LGBTQIA Theaters Will Continue to Create Home Long After Pride
Thursday, July 6, 2017
Posted by: Rotimi Agbabiaka
by Kim Tran
Editor’s Note: The Bay Area is home to a thriving queer theatre scene, including two of the most venerable LGBTQ companies in the country, New Conservatory Theatre Center and Theatre Rhinoceros. In this article, contributing writer Kim Tran focuses on the contributions of alternative queer theatre. These artists and performance groups, together with their more well-established colleagues, are continuing to break ground in telling untold stories, reaching new audiences, and tackling head-on the thorniest issues of politics and social justice.
“What does it mean to stay rooted, stay grounded, stay here?” asks Lisa Evans, the new artistic director of Peacock Rebellion. Lisa says this short phrase is their primary focus at the home of the activist comedy showcase, Brouhaha.
Peacock Rebellion is part of a cohort of LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) companies in the Bay Area, which offer atypical programming long after the rainbow flags, glitter, and Lady Gaga-fest associated with Pride fade away. Also on that list are Topsy Turvy-Queer Circus and Oasis, where the shows defy easy categorization and the politics are up front.
Cheek to Cheek at Peacock Rebellion. Photo by Jean Melesaine.
Peacock Rebellion calls itself a “social justice arts organization that uses comedy as a tool for healing,” offering diverse and impact-oriented programming. The political climate has encouraged Peacock Rebellion to be intentionally unconventional. After the presidential election, it provided direct services to help transgender women of color weather the current administration, from peer health education, to name-change clinics to self-defense classes. This season will offer shows themed on the changing dynamics of the gentrifying city of Oakland, showcasing its rich queer, trans and Black history.
Topsy Turvy Queer Circus. Photo by Miki Vargas.
India Sky Davis, a co-founder and the artistic director of Topsy Turvy Queer Circus, is committed to celebrating queer history. Next year, the company will perform the final portion of a three-part hero’s journey, having just performed previous installments in San Francisco's annual National Queer Arts Festival. PARADISE is a trilogy following a fallen angel on the quest to return to the infinite—a synonym for heaven. A multidisciplinary production company, Topsy Turvy, Davis says, fuses multi-media, “We have vogue, we have film, we have working with local artists who are musicians.” She says at the center of her shows, which feature nightlife performers and sex-workers, is the “vibrant landscape of QTPOC [queer, trans, people of color] community, really the queer, Black experience.”
Oasis. Photo by Calibree Photography.
Queer nightlife is a common theme amongst theaters like Oasis which bridge touchstones of the gay club scene and conventional theatre. Two years ago, Oasis became one of the only mid-sized venues for LGBTQ shows in San Francisco. Co-founder and artistic director D’Arcy Drollinger says its size is important to its purpose. He explains Oasis went from “a place where people wanted to meet for happy hour and talk local politics to a place where people could host fundraisers.” Indeed, Oasis is a promiscuous space. It hosts the standard fare of drag queen and king shows alongside more familiar theatre, in this case an upcoming queer stage reinterpretation of the cult film, Debbie Does Dallas, a co-production with “OMG, I Love That Show!” Productions. Drollinger is excited about next season, but cautiously optimistic about bigger, more important questions around legitimacy, community and audience that queer theatre can pose.
Drag shows, a hallmark of the queer club scene, have a parallel history to American theatre. According to Playbill, “what began as a way to sublimate women (casting men in female roles to exclude women from the arts) eventually became a way for men and women to take on roles of the opposite sex and even reflect the nuances of a more fluid understanding of gender, as society is evolving toward today.” Though drag has a long legacy of artistry, it still firmly inhabits the realm of raunch. One of Drollinger’s greatest concerns is whether art performed in this style will ever be taken seriously regardless of its quality. But he believes the chasm between traditional expectations of theatre-goers and the club scene can be overcome with skill.
Of Debbie Does Dallas Drollinger says, “We’re not taken seriously as a theatre [because] we do drag, and camp still gets a bad wrap . . . But there’s a lot of stagecraft and comedic timing.” Apart from popular validation, other uphill battles continue to be fought on the terrain of LGBTQIA theatre.
Peacock Rebellion strives to answer this question posed by Evans, “Can you engage with art if you’re worried about getting bashed on your way to and from the show?”
Peacock Rebellion is a rare, safe, artistic space for trans women of color who experience sexual, physical and economic violence at higher rates than almost all other populations. Although the community faces disproportionate levels of marginalization, hope remains.
On June 18th, 1969 transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay community members resisted the police brutality and homophobia that had become commonplace in the bars and clubs where they gathered. The uprising which has become known simply as “Stonewall,” ignited not only a month, but a movement.
Long after the music and fanfare of Pride has quieted, queer spaces will continue to celebrate community and combat discrimination. Evans says at the center of Peacock Rebellion is the artistic practice of making safety and home where none exists.
Against all odds, Evans says queer and trans theaters center “Creating moments for joy, for silliness, ridiculousness, for camp.” Evans concludes, “Knowing we fight so hard in other ways—where’s that place we come home to?”
Kim Tran is finishing her Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies and Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies at UC Berkeley. She is a contributing writer for Everyday Feminism. Her work has been featured on Vice News, Mic, Voxand The East Bay Express. Find more of her work at www.kimthientran.com