Australasian Drama Studies
Issue 81 | October 2022
Table of Contents
- Issue 081 (Full Issue PDF)
- Editorial: Queer Performance Jonathan Bollen , Alyson Campbelland, Liza-Mare Syron
- Koori Gras: A radical celebration of sparkling defiance – Liza-Mare Syron
What is a queer black drag aesthetic? Who are the architects of this work? How do you go about producing or curating an event that celebrates queer black drag culture? These are questions that emerged when, quite by accident independent producer Harley Stumm (Intimate Spectacle) approached me as a then Co-Artistic Director of Moogahlin Performing Arts inviting the company to curate an event for the Near and Now Festival at 107 projects in Redfern. After extensive consultation with members of the Moogahlin artistic leadership, and with various black LGBTQI+ community members it became clear that there was a need for and interest in initiating a queer black arts program in Redfern on Gadigal land, an area that historically has been known as a gathering space for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from across the country. It was never my intention to view the project as research. However, this special issue has provided the opportunity to reflect on the process of creating and producing a queer black event, and subsequent events, to contribute to the discourse on Indigenous queer performance in Australia, and to document the key creative personnel and performers who contributed to the overall success of the many programs that Koori Gras platformed.
Keywords: Indigenous queer performance, Queer black drag, First Nations queer curation
- An HIV love story: Jacob Boehme’s Blood on the Dance Floor’s queer and Indigenous revolt – Jacob Boehme, Alyson Campbell and Jonathan Graffam
This article examines the making processes and uniquely queer-Indigenous dramaturgies of Blood on the Dance Floor (Melbourne and Sydney 2016; Australia and Canada tour 2019). In this production, performer-creator Jacob Boehme draws on personal experience and his identity—as Blak, gay and poz—to inform its content and material. We frame our discussion around the dramaturgical strategies used in staging culture and identity at the intersection of queerness, HIV and Indigeneity.
As co-writers (maker and spectators) we use a hybrid methodology that incorporates autoethnography and performance analysis, drawing particularly on the queer theorising of Sara Ahmed, Kath Weston, Elizabeth Freeman and Jack Halberstam. In doing so, we situate Boehme’s individual experiences and insights against a wider context of queer performance, histories of HIV theatre/performance and Indigenous representations onstage. This leads us to argue that the production serves as an important moment of queer performance in Australasia by emphasising its uniqueness and vitality in staging queer-Indigenous sex, sexuality, kinship, and, above all, love.
Keywords: First Nations performance; queer and Indigenous dramaturgies; HIV and AIDS performance.
- Tracing Transitions – Stace Callaghan and Leah Mercer
Tracing Transitions is part interview, part recollection-reflection with trans-masculine, non-binary queer theatre maker, Stace Callaghan and their long-term collaborator, director and creative practice researcher Leah Mercer.
Since 1994 Callaghan has specialised in writing/performing solo shows that reflect their personal, political, spiritual and creative explorations of gender and sexual diversity. Structured as a conversation about creative practice, queer politics and performance strategies, Callaghan and Mercer will chart a rigorous theoretical arc through Callaghan’s creative practice research: an oeuvre that engages with what Adrienne Rich calls the “psychic disequilibrium” of living in a culture and never seeing one’s self reflected in its literature, film, or art.
Documenting, gathering and contextualising Callaghan’s eclectic body of work within this publication aims to not only celebrate their unique, life-affirming, performative positivity within wider politically and socially oppressive systems, but also harness scholarly attention to affirm Callaghan’s extensive contribution to LGBQTI+ theatre and performance in Australia.
Incorporating production photographs and video footage to provide an additional visual record of Callaghan’s performance history, Tracing Transitions will reflect on Callaghan’s four original solo works: starting with the Philip Parsons Prize winning still raw (1994/5); when i was a boy (2000/1); between heaven & earth (2002/3/6); and Queer as Flux (2021); as well as performances with companies as diverse as Party Line, La Boite Theatre and school touring productions.
Playing multiple characters including autobiographical versions of their queer self at different ages, pre-pubescent boys, trail-blazing queer ancestors and politically savvy drag queens, Callaghan has theatrically transformed their way through identity politics, intersectionality, liminality, otherness, and belonging, often inviting audiences to become Boal’s ‘spect-actors’ through direct interaction and intervention. Tracing Transitions will track Callaghan’s shape-shifting identities and the critical and audience responses to their constantly evolving trans/non-binary body within the changing landscape of Australian theatre.
Keywords: Transitioning, Queer Performance, LGBQTI+, Intersectionality, Identity Politics, Trans-masculine, Physical Theatre, Solo Theatre, One-person show, Queer History, Gender, Sexuality, Homophobia, Transphobia, Autobiography, Autoethnography.
