Theatre, like many other art forms, is often a response to the world the artist lives in. For artists who are also members of the LGBTIQQ2SA community, this used to mean that the theatre they created was filled with adversity, discrimination, and even sometimes violence, reflected in plays like The Normal Heart, Another American: Asking and Telling, and The Laramie Project. However, society’s evolving and modern view of homosexuality has witnessed a shift of the representation of homosexuality in the theatre. Critics have hailed Mart Crowley’s 1968 The Boys in the Band as the breakthrough production that brought frank and direct representations of homosexuality to the theatre. The Boys in the Band witnessed for the first time a group of men discussing their sex lives, dancing, kissing, and even having sex on the mainstream stage. It paved the way for the theatre world to explore and celebrate homosexuality and sexual expression instead of condemning it. Find out more in these articles from The Canadian Theatre Review and Modern Drama!
Canadian Theatre Review 149 (2012): 1-89.
edited by Moynan King
This issue emerges from my personal experience as an artist and curator. I have had the privilege of collaborating and performing with, as well as curating and directing, a number of artists featured here. As the director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s Hysteria Festival (20013 – 2009), founder and director of Cheap Queers (a three-day Pride performance festival), co-director of the Rhubarb! Festival, and producer of a number of independent alternative cabaret and performance events, I have had a privileged glimpse into the challenges of creating and presenting alternative and queer performance. This research project began with a paper I wrote in 2010 entitled “The Foster Children of Buddies,” which looked at the role of queer women at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre since its move to the prominent 12 Alexander Street address. This issue of CTR expands the scope of my inquiry as I seek to examine the contributions of queer women and trans artists on a national level. Furthermore, this issue shares some of the work that has most inspired and emboldened me as a curator and as an artist. These artists have led the way in Canadian performance innovation with multidisciplinary and theatrical experimentation while drawing, in many cases, substantial audiences and dedicated fans.
- Moynan King
Greenhill, Pauline. “Dressing Up and Dressing Down: Costumes, Risky Play, Transgender, and Maritime English Canadian Charivari Paradoxes1.” Canadian Theatre Review 151.-1 (2012): 7-15.
Why should it seem appropriate to wear a wedding gown at some charivaris, cross dress and be masked at others, but have entirely unremarkable clothing at most? The author’s question echoes one from anthropologist Edmund R. Leach. In “Time and False Noses,” he asks “Why should it seem appropriate to wear top hats at funerals, and false noses on birthdays and New Year’s Eve?” For Leach, dressing both up and down, despite their symbolic differences–formality versus informality; seriousness versus play–demonstrates a contrast with everyday life. Formality and masquerade alike appear in some practices in Canada related to charivari, a rudimentary form of folk drama. But perhaps equally compelling is the fact that they need not be there, and in most cases do not manifest, as my opening query indicates. The author explores this somewhat paradoxical situation, drawing on interviews and questionnaire responses given by participants in the tradition.
Mann, Sarah. ““You’re Just a Stripper That Came Out of a Time Machine”: Operation Snatch’s Queer World-Making and Sex-Working Class.” Canadian Theatre Review 158 (2014): 50-53.
This essay explores the queer world of Toronto’s Operation Snatch (formerly known as The Scandelles), focusing in particular on two of their productions related to sex work, Les Demimondes and Neon Nightz. The essay details the performances, which focus on prostitution and exotic dance, respectively, and discusses whether performances about sex work ought to be considered queer performance art. Arguing that Operation Snatch’s performances constitute “queer world-making,” this essay considers how Operation Snatch leverages affect to engage their audiences in the composition of a queer “world” that critiques popular and burlesque images of sex workers, in which their critical self-representations as sex workers can come to life. By adapting burlesque’s ironic “gaze back” to the “world-making” capacities of cabaret, Operation Snatch produces sex work-related performances that can critique sex workers’ marginalization in both popular and burlesque culture.
Modern Drama 39.1 (1996): 1-243.
