as artists than demanding finished products of them. Do you think the theatre industry too often expects young writers to deliver plays as products? And do you think that damages theatre as an art form?

I think it takes a really long time to hit your creative stride and that there’s a really unhelpful cultural expectation to achieve at a very young age. A choreographer once told me that it takes fifteen years to make a dancer, and that to me feels like an appropriate amount of time to ‘make’ a writer or director. I think we live in a society that likes short-term, clear results which is not conducive to artistic endeavour. You can be an absolutely brilliant director or actor, well respected with a decent profile, and still be scraping by on couple of grand a year. That’s a very difficult journey to be on as a creative person and even more so when the merit of your work and your status is constantly being called into question.

You’ve created XY, and curated it since its first
inception at Theatre 503 in 2012. How did the project come about? Was it a response to a particular experience you had with the theatre industry?

It came out of going to a lot of panel and post-show discussions, where the lack of female writers being produced and the poor quality of female characters being created was a common topic. I wanted to come up with a practical way of exploring that. There were a lot of conversations about representation, but none about equality or practical, creative solutions to solving the problem. I suppose XY came out of that.

And what did you learn from the Theatre 503 shows? What discoveries have you made about gender, character and writing so far? Has anything surprised you?

Because of the nature, some might say limitations; of the gender brief given to the writers, I think the core creative team and programmers expected a lot of formally experimental, poetic, sub-Beckettian pieces of work to begin with. The delightful surprise has been the number and quality of naturalistic, psychologically realist plays being produced for the festival. I think it reinforces my own belief that in storytelling, gender is largely irrelevant and that writers should focus on character and dramatic stakes instead.

And do you think that this gender-blind approach to writing can also help interrogate prejudices against transgendered people, or those with non-traditional sexual identities?

I would love the project to do so. I think it’s really easy to see romantic relationships in hetero-normative terms and any deviation from that is still termed as ‘other.’ There was a concern at the beginning that in trying to be gender-blind we’d end up neutering the sexual desires of our characters. I think though, that by taking our pre-conceptions about gender out of the way we liberate how we perceive sexual identity. I do think there’s a massive generational shift going on also in terms of how sexuality is perceived. People coming out in the workplace, or adjusting to transgendered identities used to be a massive social upheaval as well as an emotional one. Being more tolerant about non-traditional sexualities frees people up to be happier individuals and to tell more interesting stories.

As you say on your website, the XY brief has endless possibilities. Will the Edinburgh run help you to explore these more?

At Theatre 503 XY has always run for a night or two. At Edinburgh we’re going to be up there for the entire month, with a changing line-up week to week which is going to teach us a lot about what an audience gets from the project.

And where would you like to go next? Do you think the project would work elsewhere for example?

The purpose of the project is to raise consciousness about it and to encourage writers and directors to examine their own prejudices and to communicate these ideas to as wide an audience as possible. To that end, yes, I’d love to host XY events in different parts of the UK. I also have a slightly ridiculous dream to produce XY in New York, but I have no reason for that beyond liking the sound of ‘XY/NY’. (Laughs)

XY will be previewing at London’s Theatre 503, 23rd-24th July, and runs at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh from 31st July to 25th August 2013. Visit www.papercuttheatre.co.uk for more details, or follow on Twitter @papercuttheatre. Follow us @TheatreLGBT for more Spotlights on LGBT shows at Edinburgh!

Steph’s Life* As A Man**

by stephaniegunner

Life as a man has changed a lot across the centuries, but the performance of gender still continues to shuffle across the stage, both literal and social. I took my own playful sojourn into Man Land and found out it’s not just the attire that’s altered in recent years but the attitudes of masculinity as well.Stephan-ie Gunner

A few weekends ago I attended a ‘Man Party’. No; not the kind of sordid sauce-dipped sausage-fest of man-flesh it might sound like (though there were quite a lot of sausages), it was actually a birthday party for my one and only male housemate. To draw attention to the gender discrepancy in our household (with our tongues firmly in cheeks of course) we decided it would be fun to dress up in men’s clothes and emphasise masculine traits and activities as part of an ironic and exaggeratedly themed barbecue/soiree.

Turns out that as silly and unacademic as an adventure into gender behaviour can be, it does yield some interesting footnotes to the sexual identity conundrum.

The first is that glue-on moustaches tickle like fuck and moult into your pint; though I am assured the organically grown kind don’t do this. They do however, act as little foodie fishing nets, catching bits of dinner and helpfully storing them for later. It’s a pretty eye-opening experience glimpsing beer froth on your top lip that’s gathered like the crest of a wave, and I can only imagine the little furry fellows could be capable of garnering quite a cache of goodies over time. Is this the latter part of the classic Hunter/Gatherer masculine gender role in action? If so, it might be a part of male behaviour women like me would like to appropriate; a nifty little trick for hogging the entrées.

The next thing I noticed is that having extra bulk in your groinal area not only changes your centre of gravity and shifts your natural stance; it also affects the amount of space you feel comfortable taking up. Yes, all of my female housemates and I went the whole 9 inches and furnished our furrows with bunched-up socks, seeking to replicate the possession of a ‘package’. Sitting as such with my legs apart on our garden bench, I suddenly realised I hadn’t scooched over to accommodate a male friend when he came to sit down next to me. I also felt myself “leading from the front” when walking around the party, feeling confident, forthright and purposeful. My stride was broad and unapologetic about the width of space I needed, and I didn’t pre-empt another’s spatial needs by giving up my own. After a lifetime of crossing my legs and shifting over on the tube while a blokey-bloke stretches his knee so far into my seat space he’s practically nestled his patella between my ribs, I got a little drunk with power, and snuck upstairs to replace my socks with a far thicker, bulkier thermal kneehigh sock bundle…

The third and most heartening thing I noticed however, was how far removed from gender stereotypes we’ve come as a species, at least socially if not quite far enough politically. The gender behaviour my female friends and I affected at the party was demonstrably exaggerated, and not intended in any way to replicate a type of masculinity we might see today. We were consciously performing the stereotype of maleness, and what I found out was that my male friends are a hell of a lot more enlightened than perhaps their 1970s counterparts might have been. In comparison to the genuine men at the party, the (wo)men came across as cartoonish, caricatured and actually pretty dated. In presenting stereotypical male behaviour as part of a fun social celebration, we inadvertently demonstrated how far contemporary guys have come from such clichés. At least the ones I’m friends with in any case.