- A Queer Performance New Wave in Sydney: Inside Club Bent 1995-1998–exploring hybridity and community – Catherine Fargher
Taking a documentary approach in this essay, I explore a defining moment in 1990s LGBQTI+ performance: the four years during the infamous cLUB bENT. cLUB bENT played a vital part of the Sydney Contemporary Performance scene from 1995 to 1998, taking place at the Performance Space, Redfern, over four consecutive Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG) festivals. cLUB bENT represented a ‘queer performance new wave’ of defining LGBTQIA+ performances, exploring identity, new and old performance forms, gender diversity, abject sexuality, and sex positivism. Presented by performance artists from a range of fields including strippers, drag queens and drag kings, contemporary performance artists, as well as emerging and established cabaret artists. cLUB bENT and its tours to Its Queer Up North in Warwickshire, London, Glasgow and Manchester, became sites where performance ‘forms’ and ‘elements’ were hybridised over time and new reference points for style and form were created amongst a broad community of performers and activists. This hybridisation occurred within a vital social community of artists and activists during the 1990s AIDS crisis, of which SGLMG was a central driver. I create current day recollections in the form of first-person accounts, as well as reflections on my experiences as an emerging queer performance writer/ maker and activist, occasional thick descriptions, short histories of social contexts and images of events. I bring the time into focus via short case studies of my solo cLUB bENT performances – The Love Addict (1995) and Sugar Sugar (1997). These are accompanied by analysis and reflection on the ‘hybridisation of elements and form’ within my own works, and a short reflection on influence of community based social capital in the context of the 1990s LGBQTIA+ communities.
Keywords: Queer Performance, Sex positivism, Gender Identities, Hybridisation. Performance. Cabaret. Documentary Essay approach. Community, Social Capital
- The Future is Now: Queer Utopian Longing and the Utopian Performative in Today x Future in Metro Manila – Ian Rafael Ramirez
This essay analyses how one nightclub in Metro Manila, Philippines becomes a space for performing queer futurity. It focuses on Today x Future, the defunct nightclub in Cubao, Quezon City, where some members of the Filipino queer community in Metro Manila used to gather. Drawing from queer archives — bodily experiences and feelings of former Future residents (an identifier I use for the club’s patrons) — I map the formation of an embodied queer community within the space as an alternative way of being-with one another. I do so by engaging the task of collectively remembering the queer choreographies on and off the dance floor and the affective dimensions of being in the space with other Future residents. The essay asks: How does the utopian performative manifest in the queer performance in Today x Future?
Keywords: Utopian Performative, Memory as Archive, Queer Nightlife, Queer Philippines
- “Show me how you do it down under”: Realness at The West Ball II and the translation of vogue ballroom in Australia – Billy Kanafani
This article seeks to understand the ways in which vogue ballroom has been translated by young, queer people of colour in West and South-West Sydney. Through an ethnographic analysis of the realness category at The West Ball II, hosted in Liverpool, Sydney in March 2021, I analyse the varied approaches and performances of walkers to identify the narratives that frame the construction of realness for this ball. The analysis draws together my live audience experience, archival footage, and social media content from the wider eventsphere to provide insight into this emerging queer performance community in Australia.
Vogue ballroom has expanded globally and ballroom communities have been formed across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. Through their analysis of vogue ballroom in new European contexts, queer nightlife theorist madison moore argues that there is power in the translation of vogue ballroom for the communities who participate. moore’s analysis provides a model for understanding the impact of what, using Jose Esteban Muñoz’s terms, I describe as worldmaking performances that project a utopia for these marginalised communities. Using Gayatri Gopinath’s theory of queer regions as a framework, I understand how regionally specific experiences of queerness might be drawn.
Viewing the realness performances through Gopinath’s framework reveals elements that make up the experience of being queer and BIPOC in Western Sydney. I argue that these worldmaking performances provide a glimpse of a utopia that connects the queer participants to their regional and diasporic cultures and community, and allows them to celebrate themselves in those cultures. Simultaneously, these utopian performances actively disassociate the participants’ identity and experience from dominant homo- and metro-normative experiences of queerness in Sydney.
Keywords: vogue, ballroom, Western Sydney, South-West Sydney, queer performance, queer diaspora, queer regions, realness, West Ball, the area, Liverpool
- Theatre as a Space of Resistance and Protest: Queer Politics and Colour of Trans 2.0 – Neethu Das. K and Vellikkeel Raghavan
This article discusses the Indian play Colour of Trans 2.0 (2014) by Panmai theatre which exhibits certain testimonial, documentary and postdramatic features, as a contemporary example of queer activism on Indian stage. The play was performed by three transgender activists, Living Smile Vidya, Angel Glady and Gee Imaan Semmalar, who are very active in Indian public sphere. Panmai, which identifies themselves as “a space for excluded” is the first trans theatre group in India. All three of them are professionally trained performers who have significant roles in the history of queer movements in India. The performance text of the play got developed after a series of discussions among the performers and was further improvised after each performance. The play effectively narrates the lives of transgender community in India through their testimonies and by making use of documentary techniques like screening film clippings and newspaper cuttings. The narrative of the play primarily focuses on the episodes of gender identity, heteronormative society’s expectations on body, gender affirmation surgery, social ostracization and abuse faced by the transgender community. The play also posits the body of the transgender performer as a cultural site which embodies the resistances against the pressures put forth by the heteronormative society. The traditional idea of body as the cisgendered perfect female/male body by the heteronormative spectator is subverted in the play by presenting the performativity of the trans body. Some of the key aspects of the play which conveyed the momentum of queer activism on theatre include the conversational style implied in the monologue of the performers, the techniques of postdramatic theatre used in the structure and the deliberate exhibition of the nude trans body. The play elevates the space of theatre as a platform of politics through its postdramatic framework and the politics of corporeality it presents.