Adams, Ann Marie. “The Sense of an Ending: The Representation of Homosexuality in Brendan Behan’s The Hostage.” Modern Drama 40.3 (1997): 414-21.
Critics have long pondered the effectiveness of The Hostage’s denouement. Brendan Behan obviously needed the secret policemen to enter the fray and cause the senseless death of the sacrificial Leslie, but why did he specifically use Rio Rita, Princess Grace, and Mulleady as an ironic deus ex machina? As Bert Cardullo notes, many critics see this constructed ending as “cheap” — “cheap in the sense that it suddenly negates the homosexual relationship between Grace and Rita, out of which the playwright has got much theatrical mileage, and cheap in the literal sense that it removes the need to hire extra actors to portray the police.” While the economics of this recycling cannot be denied, it would do a disservice to the text to claim that the constructed ending “negates” Grace’s and Rita’s relationship. If anything, the chaotic close more clearly delineates Grace’s and Rita’s proclivities as well as lengthening the “mileage” the author got from this theme. Like many other “closet dramas” of its age, The Hostage, through its very use of homosexual characters, serves to reinforce many common tacit assumptions about homosexuality, as well as to foreground the nature of its practitioners.
Arrell, Douglas. “Homosexual Panic in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Modern Drama 51.1 (2008): 60-72.
Brick’s behaviour in Tennessee Williams’s Cat on at Hot Tin Roof has been understood in a variety of ways by critics. In this article, I argue that he exemplifies “homosexual panic,” as this concept was developed by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in her book Epistemology of the Closet. Confronted with the possibility that his idealized relationship with his football buddy Skipper may be homosexual, he shuts down sexually altogether. In this respect, he resembles the Victorian bachelor who, according to Sedgwick, took refuge from the double bind of male bonds that were both prescribed and proscribed by retreating into what she calls “sexual anesthesia.” I argue that the character she cites to illustrate this behaviour, Marcher in Henry James’s The Beast in the Jungle, bears a significant resemblance to Brick. I suggest that a character in the grip of homosexual panic cannot convincingly be portrayed as escaping from this condition, and that this explains the problems Williams had with the last act of Cat. In his final version of the play, he shows Brick as unchanged after his scene with Big Daddy, a choice that is thematically right but dramatically unsatisfying.
Fackler, Maria Francesca. ““I’ll Google It”: Gossip, Queer Intimacies, and the Internet1.” Modern Drama 53.3 (2010): 390-409.
With a still developing and largely unpoliced code of ethics, the Internet forces users to renegotiate continually the boundaries and registers of publicity and privacy, and thus, it is the technic that constellates the ideal conditions for gossip, quite apart from its speed and efficiency in circulating tittle-tattle. Proceeding from observations about how the Internet challenges definitional certitudes about the practice and performance of gossip, this article considers the queer performances of Stephen Karam’s darkly comic play Speech & Debate, in which three high-school misfits meet and bond over shared sexual secrets that begin to circulate online. Karam’s representation suggests how the new platforms or stages for gossip that develop out of networking sites and technologies may create new counter-publics, capable, in their turn, of occasioning new forms of counter-intimacy. These platforms offer not only new potentialities for intertextual citation and public discourse but also mechanisms for self-promotion and, in this way, raise questions about the distinction between confession and gossip and between intimacy and publicity: two sets of parallel lines that have begun to bend toward one another.
Farfan, Penny. “Noël Coward and Sexual Modernism: Private Lives as Queer Comedy.” Modern Drama 48.4 (2005): 677-88.
The emergence of modern drama in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries was integrally linked to the development of modern sexual identities, and Noël Coward’s career was at once shaped by and definitive of this larger historical development. Coward began his career when male homosexuality was still illegal in England and the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde for “gross indecency” was still a recent memory; his breakthrough play The Vortex premiered in 1924, just four years before Radclyffe Hall’s lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness was banned for obscenity. Coward’s historical situation as a necessarily closeted homosexual raises the question of whether and how the subversiveness of his sexual identity is reflected in his work.