Good work, guys.

(*More specifically one, slightly drunken evening)

(**Ok, a somewhat under-prepared woman with a glue-on moustache. And a hat.)

NYC-based black trans performance poet and humourist: J Mase III

by stephaniegunner

J Mase III is an NYC-based black trans performance poet and humourist, formerly of Philly currently visiting the UK. He is author of the chapbook: If I Should Die Under the Knife, Tell My Kidney I was the Fiercest Poet Around, creator of the performance series Cupid Ain’t @#$%!: An Anti-Valentine’s Day Poetry Movement and gigging at venues across London.

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As well as being a performer, J Mase is also known for his outreach work, and it’s something he touches on quite often when explaining his passion for social change. Working with all ages and professions, J Mase brings LGBTQ issues into predominantly straight spaces through workshops and teaching.

He’s also spent a lot of time organising work within religious communities; ones that have very specifically anti-LGBTQ policies. That might sound scary; the very definition of a ‘Tough Crowd’ you might think, but to J Mase it’s an important part of engaging the sceptical. As he says, “I believe in the principles of non-violence, and I believe in meeting people in their places as I expect them to meet me in mine. It is a big contribution to my fearlessness as a performer though!”

This is a fair summary of what it’s like to talk to J Mase; he’s passionate and serious but never overly earnest or indulgent. He has a deep love for what he does and a sense of humour about it too, and his hunger for lively discussion is positively infectious…  

Hello J Mase, welcome to London! Is this your first visit to the UK?

I visited Scotland once about 10 years ago, but yeah, this is my first trip here in a professional capacity, and the first time I’ve visited London!

We’re not known for being the friendliest of cities…how have you found us so far?

Well I just moved to New York from the magical land of Philly, so someone really has to go out of their way to make me think they’re being unfriendly! (Laughs) But so far it’s been great, really, everyone’s been super friendly.

And you’ve just done a gig here for UK Black Pride as well. How did you get on?

It was awesome; really a fantastic atmosphere and everyone had this great energy. I’ve been to a few Black Pride events in the States; my favourite one is in Philly of course, and I think it’s important to have those kinds of events. It’s one thing to talk about being LGBTQ; it’s another to be able to talk about it from within your own cultural context.

How important is that sense of community when it comes to race and being LGBTQ? Would you say that being black and having a trans identity comes with its own particular challenges?

The implications of being of those identities in some ways depends on where you live. For example, if you live in a predominately black or people of colour space and all of the LGBTQ people you know are of colour, there may not be any dissonance there. However, if you are like me, maybe you grew up in a space where the first LGBTQ people you knew were all white, or from a different background, or weren’t accepted. In that case, finding not just LGBTQ people are important, but people that share your language, music, food, values…That look like you, are role models, etc. It’s the same as when we think of young people in schools. Walk into a school in which the students are told they are valuable, smart and capable; those kids will have so much push because someone granted them the privilege of being told they mattered. Walk into a school in which the students are told they are dumb, or violent, or damaged; those kids have a much bigger hill to climb. We all need to feel like we matter and we have a right to it. Black Pride events, I believe do that for people, especially in a society that often values a particular type of white, middle-class, able-bodied, (etc.) LGBTQ narrative.

And have race considerations affected any of your major decisions, would you say?

I think the sense of racial and ethnic identity impacts many people’s decisions on a daily basis. Most are just unaware of it. At an earlier stage in my career I had to make a decision between moving from Philly, where there’s a 40 per cent black population, to either New York, or a state in the Midwestern US. At the time, a white friend said that despite the low percentage of black people in the Midwestern location, there was no reason I couldn’t be accepted there. I told them there is a difference between being accepted, and being understood. If I’m going to choose somewhere to live and find community, I want to be able to walk into a room of my peers there and be confident of being understood; of having those common cultural markers to draw on. I have no problem entering unfamiliar spaces as part of my work, but if it’s a personal choice about my life and where I want to be, that need for community does come into it. Being able to take ownership of your own representation socially is important. In my work, especially as a performance producer, I always make sure I am engaging artists from various racial and ethnic backgrounds intentionally because that sense of being understood and identity is crucial for many of us; especially for many folks of colour.

How important is audience engagement to you as a performer? Is it something you like to feed off or challenge for example?

It’s something I’m very aware of when I’m performing and it varies depending on the space I’m in. Sometimes there are audiences who are with me from the beginning, sometimes there are people I can feel are getting it now who maybe weren’t getting it three minutes ago; there’s a lot of variations. I like to use a lot of call and response in my performances, perhaps because of my Baptist roots! So that’s a good tool for getting audiences involved. With performance the opportunity for social justice and change is huge, so I’m particularly conscious of that when it comes to certain types of audiences. There are some festivals where I can be fairly confident I’ll be the only trans performer they’ll see all year, so I want to make it count, and really get them to think about how they see gender.

Is that challenging of perspective something that occurs more often in mainstream spaces?

Not always. I actually put a lot of energy into trying to get Queer spaces to think more about how they consider gender, and transness in particular. In a lot of queer events, the only transpeople you will see on stage are the transwomen who are good enough to be the drag entertainment for the night, but not the trusted keynote speaker. The message that gets sent is that transpeople get to be the decoration to show how awesome and vibrant the LGBTQ community is, but it is a rarity that our voices are welcome into the LGB community’s everyday lives.

I do have a slightly devil’s advocate-y question: in some of your work; Neighbor for example, the tone is very oppositional. Do you think LGBTQ art is often forced to take that oppositional voice, or is it more of a choice?

