Queer Theatre


Convener(s): Michael Twaits       

Participants: Dan Usztan, Bette Bourne, Julie McNamara, Maddy Costa, Rachel Parish, Jamie Allao, Simon Bedfor, Kerry Loutu, Gemma, Emma Bernhard Stella Duffy, James Stelwose, Louise Kemeny, Darren Abrahams, Raymond Keanu


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:


The conversation went in many different directions and I did get to involved in discussion to keep up with notes but in summary:

We discussed for far too long what makes theatre queer – content, performer, venue, writer, space, audience?

In essence though does the definition matter? As long as it’s good.

Throughout the conversations we did have a few recurring themes:

  • Why does it usually come back to Gay men? Where are the dykes in the main stream? Not to mention the B’s and the T’s.
  • Queer is great because it means we can all work together – men, women and those who refuse to decide.
  • Playing it straight. Can straights play queer? Not with out judgement and consolation. Can queers play straight? Yes – and receive accolades for being brave.
  • Queer ambivalence. We can ‘get married’ we can adopt kids. We can walk the three and a half blocks of Soho with safety. Why fight for more.

Bette raised the issue that people seem to forget. Stonewall was raided in New York (July 23rd 1967?) and it wasn’t the muscled men with white  t-shirts who took on the police. It was the queens in their heels can-canning and singing that look the police on.

The ‘TrannyShack Revolution’ Soho has begun embracing the Trans community (at least the Drag Queen M2F community) in recent years. It has become very fashionable but is done in a safe/sanitised way. Turn up in a way you can ‘pass’ use the dressing rooms and get ready. (Free entry if you are in drag). It’s positive that there is a space for the Tranny community- but it is a step backwards as we are playing one thing in the streets and another in the clubs so as to conform. (Going back to the closet case of Straight in the streets, Queer in the sheets)

The young communities apathy is a major factor to the lack of decent, politically engaged work.

Some argues it was a result of Thatcherism and normalisation. The sanitised queer being accepted in the main stream – Paul O’grady, Graham Norton entertains who are gay but are portrayed as men who don’t have sex.

We also got into a bit of an Us and Them debate about straights and queers but then expressed how one can identify as queer without being sexually orientated towards the same sex or having a transgressive gender.

Much of the session didn’t resolve or create answers, projects or resolutions but was just the sharing of stories. Here are a few I felt were potent and worth passing on:

  • Bette discussing Quentin Crisps bravery when travelling to the West End as himself, as he wanted/needed to represent himself. No car, no support, he just did it.
  • I received an email from an academic (who shall remain unnamed) saying queer theatre is dead, as we have achieved something nearing equality.
    I put on my drag queer and turned on my video camera – walked to Sainsbury’s in Balham and bought a cucumber, a marrow and a few bananas. Whenever I spoke to people I sung. I held the camera out so it recorded reactions rather than the event. The 6-minute video then got emailed to the academic. I felt I made my point….
  • Julie shared the story of the Protestants and Catholics protesting outside the hall where the first queer marriage took place. As the Protestants and Catholics protested with banners reading, ”Homosexuality is sin “ and “Sodomites Burn In Hell” two guys stood next to them in underwear holding banners reading, “The world is flat”.
  • Stella being approached by some young girls asking her to teach them about feminism. There are, some, people of the younger generation who are interested, passionate and want to make a difference.

Within these there is a suggestion of the most empowering queer theatre, being brave enough to take it out of the theatre environment so it isn’t an exclusive audience it’s portrayed to!

One of the themes of the end of the discussion was passing it on, continuation and support. Mentoring, passing on knowledge passion and the ‘queer history’.

In general we reached no conclusions or game plan. But felt inspired by the passion behind the group. As someone producing work I felt encouraged and excited and hope the dialogue hasn’t ended.


For those interested in the topic, wanting to keep involved I am holding a post show discussion on the 23rd February at the Oval House Theatre on British Queer theatre. The discussion  will be after the show (Confessions Of A Dancewhore) which starts at 8pm. Tickets 4 pound!

Keep in touch: [email protected]