A couple of weeks ago I went to see a play at Downstairs Belvoir called “Blue Wizard”, a one man play about a gay blue wizard from space. What I had expected was a celebration of queer community and subculture–what I saw was a mess of stereotypes that did little other than make me feel alienated as a queer person in a room full of straight people laughing at an outlandish gay.
It’s made me think a lot about the things that need to be taken into account in putting on queer theatre in contemporary Australia (as someone who’s putting on some queer theatre in Australia very soon), and the way a predominantly straight audience can restrict what a creator feels they can do with the message they have.
In the undertaking of queer theatre, when asking yourself who’s telling the story, it’s equally vital to ask who the story is being told to. Queer theatre should be a conversation with the community with which it concerns itself, but so frequently panders to an audience of cisgender and heterosexual theatre-goers. It means LGBTIQ theatre will often undermine itself and dilute its own message in an effort to engage audiences on the level of what they think a queer identity should look like. Watching this kind of theatre as a queer person can often be an incredibly alienating experience.
As queer theatre makers, we spend so much time trying to make our message accessible, even palatable, to an audience of people with no roadmap to understanding certain experiences of oppression. And sometimes that’s valuable, if it, but maybe we ought to focus more often on the people who our stories affect, the people who may find a home in these spaces.
It’s no easy thing–the anxieties that come with putting on something so non-normative in an intensely normative theatre culture can be overwhelming, and the choice to make your message easier to swallow is always tempting.