I’d say it’s a balancing act, because with being LGBTQ, being of colour or part of any “oppressed group”, there will inevitably be quite a lot of justifiable anger and frustration feeding into the kind of work you make. That’s one reason I like to use a lot of humour in my work, such as the piece you mentioned. When I look at my white counterparts in performance poetry for example, I see a lot more acceptance of white voices being allowed to be funny. As performance poets of colour, I see an often immense pressure for us to be the voice of opposition, of anger and humour is seen as a bit incongruous with that. I interrogate that a lot with my performances, and in my outreach work as well: how do we talk about social justice in a way that doesn’t tell a kid who’s figuring out their own racial or LGBTQ identity, facing that type of prejudice that being liberated doesn’t mean a life relegated to pain and anger? At what point can we be responsible in our delivery and allowed to sometimes be…happy? We want that kid to hear us and know that we all have anger, and there is a time for that; we also have a responsibility to ourselves and our community to find the joy in being who we are.

Additionally, I think so many of us are quick to write off another person because they don’t understand their own privilege. The truth is, we all have privilege in some context. Just as I want someone to be gracious with me as someone who was raised middle class, able-bodied, by a parent that went to college, I want to acknowledge that people with privileges I don’t have are not necessarily awful people. They are individuals who may not know the damage they are causing or benefiting from. When I have the energy and the grace to do it, I’d like to make sure I can speak to them, as I would want someone to challenge and affirm me in my growth.

So can an angry voice be counterproductive?

I believe that anger has an important role to play within making socially conscious performance art, but it’s important that it’s not the only tone we take. I am human and I have a right to all my emotions just as we all do, but I think it’s important to show that I don’t have to be angry in order to be educated about my topic. We can be playful and responsible at the same time. If all I’m doing is showing anger at the person who oppresses me, it shuts down a conversation which could move things forward. An angry voice can be effective for the person that needs to purge. Sometimes we must ask: now what?

How do you see LGBTQ performance art in relation to mainstream theatre? Do you think it’s becoming more integrated or does LGBT art still occupy a space that is very ‘Other’?

I don’t know about the mainstream, but I know that within the LGBTQ community, not all of our identities have equal visibility as we have been discussing. For example, the first time I have been ever asked, as a transmasculine person, to share work as part of an exclusively queer men’s event was just this past year. Meanwhile, I’m consistently invited to perform at women’s events, where much of the dominant discussion has been ‘We don’t understand transfolks’. For me this has become even more painfully obvious when women’s spaces have invited me, but not any transfeminine folks, who are actually readily identifying within women’s spaces, to participate.   I’ve been performing for 10 years; it’s not ok for groups supposedly engaging with trans identities for this long to still not understand! The conversation should have moved on more in that time. So I think that even communities that want to engage with transfolks, or believe they are, can fall a little short. We as LGBTQ folk can sometimes feel we don’t have a responsibility to learn more about the entire community. Just because we’re aware of what LGBTQ stands for doesn’t mean we don’t have to interrogate it further and research it for our own sake.

So where would you position your own work in relation to that? Do you strive for integration, a more powerful oppositional voice, greater awareness of the different voices that are out there? All three?

I don’t need integration; I just need to feel that my rights as a trans person are protected, not merely fuelled by the government, but by the folks with whom I share community. I am also interested in furthering allyship and community responsibility through my poetry and the way I organize performances. For example, I believe there needs to be more discussion about not just how sexism and patriarchy impacts non-trans/straight/women, but a discussion about what masculinity and manhood means and how that impacts folks of various genders and sexualities along the masculine spectrum as well. So, I started organizing a performance series called “Patriarchal Rites” which specifically does three things: 1. Creates a space where transfolks and queer cismen can share their work alongside their straight cisgender male counterparts in affirming spaces. 2. Intentionally recruits and affirms straight cismen in creating work that addresses masculinity/homo-bi-transphobias/and sexism in public. 3. Brings together an audience that might not typically interact with each other. As a performer and as a producer of shows, my art doesn’t just stop at what I have written on the page, but asks how I can ensure my audience will come away with the most impact during and after a show.

So all three, really?

I guess so, yes. I firmly believe that social justice happens on three levels: Through the head, the heart, and the feet. You have to engage people on an intellectual level, through education and discussion; on an emotional level through art and spirituality, the heart; and finally through the feet by organizing together as a community! It’s been my mantra since I was 18 or 19…Nerdy, I know!

So what’s next for you? Would you like to do more international touring? Europe perhaps?

Absolutely, I’d love to do more touring. My plan this year is to get to South Africa for Soweto Black Pride in September; that will be amazing. And I definitely want to come back to the UK too!  I also want to bring Cupid Ain’t @#$%!, a performance series I have been running, here as well!

And finally, do you have any parting words for your new British fans? 

Thanks for reaching out! I look forward to coming back again and carrying on the LGBTQ discussion with as many of you as possible, and hope you bring some new people along too. And if they’re cute, that’s even better! (Laughs)

J Mase III is in London until Saturday and will be performing at Genesis Live Poetry Slam at Genesis Cinema, Thursday 4th July, and Lipped Ink  at the Poetry Café, Friday 5th July. J Mase’s book is also newly available from Gay’s The Word bookshop near Tavistock Square, for £7. See www.jmaseiii.com for more from Mase, and while we’re plugging things, why not follow us as well? @TheatreLGBT, you know. Get on board!

Interview with One Man Theatrical Dynasty – Simon Jay

by stephaniegunner

One of the missions of this blog is to spark a discussion about sexuality in theatre, pulling apart stereotypes and detonating prescribed behaviour as we go. With that in mind it was somewhat self-consciously that I met Simon Jay, theatre-maker and card-carrying homosexual, in a coffee bar in Soho of all places. Be reassured the reason for this location was not a crass attempt to be ironic; merely a logistical decision that meant I was in the right place to score bargain West End tickets later in the day, the coffee was cheap and tasty (a bit like me) and anyway it was he who suggested it, not me.

