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Has Theater Finally Become More Gay-friendly Today?

(Blogmensgo, gay blog of September 29, 2018) For some years now there have been various plays with LGBT themes in every new theater season. This tendency is increasing and does not only affect niche productions. There were some very important productions like Love! Valour! Compassion! by Terrence McNally in 1994 or Angels in America by Tony Kushner in 1993, but those were single drops of homophilia in a sea of homophobia. Comedies like Jean Poiret's La Cage aux folles (The Birdcage) are more like homophobic kitsch. In any case, it can be said that theater directors today also like to include plays with gay and lesbian themes in their programs. Directors stage them, actors play them and the public comes and enjoys them. Below are some of the shows from the 2018-2019 season.


Avignon 2018: Hot, gay and transsexual

This summer was too hot to discuss the festival of Avignon 2018. It is directed by the French playwright Olivier Py, who is very open about both his Catholic faith and his homosexuality.

Olivier Py

Olivier Py on the title of Transfuge. ©transfuge.fr

The plays with LGBT connotation were quite numerous this year and enjoyed a good media presence. Here are some of them to choose from:

Seneca's Thyestes, newly staged by Thomas Jolly

One of the most important plays in Avignon was Seneca’s classic tragedy Thyestes, directed by Thomas Jolly.

Thomas Jolly

Thomas Jolly on the title of Télérama. ©telerama.fr

In principle, the play has nothing to do with homosexuality. However, actor and director Thomas Jolly brought it back to life in hot Avignon. In an interview with Télérama, Jolly said the following very personal but also universal words:

J’étais arrivé à l’école et au collège sans crainte, mais les moqueries ont commencé. Mes parents ne m’avaient pas enseigné les codes, ils avaient laissé s’épanouir ma part féminine. « Pédale » ? Je ne savais même pas ce que ça voulait dire. J’ai résisté comme j’ai pu au harcèlement, au racket. La souffrance des enfants, je connais. Alors je me suis inventé un monde.
(I had come to school and grammar school without any worries, where the mockery then began. My parents had not warned me, but had allowed my female part to flourish. “Gay”? I didn’t even know what that meant. I resisted as much as I could the harassment, the brawls. I know the suffering of children. So I invented a world for myself.)
(Thomas Jolly, in Télérama of June 30, 2018)

We're quoting a motto by Thomas Jolly here:

C’est quand la pensée est arrêtée que la violence surgit.
(When the thought is stopped, violence arises.)
(Thomas Jolly, in Télérama of June 30, 2018)

Phia Ménard and Mathilde Daudet, transgender in life and on stage

In the same Avignon special edition of Télérama on playwrights and plays with LGBT themes, the play Saison sèche by transgender artist Phia Ménard was mentioned, who said the following:

Je n’ai choisi ni mon sexe, ni ma couleur, ni d’être hétéro, homo ou trans. Dans ces conditions-là, il faut accepter que chacun se développe à sa manière et pour le bien de la société, plutôt que mettre l’individu dans une case où il cultivera son malaise.
(I didn't choose my sex, nor my skin color, nor whether I wanted to be straight, gay or transsexual. Therefore, it is necessary to accept that everyone develops in his own way and for the good of society, instead of putting the individual in a box where the have to nurse their discomfort.)
(Phia Ménard, in Télérama of June 30, 2018)

On the same subject here is the very beautiful quote by transgender author Mathilde Daudet, whose autobiographical story Choisir de vivre has now been adapted as a play:

La transition de genre est un tamis à cons : seuls les meilleurs restent après avoir vu la créature…
(Sex change is a sieve for idiots: Only the best remain after they have seen the creature…)
(Mathilde Daudet, in Télérama of June 30, 2018)

Update of August 17, 2019: Issue 18 of the French cultural magazine Théâtre(s) (summer 2019) dedicates its cover and a 20-page article to Phia Ménard.

