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.

Month: July, 2013

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!

 

 

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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!