 Simon Jay is a London-based writer, director and theatre producer who often takes to the stage himself, performing one-man shows which explore among other themes; gender identity, feminism and the rights and experiences of the individual. His latest piece, Is He A Bit Simon Jay?, will be performed as part of the Freedom To Be Festival in Colliers Wood this weekend.

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Hello Simon. Thank you for meeting me here at this potentially offensive/ironic location to discuss LGBT matters and your work as a theatre practitioner. Are you looking forward to taking part in the Freedom To Be Festival?

Absolutely. I believe in taking theatre to places where it’s under-represented, and one of the main aims of this festival is to do that. Colliers Wood has an absolute dearth of theatre and art, let alone an LGBTQIA scene to speak of. Debbie (Johnson; Freedom To Be’s Head Organiser) wanted to create a festival to bring LGBTQIA (the ‘A’ is for ‘Allies’) work to the area, and make a space in south London for multiple types of art and expression. It’ll be a showcase for all the things I’m interested in as a theatre-maker and I’m very happy to be a part of it.

Do you think sexuality always plays a part in creative expression? Does your sexuality inform your writing for example?

It’s not a conscious thing. It will automatically inform what I do, because it’s part of who I am, but I don’t set out to make a point about it. I’m interested in exploring identity, and sexuality and gender are a part of that; that they’re not automatic things dictated by what sort of body you have. I’m interested in pulling that apart and looking at what happens when you do that theatrically, but I don’t have a particular agenda or political point to make with my work.

You must find that some audiences impose that, though?

Well they can do, yes. Most of us are brought up with very specific ideas of what men and women do, and that can translate into how we understand theatre as adults. I grew up wanting to play the great female roles like Beverley in Abigail’s Party, and as a child I didn’t see any reason that shouldn’t be possible. I quickly realised as an adult though that nobody’s going to cast me in those roles, so I’ll have to create opportunities for myself. That’s why as a performer and director I’m gender-blind when it comes to casting. It’s absurd to think ‘that’s male’ or ‘that’s female’, especially in theatre which is artificial by its very nature. When I performed my new show at Oxford Old Fire Station earlier this year, audience members told me they couldn’t tell if I was portraying a woman or a very camp man. I asked them what’s the difference?

So your desire to play female roles is artistic rather than personal?

Oh yes. Lots of people confuse the desire to perform as a female with the desire to become a female, and they’re very separate things. Although there’s nothing more or less valid about either of those desires. One of my strongest inspirations as a writer and performer is something that Barry Humphries says about his Dame Edna character; that Edna is not a man impersonating a woman, but a female character in her own right, and that’s how he approaches playing her. I love the notion that a man playing a woman can be just that: a person playing a person, free from any politics of it being a male body doing the performing. The character is no less female for being communicated by a male body. The fact I’m a gay man wanting to play women doesn’t mean I want to become one; just that I want to portray a particular character who happens to be a woman. Theatre allows us to do that and that’s one of the reasons I love it so much.

Are there any other major influences on your work?

Yes, Ed Wood! I love his enthusiasm and love; his willingness to risk embarrassment because that’s what the work needed him to do. I’ve always believed that as theatre-makers we should take our art seriously; not ourselves, and I never ask actors to do anything I’m not willing to do myself. For example, I’ve just completed a project where I made seven short films, each of which was completed in a day, taking place over a week of shooting. There simply wasn’t enough time for ego. One scene required an instance of simulated anal sex (Jay affectionately terms this the ‘Bumming’ scene but in the interest of objectivity I’ve edited this – Steph) and none of the actors was prepared to do it. So I did. That’s why I like actors and directors who are prepared to look foolish if it makes the work better. Ed Wood may not have produced the slickest or most profound pieces of work but he led a group of creatives willing to join in. It’s that kind of open collaborative spirit I try to encourage with my actors. I love giving them silly things to do.

And do you find on the whole they’re prepared to do them?

Not always, and I’ve definitely gotten pickier about the kind of actors I work with for that reason. It’s not about humiliating them of course, but I want them to bring something to the work themselves. When I directed The Vagina Monologues (at Bournemouth University, where Jay studied) it was the first time I’d relinquished my grip on the material and let the actors make discoveries for themselves. I felt a bit fraudulent at first but then I realised part of being a director is about being a facilitator, and allowing actors to take the lead in the process sometimes. If an actor is too pre-occupied with their own persona or looking sexy or noble to do that, it makes it almost impossible to create something exciting together.

You courted a bit of controversy with that show’s publicity material as well, didn’t you?

Oh yes, that was ridiculous! What happened was, Chloe Cook (President of BU’s Feminist Society at the time) asked me to direct The Vagina Monologues and stage it as part of V-Day (a global activist movement campaigning to end violence against women and girls). The poster we used to publicise the show around the university was a variation on V-Day’s official poster featuring a pair of feminine lips turned on their side to resemble a vulva. Not long after we put up the posters Chloe got an email from the Student Union president saying they’d received a complaint the image was explicit and in violation of the university’s code of conduct regarding obscene material.

And how did you respond?

With derision. V-Day holds events all over the world and this was an image that had been displayed in Tehran for goodness’ sake! If it can be shown in a country living under Sharia law without much fuss it seemed ludicrous we couldn’t display it in a British university. We started a petition and got over a hundred signatures; in the end we displayed a modified version of the poster with a ‘Censored’ sign plastered diagonally across it but so you could still see what the image was. I think that showed how stupid the whole furore was.

Do sexuality or gender concerns play a part in your new show, Is He A Bit Simon Jay?

Well in a way they don’t, really! The title is a play on cockney rhyming slang for gay that Scott (Payne, Simon’s collaborator and co-writer) came up with, but apart from that the text doesn’t explicitly deal with homosexuality as a main theme. It’s a comedy telling the story of one man’s journey from death to birth and all the people he interacts with along the way. Scott and I wanted to make a show that didn’t focus on someone’s deeds as defining them, but who they interact with. We’re the sum of our meetings with others I think, and we wanted to explore that by creating lots of different characters for one man to encounter. I wanted to play them all of course, one because I can’t afford a cast of 30, but mainly so I could show how independent from the body gender and sexuality can be. That gender is something we take on; not something that’s innate and inescapable. So it’s not a play about gender and sexuality specifically, but a play where one body takes on lots of different identities, and in doing that exposes gender as a behaviour rather than an innate impulse. That’s what drew Debbie to the piece and why she wanted it as part of Freedom To Be, so it must be something very apparent to the audience.

