During the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival season there is no shortage of arts and cultural events to choose from that contain the theme of or focus on facets of life and issues facing the gay community – identity, love, violence, visibility, politics, AIDS, gay pride, acceptance, alienation, prejudice. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is an important part of the Sydney calender, it is a celebration of community and for me serves as a reminder of the issues that face our society. As such it is also a time when gay themed theatre is showcased and I thought I would write a quick post on some of the themes and ideas which I have noticed in the productions I have attended.

I am a straight woman who is gay-friendly. I have always been in the company of gay and lesbian identifying people from an early age. Gay people are amongst my friends and colleagues – in fact last year I was the “celebrant” for my best friend from High School’s commitment ceremony to his ‘life partner’ (recognised as ‘husband’ in the UK where they now live). Family members, friends, mentors and flatmates – I have had no shortage of contact with the gay community. I also have no problem with attending theatre advertised as a “gay play.” Theatre is theatre. Love is love. To me there is no difference – we all want good theatre, we all want true love.

We all want theatre to transform, elevate, educate, inspire, invigorate, challenge, delight, surprise. We all want love that is nourishing, passionate, soothing, long lasting, honest, patient, kind. These things are not gay nor hetero specific.

However, I would like to draw attention to a few questions I’d like to ask in reference to the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival’s content this year, and to outline some of the difficulties I have had with the content.

Firstly, I’d like to note the absence of lesbian themed theatre in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival. I’d also like to draw attention to one prominent Australian female playwright recently saying that to write a lesbian play is career suicide – I would like to ask the question, why is it that there is a plethora of coming of age/ sexual awakening stories from the male gay community, but not the female community?

Secondly I’d like to note the marketing for some shows. One play I was dismayed to see was advertised as exploring issues facing the young gay community – only to have the article quote one of the producers as saying “of course it’s on during the Mardi Gras so of course there will be a bit of cock.” Another company I am aware of often tries to program gay plays with male nudity because it is reportedly what the Mardi Gras punters want. The word of mouth for some of these shows often mentions how many people get their gear off – but not much about the acting or the craft of the production.

Thirdly, besides there being very little female and lesbian content on the stages, the male gay plays that are produced often portray women in a less than flattering light – in the case of Canary by Jonathan Harvey – women are dreamy, hysterical, neurotics who are in denial or completely self obsessed or disgusted by homosexuals. In the case of Turns, Alistair is under the thumb of a domineering mother. In the case of Parkie by Daniel Hayward, the female character is again silly, immature 16 year old who is ignorant of her lover’s duplicity. In the case of Sticks and Stones the female character was a dictatorial disembodied voice demanding a coherent story. The truth of the matter is, that many gay men have very strong relationships with women – who are a support and confidant to many gay men and I wonder why this is portrayed in such a course light?

Perhaps this theatre is not being made for me? I suspect not. But I also don’t really think the message that only men are interested in gay content plays is true. I also don’t think that it is necessary for the naked phallus to dominate and overwhelm the advertising of every production, nor do I think women are the oppressor of gay men and nor are they silly and inconsequential.

I believe that theatre is a collaborative art form – in creation and reception – in discussion and analysis – and I believe that for every play there is an audience. Perhaps I am not the audience for this? My feeling is that when a play is advertised on the quantity of nudity and male sex scenes that theatre is taken to an all time voyeuristic low. I don’t need to see gay sex on stage any more than I need to see hetero sex on stage – prudish? Perhaps.

I also think it is necessary for men, actors, women not to be objectified – and superficial representations of gay, straight, men , women, people from non-english speaking backgrounds do nothing but reinforce stereotypes and prejudice. My hope for the gay artists of Sydney, Australia and the world is this –
1. That theatre with gay issues or agendas are not reserved for one month every year, but are included in main stage and independent programming and become a non-specialised style of theatre.
2. That there is equal representation of lesbian content and gay male content in theatre productions.
3. That no one talks about the nudity, sex scenes or “cocks” in their press releases, interviews or marketing of the shows or in foyers – but people talk about the quality of production, the acting, the directing, the writing, the ideas, the message, the content.
4. That women are seen as more than harridans, nasty mothers and controlling/delusional girlfriends – but as supporters and that is some representation of a supportive heterosexual friend/family member SOMEWHERE in the show.

I’m just casting out a wish…