SOME GOOD DISCUSSION-STARTERS BUT COULD BE MORE ENTERTAINING
THAT'S SO GAY
Writers: Ellen Aiken, Jessica Thomas, Caitlin Rabel, Isla Doidge,
Devisers - All of the cast alongside Carrie Green, Andrew Paterson, Kenneth Gaffney
Director/Co-Producer: Toni Regan
Producer: Anny da Silva Freitas
at BATS, Wellington
From 26 Apr 2012 to 28 Apr 2012
[30 mins + 30 mins discussion time]
Reviewed by John Smythe, 27 Apr 2012
The title of this community theatre production – directed by Toni Regan* and devised with the six cast members plus three others and four credited writers – arose from one of them (a social worker) constantly hearing "That's so gay!" used as a put-down and finding it offensive and homophobic.
As a collaborative theatre production between students from Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School and young people from School's Out, Wellington (a hangout/support group for young people identifying as queer, lesbian, gay, transgender, takatapui, fa'afafine, genderqueer, androgynous, bisexual, pansexual, intersex, curious, unsure, questioning, and their friends), the community from which the material is sourced is clear.
The 18 'moments' that comprise the show also serve that community by offering recognisable moments of truth and the odd challenge to the preconceptions some may have towards the others – e.g. the 'Lesbetron 5000' sales pitch which gives a nudge to butch lesbians who don't accept feminine lesbians; the 'Ellie Kitten' rant against gays who rail against drag queens.
Throughout the development process the crew used finger-clicks to indicate approval of something they agreed with or related to, or which resonated in some way, and we in the audience are invited to do the same. My guess is most of the opening night audience was gay or very attuned to gay culture and the attendant issues.
In the opening night's post show discussion (the half-hour show allows a further half for discussion) the notion of taking it to schools was canvassed, raising the question of how well the show might work for a predominantly straight audience. As a community theatre piece, is consciousness-raising one of its objectives? If so, are the dramatised 'moments' clear enough to those not already attuned to them?
For example, the moment entitled 'Why?' expresses the inner thoughts of a woman who thought she was gay by nature until she remembered "Her … Groomed … Taught … Now I don't know why." Much clicking from the audience. It is a good moment for drawing us into 'discovery'. But I'm thinking this can only be 'got' by those with a fair level of awareness. Or is it sufficient to provoke a post-show question, and if so, how would the company go about discussing it? How much would the person who provided the moment from personal experience be prepared to talk about it openly to strangers? (Presumably contact details for School's Out would be the back-up offered a school child for whom this is a personal issue.)
The Queer/Straight Alliance 'moment', where a young man is trying to encourage 'straights' to join, would be a good discussion-starter (they already exist in a number of schools – see this year-old Gay Express article).
Earlier, a moment called 'Four Eyes Lament' – I'm not sure why – has a predatory guy (played by a woman) coaching a young man on how to 'pull' a woman, with a range of desperate pick-up lines. Given its context in this show, are we supposed to get that he's diffident about it because he's gay? Are we then expected to read the predatory behaviour as standard hetero male behaviour? If so, I have to say I find that offensive and heterophobic.
The beer crates that dot the stage are used in 'Mine' to evoke the experience of exclusion: a gay woman is denied a box even though there is one spare. But it then escalates into a depiction of individual greed and personal acquisitiveness, which I felt was tangential until the discussion suggested it was the same syndrome taken to its logical conclusion.
'Barbie's Dream Truck' is clear to the point of possibly being banal for this audience: girl happily plays with truck; boy happily plays with Barbie; toys are taken from them and given to the other; unhappiness ensues. Then again it could be a good discussion-starter for a schools audience.
The sudden change from being popular to being ostracised after coming out is heart-felt, in 'Torn', and a definite starter for healthy discussion in schools. I didn't get the 'Nature vs Nurture' moment, maybe because it had something to do with gaming which is not one of my pastimes.
The surprise 'Gay Day' party is fun but – as often was the case last night – the punchline was lost through bad projection. Playing music over dialogue when many of the voices are untrained is counter-productive and needs to be addressed.
The 'Facebook' exchange provoked by a school not allowing same-sex partners to attend the annual ball is entertaining, provided you recall that issue so know what they are talking about. On a purely theatrical level, however, the staging and the use of the thumbs-up 'Like' icon could be more comically choreographed.
The show is book-ended by 'Dear Kitty' communications involving a woman taking a trip and having a liberating experience, the exact nature of which eludes me, making me feel somewhat excluded too.
As theatre That's So Gay could be much more enlightening, provocative, touching and therefore entertaining, with sharper scripting and more decisive directing. But I guess its purpose is not to be a satirical political revue (although the raw material could be developed that way). Even so, with all those writers and devisers … This points, I expect, to the question of how democracy may work most effectively in the development process.
As community theatre – of, by and for the gay community – it offers a sanctuary of understanding with a bit of intra-community provocation. As a discussion-starter for the wider community, the proof of its value will be in the discussions.
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*towards her Toi Whakaari / Victoria University of Wellington Master of Theatre Arts (Directing).
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