And will the play have a life after the festival?

Very much so. After Freedom To Be we’ll be touring the show all over the UK into next year, culminating in a run at Edinburgh in 2014.

Do you think you’ll get tired of the show?

No, there’s far too many characters for that to happen!

Simon Jay will be performing Is He A Bit Simon Jay? as part of the Freedom To Be Festival in Colliers Wood, on Saturday 8th June. Events will be taking place at St Joseph’s Hall and Johmard Centre from 7.30pm onwards, and you can find out more by contacting Debbie at lgbtqiasw19@gmail.com or tweeting @lgbtqiasw19 #freedom_to_be.

You can find out more about Simon and his work here: www.ideastap.com/People/simonjay or follow him @simonjaystwit. Don’t forget to follow us too while you’re there, @TheatreLGBT!

Our Top 5 Coolest Protests

by stephaniegunner

Executed for Sodomy, we see a woman with a transgender identity face an onslaught of prejudice from not just society, but state-sanctioned law as well. In the case of unjust laws, or unfair decisions, many of us feel protest is our only option. But sometimes we can become so familiar with the sights of placards we cease to really see what’s written on them. Here’s a look at the ways individuals and groups have responded when the law fails to represent them, or the voice of hatred and shame threatens to overshadow what’s important.

The John Snow Kiss-In

Same Sexy

Same Sexy

In April 2011, James Bull and Jonathan Williams were ejected from the John Snow pub on Broadwick Street, Soho, for kissing each other while out on a date. The following Friday, hundreds of same-sex couples gathered outside the pub and held a mass “kiss-in” in support of the couple, drawing lots of attention and forcing the pub to close early. Reports confirmed that the spectacle drew cheers of approval from passers-by, and that the atmosphere was cheerful despite the seriousness of the couple’s complaint. Embodying the mantra “Make love, not war”, these activists certainly knew how to make the most of non-violent protest.

Boston Teamsters Block Westboro Baptist Church

My most recent example of a mass answering-back, this occurred in April this year at the funeral of Boston Marathon bomb victim Krystle Campbell. In the days leading up to the ceremony, Westboro Baptist Church (everyone’s least favourite gatecrashers and logic-defying mentalists) threatened to picket the service. When Boston’s chapter of Local 25 (a US labour union) got wind of this, they made their feelings very public by broadcasting over the internet that if WBC were to attend, it should expect the union also be out in force. On the day of the funeral, Teamsters Local 25  gathered outside Medford St Joseph Church, and formed a human shield to protect Krystle’s friends and family from any distressing behaviour that WBC might display. The hate-mongers never turned up, but the photos of teamsters calmly standing together showing compassion and resilience against hate, became a comforting image for those affected by the bombings, and anyone else capable of basic human compassion.

The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo

Heading up silent protest against the governemnt

Heading up silent protest against the governemnt

During Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ (1976-1983), the military government kidnapped, tortured and murdered left-wing militants and anyone else deemed “subversive”, mainly young people and students who criticised authority. Those abducted became known as “The Disappeared”, as the government destroyed any documents and records that would enable their relatives to locate their bodies, or reclaim any grandchildren. On April 30th 1977, a small group of 14 mothers seeking the truth of their children’s whereabouts, held their first protest against the government’s silence in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. As even discussing the location of those missing was a violation of strict censorship laws; the mothers remained silent, walking slowly in a counter clockwise circle in the centre of the public square. By walking they avoided being arrested, as standing still together would be deemed an illegal public meeting. As protest signs would also have been forbidden, the mothers wore white headscarves embroidered with the names of those missing, spreading their message of resistance quietly. An identical march was held every Thursday in front of the Casa Rosada, the seat of the Argentine regime based in Plaza de Mayo, and the movement grew until hundreds of people were participating in the weekly demonstration. It’s a brilliant reminder that no matter how brutal a regime is in its censorship, those in the right can still make their voices heard.

Indonesia’s New Men’s Alliance Skirt Up

The Slut Walk?

The Slut Walk?

Earlier this year, five men pitched up at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout in Jakarta, wearing mini-skirts and holding placards. The signs read slogans like “Real Men Don’t Rape” and “Let’s unite to fight against rape”. The men were members of Indonesia’s New Men’s Alliance (ALLB) which was created to campaign against violence towards women, but also to promote equality between the sexes. Many supporters of the alliance, male and female, have stories of violence and rape visited upon themselves or women they know, but also speak up to the damaging effect patriarchy has on male identity too. The group promotes communication, as many men in Indonesian feel they cannot discuss how they feel openly because society expects them to be tough and independent. The same reluctance to share also helps keep violence against women a secret, as patriarchal society normalises violence against women to the point that good men don’t question their peers’ behaviour. One male supporter of ALLB says he quit the band he was playing in because he discovered another member beat his wife. So the group sees gender and society holistically, working to be inclusive in its campaign for a fairer world for everyone. It’s great to see an organisation uniting the sexes in the fight for equality, and looking gosh darn fabulous while they do it too.

ReBellyOn

Many of you may know and love the awesomeness that is Amanda Palmer. The former Dresden Doll has made a name for herself as a marvellously alternative lyricist, composer and singer, weaving punk, cabaret and circus elements into her live shows and generally not giving a fuck what the mainstream thinks of her. It seems her (now ex) record label hadn’t paid attention to the artist she’d become, because in 2008 Roadrunner records wanted to remove shots from her video “Leeds United” because they claimed her tummy looked fat. As if anyone gave a shit. Palmer herself put it plainly on her blog “who didn’t send you the memo that I’m not Britney Spears? I’m not TRYING to look hungry. I’m trying to look HOT. There’s a difference.” Fans took to the internets, and created a blog called ReBELLYon, posting photos of their gloriously un-airbrushed tummies daubed with slogans of support. My personal favourite message was “The sandwiches are wicked”. After a long legal battle, Roadrunner finally released Palmer from her contract and she now releases through her own label 8ft Records. Presumably jiggling her “fat” belly as much as she likes, along with the rest of us.

