Dovydas Laurinaitis chats to Jordan Seavey about his new play Homos, Or Everyone in America, ‘gay theatre’ and never having to negotiate your voice.
Chronicling the relationship of two men as they navigate the complexities of being gay in the US of A, Homos, Or Everyone in America, makes its long overdue transatlantic journey this month as it hits the Finborough theatre. The conversations that underpin the play range from drug use and monogamy, to assimilation and violence. With the former considered by some as a definitive stereotype of gay men, I am eager to discuss the show’s motivations with its writer, Jordan Seavey and as we meet across the pixels of a Skype call, our conversation flourishes into a contemplation of the current landscape of theatre and how well it goes to represent marginalised experiences. As well as ‘gay theatre’. Whatever that means.
Reflecting on theatre’s development, Seavey asserts that “queer people undeniably helped shape and pioneer the totality of theatre as an art form, and what theatre does – toys with and blurs reality to get at deeper truths – feels inherently queer” Why is it then that our narratives continue to be marginalised, and how can we move forward?
To begin tackling this question, let’s consider theatre’s demographics. Data from The Audience Agency showing that the ‘largest age-group among theatre audiences 65-74 [with an] average age [of] 52’; and Arts Council statistics reporting ‘booking data from 2011/12 to 2014/15, […] showed that 90% of bookers in 2014/15 were white.’. Though Trendwatching notes ‘people – of all ages and in all markets – are constructing their own identities more freely than ever’.
Cautiously, I note that whilst these demographics do not conclusively define the attitudes of spectators, they do provide an insight into the thought-process of theatre’s gatekeepers (those who control access), and the audiences they programme content for. Further, they demonstrate the difficulty faced in developing intersectional content beyond the white gay man experience.
Seavey agrees, addressing this imbalance can only be done at the hands of these gatekeepers, specifically, funding bodies. It is no surprise that money is once again the root of society’s ills. Talking of his work, Seavey states “anything I write is inherently political because in any society that identifies as majority heterosexual, my gayness is political whether I think it is, or want it to be, or not”.
It is especially important to acknowledge the potential hesitance to commission work beyond fringe venues that handle gay relationships for fears of being controversial, or sales performing poorly. Combating this from within involves our perception of work produced by LGBTQI+ creatives, and a discussion surrounding intent. On the topic of ‘gay theatre’, Seavey takes issue: “such a term further marginalises a marginalised people by separating their art from other’s art, and one wouldn’t call plays by playwrights who identify as female as ‘women’s theatre’, would one?”
Bringing into question the debate of assimilation versus visibility, Seavey provides a fittingly split answer; “I think queer people should have equal access to heteronormative institutions if they want it. But we’ve always paved our own paths and I can’t imagine we won’t continue to do so. Should institutions be more inclusive of queer people and voices? Yes, of course”.
The yearning for utopic balance where fair representation is thoroughly ingrained to the art-form and all experience is equally portrayed can only be achieved through continued visibility. However, queer forms such as drag, whilst rooted in theatre, have developed themselves into something else entirely, and become vastly successful as a result. Perhaps a similar divergence is required in theatre.
To consider doing this requires examination of why to use theatre as a voice, and what that voice should be saying. Is it the best space for queer voices to converge? Ruminating on the playwright’s purpose, Seavey states “I don’t think we should edify, I think we should portray. By portraying our extremely varied personal experiences, people watching can take away their own lessons, impressions, thoughts, feelings, and carry those into their daily lives and interactions,” Seavey continues, “Preaching (to the choir,” as if often the case in theatre, which can often be full of gay people and their allies, or otherwise) isn’t the point of theatre, and is boring. But theatre should be provocative, yes, and truthful, and arresting. Well-crafted portrayals of personal experiences will provoke.”.
Where we are with supposed ‘gay theatre’? Well, first we must decide where we want to be. In doing so, we can lay the stones that will pave the way. As our communities further divide and deepen, through recent emergence of TERFs, racism, misogyny, ingrained homophobia et al, are those discussions best held in the familiar proscenium arch? Will those outside our community even want to listen?
“I’ve been listening to straight voices (in writing, in theatre, in everywhere and everything) my entire life and never asked them to change or negotiate theirs. If people don’t want to hear mine, or can’t, or resist, that’s totally their prerogative, but arguably one’s life is less rich if one doesn’t expose themselves to people who are different from them”. One thing is clear, Seavey is certainly not going to be affected by the double standards that are subtly yet insidiously thrust upon the LGBTQI+ community and indeed, he will not be negotiating his voice or identity. Will theatre that reflects experiences of any other than the white cis gendered ever be considered the ‘norm’? Mainstream? Do we want it to be?
Read our review of Homos, Or Everyone in America.
Homos, Or Everyone in America is playing at Finborough Theatre until 1 September 2018. For more information and tickets, click here.