Hauck, Christina. “”It Seems Queer”: The Censorship of Her Wedding Night.” Modern Drama 41.4 (1998): 546-56
“[H]owever vile, however filthy however degrading …. vice so long as it is presented in terms of the strong man’s over-sexuality and the frail woman’s yielding to his dominance, is approved, unthinkingly accepted and consequently is not banned. When, however … you have a plot which depends not on the over-sexuality, but on the under-sexuality of a man … the play is considered improper and is banned!” So British sexologist, birth controller, social commentator and historian, translator, poet, novelist, and playwright Marie Cannichael Stopes assesses the Lord Chamberlain’s refusal, in 1923 and 1924, to license for public performance her autobiographical play, Vectia. Ultimately attributing the censorship of her play to men’s refusal even toconsider a woman’s point of view, Stopes asks, “how many other serious plays by women have been destroyed before ever they came into being?” Her question is not merely rhetorical; it is literally unanswerable. Yet recent feminist excavations of the rich and vast body of work by women do confirm that women’s writing has been subjected to various forms of censorship, Including, most insidiously, that of critical neglects. This paper will contribute to the project of recovering lost texts by women through a discussion of an unpublished one-act play, Her Wedding Night (1917), by a previously undiscovered woman playwright, Florence Bates. This account of the circumstances surrounding. and the justification for, the post-production censorship of this one act comedy in August 1917 not only supports Stopes’s claim that the Lord Chamberlain’s office banned representations of male sexual inadequacy as a matter of principle, but also deepens our understanding of the meaning of “sexual impropriety” as understood by the Lord Chamberlain and adds an important new dimension to studies in British stage censorship.
Rivera-Servera, Ramon H. “Choreographies of Resistance: Latinalo Queer Dance and the Utopian Performative.” Modern Drama 47.2 (2004): 269-89
As a migrant to the United States from Puerto Rico in the early 1990s, I learned to articulate my sexuality and my political identity at the dance club. Within the erotic realm of clubs like Heaven, Carpe Diem, Club Marcella’s, and The Avenue Pub, I embodied my position as a queer Latino. Dancing queerly with my friends — marking my own latinidad through rhythmic phrasings that allowed me to feel and to own the music, and approaching strangers bodily within the comfort of a shared social space — allowed me to experience communities of pleasure. The club, like the theatre, is one of the places where I renew myself, where I am able to witness, in almost religious reverence, the most immediate and affective manifestations of vibrant communities in motion.
Schele, Tomothy. “Acting Gay in the Age of Queer: Pondering the Revival of The Boys in the Band.” Modern Drama 42.1 (1999): 1-15.
“Bellwether,” “watershed,” “crossroads,” “turning point”: with these and other ponderous terms, critics have hailed Mart Crowley’s 1968 The Boys in the Band as the breakthrough production that brought frank and direct representations of homosexuality to American theatre. Where earlier plays had disposed of their “deviant” characters in a denouement that was often tantamount to a cleansing of the homosexual taint, spectators of The Boys in the Band witnessed for the first time a group of men discussing their sex lives, dancing together, kissing, and even having sex on a mainstream stage. The play takes the spectator to an exclusively gay birthday party at the apartment of Michael, a troubled man who coerces his guests into playing a truth game that elicits a series of witty barbs, confessions, and emotional outbursts as each tells the story of his life and loves. In a marked reversal of theatre tradition, the sole straight character, Michael’s former college roommate Alan, is the outsider; it is his unexpected arrival that triggers an explosive scene in Crowley’s play, and the restoration of order requires the purging of the straight man from the stage. The Boys in the Band was a hit (1002 perfonnances). Thereafter, gay characters have frequently occupied center stage instead of the more pathologized regions of the margins, and “gay plays” have flourished in the years since The Boys’ success.