 

So hopefully I’ve illustrated that protesting doesn’t always mean rioting, and that non-violent gestures can be strong enough to topple regimes, challenge the status quo or simply get a shallow record company see sense. In all things however, the coolest thing you can express is compassion.

Why Steph Loves Cunt: An Adventure in Etymology

by stephaniegunner

Executed For Sodomy, a play about a woman living (and loving) as a man, devotes a large part of its prose to describing the false phallus she uses to penetrate her wife. As a counterpoint to the description of male genitalia (albeit of the ersatz variety) I wanted to look at words used to describe female sex organs, and argue the case for my favourite misunderstood noun…

I love the word ‘Cunt’. It’s a word that still retains its shock-value long after the fucks got forgettable, the sluts ceased to surprise and the cocks cornered the market in ‘inoffensively risqué’ dramatic sensibilities. It may be the implicit bluntness of the monosyllable or the apparent masculinity in the sound it makes when shouted, but Cunt is still considered the most offensive curse in the English language and the only term that instantly catapults a ‘15’ certificate to a dead cert ‘X’. That’s not why I love it, though. I love it because it speaks to my sexuality in a way that feels more accurate than other, more flowery terminology. Sexually, I don’t feel like an incomplete spectre hovering around waiting for the next penis to sustain my identity. My desire is independent. Sometimes it likes to be explored with another person; other times on its own. It’s always best expressed however honestly, directly and without apology, and here’s why Cunt is the best word to complement that.

Cunt is often considered at its most offensive when used to describe a woman as a whole. I would have to agree that any use of a word that also refers to genitals to summarise an entire human being is pretty bad form. Even when used to refer to the very thing it was developed to describe though, Cunt is generally thought of as a vulgar way to refer to a lady’s parts. I even had a boyfriend once who asked me not to use it to describe my own genitalia as he felt it was almost self-violent to do so.

If we dig a little deeper into the history of the term though, it becomes more apparent how wonderfully feminist and appropriate it is. Certainly less violent and reductive than Vagina, in any case.

Vagina comes from the Latin for “sword-sheath” or “scabbard”, and refers only to the internal canal. It’s considered less offensive in polite society, but the word Vagina not only reduces a woman’s sex to simply an orifice; ignoring labia, vulva and clitoris, but automatically defines female sexual experience as something that only happens when a man has the good grace to be present. By likening the female sex to an item developed for a single purpose, Vagina describes an object with no sexual autonomy of its own. A “sword-sheath” has only one purpose: to wait around looking pretty until someone decides to shove a sword in it. It’s passive, inert and functional. A pretty hollow term for a hollow view of the female body.

Cunt however, takes in all the bits and pieces, folds and textures of the vulva, acknowledging a woman’s sexual expression doesn’t begin and end as a sperm receptacle. It’s expressive, inclusive and a thoroughly feminine term. Though the exact etymology is still hotly debated, many agree that the prefix “cu” is synonymous with the female, and Matthew Hunt describes how “coo” and “cu” “were ancient monosyllabic sounds implying femininity” on his website ‘Cunt: The History of the C Word’.The Online Etymology Dictionary also reveals the potency of the single syllable, as it tells us some 18th century writers only referred to the term as “the monosyllable”, further highlighting the staying power of the word by listing other less successful terminology. Just think of a world where we still called our nether parts “nature’s tufted treasure” or “Fumbler’s Hall”…So not only does Cunt carry the meaning of the whole female sex, it does it with just four-letters, packing a direct and attention-grabbing punch. It’s certainly preferable and more stylish than the infantilising “pussy” or nauseatingly coy “frou frou”.

I much prefer a word that encompasses my whole genitalia as the seat of my sexual pleasure. And if I find myself on an erotic adventure in which only my vagina is getting attention, you can be damn sure it isn’t my sexuality that’s being expressed. For that I need the Cunt, the whole Cunt and nothing but the Cunt. Well, occasionally a penis too.

How do you feel about the word Cunt? Do you use it, and under what circumstances? Are there any words you prefer? Let us know by leaving a comment or tweeting us: @TheatreLGBT

Feminism in Art: Steph’s Top Five

by stephaniegunner

Recently a group of radical feminists disrupted a meeting of a men’s issues group at Toronto University. The activists from Canadian Alliance For Equality (CAFÉ) picketed, hurled abuse at attendees and eventually pulled the fire alarm, forcing an end to the event. The situation at the university is very tense, with both sides feeling intimidated and victimised. It’s complex, and I’m not saying CAFÉ don’t necessarily have a point, but it was the way the group went about protesting that unsettled me. It was troubling to see self-proclaimed feminists resorting to bullying tactics out of fear. The way the CAFÉ members behaved is not representative of the majority of feminists, but unfortunately it’s often the loudest and most difficult child that gets the attention. When I talk about feminism; and that is an almost daily occurrence, it’s usually from a positive perspective. Equality is a brilliant idea for both men and women, promoting understanding between the sexes and even helping to boost our economy (see organisations such as 30 Percent Club to find out how). So I often talk about feminism using artworks

heartmouth

as illustration; because it’s often more relatable than the rantings of the radicals. Here are some pieces I’ve found inspiring, and which I think are good examples of a calmer line of enquiry into gender, relationships and feminism.