Keywords: Queer, Trans body, Indian Queer theatre, postdramatic theatre, resistance
- “We’ll meet you underground”: transcultural performance practices in queer space and time – Jeremy Neideck, Nathan Stoneham, Younghee Park, and M’ck McKeague
For almost three decades a creative community has flourished between Australia and South Korea, initiated by the work of the late theatre maker Roger Rynd (1960-2010). Although the work of the artists continuing this international activity after Roger’s passing has always been difficult to define, what binds their disparate practices together is a focus on friendship as methodology. In recent years, the co-authors of this paper have consolidated their creative practice as a collective under the name Company Bad. One of this collective’s most successful projects is a work of bilingual music theatre, Jiha Underground (2011).
With Jiha Underground, Company Bad strives toward the transcultural ideal of modelling new and collaborative social realitiesthrough the methods of art production, while working in bravely queer spaces. With the look and feel of a cramped dive bar that you might stumble upon during a wild night out in Seoul, Jiha Underground is a refuge for those who are unwelcome in heteronormative spaces and its spatiotemporality supports a queer dramaturgy where performers present and re-present themselves in multiple, fluid realities. The work interweaves languages, cultures, and lived experiences in ways that offer a fleeting glimpse towards a utopia – diverse people coming together as friends in queer space and time.
Keywords: queer performance, transcultural collaboration, friendship as methodology, trans scenographics
- Birds of A Feather: On Queerness, Performance, The Coming Back Out Ball, and LGBTIQ+ Elders Dance Club – Peta Murray, Adelaide Rief, Marnie Badham, Tristan Meecham, Bec Reid, Lenine Bourke
Instigated by All The Queens Men (ATQM) and engaging more than three thousand individuals and hundreds of artists, The Coming Back Out Ball was delivered in Melbourne in 2017, 2018, and 2019 to honour the contributions and diversity of older LGBTIQ+ people. ATQM’s independent performance works were initially developed in response to the isolation, stigmatisation, and culturally specific needs of ageing individuals, but have since created a new community including broader networks and allies. They have also given rise to a suite of related projects – in person and online - that have held space for LGBTIQ+ elders through the pandemic and our re-emergence into social life once again.
This co-authored paper playfully mimics the performance aesthetic of The Coming Back Out Ball to consider how meaning and reciprocal value is created between artists, elders and allies. To reflect the multivalent nature of ATQM’s creative outcomes, we deploy queered dialogic, interdisciplinary, and creative methodologies. Core to this theorisation are concepts of ‘communitas’ and ‘the gift’ and through contemporary art and performance theory, alongside queered autoethnography, reportage and rich media, we layer diverse voices of community, artists, and scholars to articulate its significance. These gestures speak to a need for intergenerational, intersectional and intercultural opportunities; to the value of performance as a tool for care through building social connections and addressing loneliness; and to the potential for national and international replication of such life-affirming, ageing-positive projects.
Keywords: Queer performance, LGBTIQ+ elders, communitas, socially engaged art
- A Rainbow in the Age of Covid: Contemporary Queer Theatre in Aotearoa – James Wenley and Nathan Joe
Despite the significant constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic environment, contemporary queer theatre and performance has asserted itself with an explosion of energy on Aotearoa New Zealand’s stages, reflecting a wide spectrum of the Rainbow community.
This article focuses on three queer dramas performed in 2021: Over My Dead Body: UNINVITED by Jason Te Mete and Everything After by Shane Bosher ask us to attend to Aotearoa’s queer history, by bringing visibility to the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on Aotearoa’s rainbow community;Yang/Young/杨 by Sherry Zhang and Nuanzhi Zheng foregrounds the space of high school and the Chinese family, using the domestic landscape to explore intersectional politics through a narrative of triumph and pride that challenges the limitations of Western notions of ‘coming-out’. Embracing an out and proud identity, queerness is named and made explicit in these works, in contrast to previous generations of queer New Zealand playwriting where queerness was primarily located subtextually.
Though larger mainstream organisations have begun to support queer theatre, the surge in queer performance ultimately comes from the independent practitioners themselves. In an attempt to repair what Shane Bosher terms “the fractured history” of our queer theatre, we aim to document the developments that have led to this explosion of rainbow performance during the pandemic and examine how we might extend these conditions to create a sustainable ecology for queer performance in Aotearoa.
Keywords: Aotearoa New Zealand theatre; Queer Theatre; Covid-19; Tuatara Collective; Shane Bosher; Auckland Theatre Company