Isley Lynn – True Love: The Truth

When I first saw this performance piece by playwright and poet Isley Lynn, I’ll admit I was a little sceptical about the premise. A collection of her poems on the theme of love and relationships, linked together by the story of her romantic life to date, there’s huge potential for the screaming pain and anger diatribe that many may expect. The tone of the show is actually the exact opposite. Emphasising what has been learned; not lost, Lynn’s disarming honesty and openness allows us to see parts of our own experiences in her story. It would be giving far too much away to reveal the content of her final poem, but suffice it to say it reveals something deeply personal, which makes this much more than a whiny rant about boyfriends. It reminds us that the most important relationship in life is with ourselves, and that love is complicated for both sexes. We are all equal in love, and at times all of us are equally lost.

Helen Chadwick – Piss Flowers

piss_flowerOne of Chadwick’s most famous works, Piss Flowers is a series of casts made from the cavities created when she and her boyfriend urinated in the snow. As well as exploring how transgressive behaviour can be elegant and beautiful, the piece also has some interesting perspectives on physicality and gender. It is Chadwick’s urine that creates the central stamen of the flower, the penis if you like, and we imaginatively associate her body with power and forthright action. The labial petals are cast from her partner’s stream, connecting his male body with light touches and decoration, usually considered feminine traits. The way this artwork plays with ideas of what male and female bodies naturally do, as opposed to what we prescribe them to do, is what draws me to it. That, and the fact it has piss in the title.

At The Drive In – Invalid Litter Dept.

Invalid Litter Dept. is a song by Texan post-hardcore band At The Drive In, dealing with some issues pretty close to home. The band members hail from El Paso on the border with Mexico, and the town of Ciudad Juarez is a mere 11 minutes away by car. Since 1993, over 400 women have been murdered in Juarez, their bodies discovered raped, charred and mutilated in the desert outside the town. Many have attributed the term ‘Femicide’ to the series of killings, citing Mexico’s corrupted justice system as a major reason there have been no convictions to date. Invalid Litter Dept. contains lyrics referring to the murders, particularly criticising the indifferent attitude of the federales, or Mexican police. It doesn’t strictly fit my brief of a calmer voice of equality, but the fact this song has been written by an all-male band making music for a male-dominated medium and a core market of young men is particularly heartening for me. It’s angry, but it’s a male voice, so it’s more readily listened to by the general populace. I’m not saying that’s right, but it’s how things function for now, and the more men we have echoing feminist lines of enquiry the further along the road we can get. It’s a great example of how taking a stand against violence towards women is something good men do too.

Lora Hristova – Tales of Hubris

wallpoemArt and pornography are generally thought of as visual mediums, and for the most part that’s true, but this series of works by Lora Hristova shows how words can have just as much impact, if not more. Taking extracts from porn magazine writer Jeff Hubris’ articles and cutting them up, rearranging and censoring them, Hristova presents these texts on large Perspex wall hangings, giving the words ultimate visibility. Re-contextualising the texts muddies the waters of the porn industry even more, and the motivations and experiences of the people involved become even more ambiguous. By not telling us what to think, but questioning how we think about porn, Hristova gives men and women a chance to reconsider what we’re seeing, and how we connect or disconnect during the sex act.

Sonnet 130 – William Shakespeare

Regardless of anything else we may know or debate about Shakespeare; his sexuality, his attitude towards women, etc. this sonnet is the single most romantic thing I have ever read. It seems that even in Elizabethan times, women were put under pressure to be beautiful in a way that society dictated, and that their lovability and worth as a person was directly linked to achieving this state. Sonnet 130 pulls down the idealised bullshit of commonplace expressions of love, and replaces it with a much more believable and recognisable experience of a relationship. By being shoulder-shruggingly honest and pointing out the beloved female’s “faults” before declaring a sincere love for all her earthly wonder and human beauty, the speaker is looking at a woman and saying ‘I see you as you are, and I love you’. What could be a more beautiful statement of love and recognition of someone’s worth beyond their physicality, than that?

So the rhetoric of feminism need not be one of rage and anger, but of calm enquiry, explanation and curiosity. Whether it’s the playfulness of Piss Flowers, the plain injustice of the Juarez murders, or the elegance of words and stories that peak your interest in broader affairs, I encourage you to explore this artistic terrain. There are many more voices in feminism and art than just the yell of protest, and I promise you won’t always get shouted at if you come along to an exhibition or event.  Well, not unless you sit at the front, of course.

Tell us about some of the people or artworks that have inspired you, comment below or tweet us @TheatreLGBT

By Stephanie Gunner

False promises = Negated consent. Why do some people have a problem with this?

by stephaniegunner

ImageWith the issue of consent still fresh in my mind after watching Executed For Sodomy, I’m particularly aware of how agreements shape our sex lives. What we agree to, and what might have been kept from us when we do, can change the context of an encounter from joyous expression to painful humiliation. In the play, when Cathy Muhlhahn marries and sleeps with Catharina, she has consented to sex with a man that she loves, but unbeknownst to her that man is really a wife in disguise. In these circumstances could it be said that Catharina has raped Cathy? In my opinion: yes, and here’s my take on a recent news story to illuminate why.

Many of you will probably have seen the Metro headline a couple of weeks ago: “Sex with consent ‘can still be rape”, referring to a judge’s ruling on an encounter between a husband and wife.  It was decreed that the husband, who failed to withdraw before ejaculating despite his wife’s request that he do so, had committed an offence by negating her consent. Because her willingness to have sex was based upon this agreement, his abuse of it was seen by the judge as falling within the legal definition of rape.

Now sex in its purest form is an organic; fluctuating expression between communicative humans that cannot be prescribed or predetermined completely.  There will always be something of a leap of faith about it, and the best way to avoid inadvertently hurting someone is to keep bloody communicating beyond the initial kiss. Sometimes things can change a lot between saying yes, and the actual splitting of the atom, as it were. I think it’s best seen as a continuing negotiation and exploration between adults; consent falls within that bracket too. It’s an ongoing aspect of sleeping with someone, and “Aw, but you said I could” is not an acceptable counterpoint to a change in circumstances. In this case, it’s a brazen “You said I couldn’t and I lied to manipulate you before going ahead and doing whatever the hell I wanted to do anyway” type of rapist reasoning, and to me quite clearly shows an intentional lack of respect for her choices.

 Image

Now in many situations in life we’re called upon to give consent to others using our stuff. But it’s an accepted part of social decorum that we, as owners, set the boundaries. Let’s say you invite a friend over for dinner. During the course of the evening they ask if they can use your bathroom. You agree, and continue to spoon out risotto, ready for when they return. After 10 minutes you’re concerned they’ve been a long time, after 20 you decide to investigate. You go upstairs and find your friend settled into a hot bubble bath, using your razor and brushing their teeth with your toothbrush. “But you said I could use your bathroom….”

It’s a crude example, granted, but what I mean to illustrate is this. In life, none of us can assume our actions will be acceptable if we do not get consent from the person they affect first, and it’s our responsibility to deal with the consequences if we don’t. In the case described in Metro it seems palpably obvious to me that the woman’s consent was abused, to the point that she ended up carrying a child she never wanted because of someone else’s decision. That’s not just an assault on someone’s body and trust; it’s a manipulation of their future. Of course I see that withdrawal is not a reliable method of contraception, which many people have pointed out, but that is not really the issue here. The issue is that withdrawal was her chosen method of contraception, and the term upon which she agreed to intercourse; neither of those choices was respected.

What the judge is acknowledging here is what should be apparent to everyone: we will all be held accountable for going back on our promises, especially when it affects the body and mind of another person. It shouldn’t be so controversial to expect a husband to care what his wife wants. It shouldn’t be shrugged off and accepted that some women lie about being on the pill to seduce a man. If you lie to a person to get them to have sex with you; you’re raping them, as a manipulated choice is not a valid one. Whatever gender you are, it is your responsibility to get consent via the truth.

 By Stephanie Gunner

In The Flesh: How sexuality in Sci-Fi has moved with the times

by stephaniegunner

Art has always been used to define humanity, especially by determining what humanity is not. Murderers, rapists, incestuous siblings; our visual culture is littered with examples of people we don’t want to acknowledge are born to our species. Homosexuality was often depicted in a similar way, until changes in attitudes began to be reflected in the scribblings of our writers, playwrights and directors. The science fiction genre is a particularly noisy forum for these kinds of debates, and by looking at a recent televisual offering, I hope to illuminate the journey homosexuality has made from human corruption to natural human expression.

In-the-FleshUsing Sci-Fi as a symposium for social phobias is not necessarily new. Filmmakers have long since reflected whatever current fear is stalking the minds of the populace, from radiation poisoning to the communist threat, stopping alongside sexual deviancy and racial tensions along the way. The supernatural is effectively a distorted mirror for our collective attitudes towards difference, and the goblins and monsters easily take the form of the dominant social prejudice du jour.

Racial intolerance, AIDS, and the complexities of male/female relationships have all been explored through alien invasions and the like, but the spectres of sexual difference have also been present as an undercurrent to the drama. In his book ‘Science Fiction Cinema: from outerspace to cyberspace’, Geoff King describes how 1950s science fiction movies can be read in terms of homosexual “threat”, and borrows Harry Benshoff’s example to elaborate on the point. He says that the fear of a perceived homosexual agenda can be seen in movies like I Married A Monster From Outer Space, as the “alien/husband prefers to meet strange men in a public park than stay at home with his wife.”

them_poster_02-300x204Recently however, we’ve seen a shift in the portrayal of homosexuality in Sci-Fi. It’s no longer used as metaphorical shorthand for a dangerous threat to traditional ideals, but part of the fabric of morality that needs to be protected too. It’s also no longer a hinted-at taboo confined to subtext, but a narrative theme in its own right. Gay relationships are treated as natural; not a force intent on undermining humanity, but a valuable part of it. Artifice is an android romance graphic novel which features gay protagonists. In reviewing it for ‘The Atlantic’ earlier this week, Noah Berlatsky notes that the work is not arresting because of its telling of a gay love story, but because reading it makes you “realise the extent to which gay protagonists are normal”. In the last 15 years we’ve also seen bisexual heroes fighting for humanity in Torchwood and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and now BBC3’s In The Flesh has become the latest TV supernatural drama to feature alternative sexuality as a main dramatic theme.

Featuring a gay protagonist called Kieren, who also suffers from PDS (Partially Dead Syndrome), In The Flesh imagines a semi-post-apocalyptic Britain, in which zombies have risen, been thwarted and subsequently quarantined and medicated until deemed safe to return to society. The 3-part drama follows Kieren as he rejoins his family in Roarton, a small town in the North of England where the locals are still fairly militantly anti-zombie after forming their own vigilante group during ‘The Rising’.

The prejudice Kieren faces as a PDS sufferer and the institutionalised bullying tactics of the vigilantes certainly mirrors anti-gay reactions throughout history, but it is the way the writers have treated the character’s actual status as gay that is refreshing. Throughout there is a strong suggestion that Kieren’s relationship with Rick, another Roarton resident killed in Afghanistan before being reanimated during The Rising, is more complex that simply teenage best mates. It isn’t until the final episode that the love between the two is confirmed however, and the real reasons behind their original deaths are revealed. The relationship is not framed as a revelation; rather a confirmation of what the audience had naturally assumed. It is neither hidden nor revelled in that Kieren is gay; it is simply another aspect of his character that he didn’t choose for himself, just as his PDS is. The attitudes of the community around him makes those states of being difficult, not the states themselves, and subscribing to the dominant fear that one is just as frightening as the other is made to look ridiculous. We’re now at a place where Sci-Fi can look at sexuality with a neutral gaze, and use it to detonate subtexts and exorcise social fears of the past.

Sci-fi is not just a forum for summoning our collective demons and cathartically eviscerating them through fictitious events, but a document of how ideas have changed. It celebrates not only humanity’s resilience to external attack, but also its ability to examine dangers from within its own ranks. Since the advent of nuclear weapons we’ve known we have the ability to destroy ourselves literally; it’s now that we’re starting to see how an inability to accept developments in our own humanity could be just as disastrous.

By Stephanie Gunner

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