Cover of Théâtre(s)

Phia Ménard, ©Théâtre(s)

The very empathic interview with Phia Ménard by journalist Anne Quentin has some references to the topics of our blog, including the following two parts:

Théâtre(s) : Aussi bien que les genres artistiques, et parce que vous mêlez la vie et l’art, on vous identifie encore comme artiste transgenre. Cela vous satisfait ?
Phia Ménard : C’est parce que passer d’un corps à un autre dans notre société n’est pas banal, sinon, cela n’aurait aucune importance. Mais la société n’en est pas là. Elle commence tout juste à comprendre qu’elle est hétéropatriarcale, alors il reste un sacré bout de chemin. Pourtant, on ne choisit pas sa sexualité donc la question de savoir comment on devient homo est nulle et non avenue, parce qu’on ne devient pas hétéro.
Théâtre(s): Besides artistic genres and because you mix life and art, you are still identified as a transgender artist. Are you satisfied with that?
Phia Ménard: This is due to the fact that the change from one body to another is not commonplace in our society, otherwise it would be unimportant. But society is not ready yet. It is just beginning to understand that it is heteropatriarchal, and there is still a long way to go. But we don't choose our sexuality, so the question of how we become gay has no meaning, because we don not suddenly become heterosexual either.
(in Théâtre(s) No. 18, Summer 2019)

In the course of the interview, Phia Ménard explains some of the convergences between feminism and transgender activism:

J’attends le jour où les hommes et les femmes vont refuser l’assignation à un sexe. Le moment où le neutre sera reconnu comme une possibilité de se définir. C’est un acte fort, s’exclure de la binarité. Créer une troisième possibilité. Le jour où on reconnaîtra un corps neutre comme ça a déjà été le cas dans un tribunal, il y aura un moment où les deux qui n’ont pas le pouvoir, les femmes et les neutres, vont s’associer. Et alors le renversement sera possible. Et puis cette valorisation de la force masculine est aussi compromise. Dans le monde du travail, les robots remplacent déjà certains emplois pénibles, dangereux. La force musculaire est en désuétude.
I am waiting for the day when men and women will refuse to be assigned to one gender, the moment when „other“ will be recognized as an opportunity to define ourselves. It is a strong act to end binarity and create a third possibility. The day we acknowledge a genderless body, as the courts have already done, women and intersexuals, the two powerless instances in society, will join forces and change will become possible. At the same time, the domination of the male will be endangered. In the world of work, robots are already replacing humans in many difficult or dangerous tasks. Muscle power loses its importance.
Phia Ménard


Change Me – A meeting of three people on transidentity

What is the connection between the Roman poet Ovid, the French writer Isaac de Benserade and the American transgender man Brandon Teena? Transidentity, from birth as a girl to a male identity in all three cases. In the cases of Ovid and Benserade, we also have female homosexuality.

In their staging, Camille Bernon (one of the performers) and Simon Bourgade interweave references to the myth of Iphis and Ianthe from Ovid's Metamorphoses (Book IX, verses 666-797), which Isaac de Benserade took up again in his comedy Isis et Iante (sic), and to the life of Brandon Teena (who was raped and murdered in 1993 at the age of 21). Elements from the documentary The Brandon Teena Story by Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir were used instead of Kimberly Peirce's Biopic Boys Don't Cry.

Here is a teaser, taken by a very shaky camera…

So this is not a play without depth or perspective. Rather, the coexistence of historically and geographically heterogeneous elements seems to make sense here.

One can be very excited about this play, which will be performed on November 22, 2018 at the new theatre in Cachan.

Here is a second teaser, shot with a calmer hand, but with a continuous tone, on which one should concentrate well:

Change Me can be seen at the Paris-Villette Theatre on September 26 and 27, 2018.

Here is a very nice press photo from the Cachan Theatre.

Change Me (press photo)

Change Me. Times are changing – people too. ©theatrejacquescarat.fr

A gay couple in the musical Company

Company, the musical by American composer and lyricist Steven Sondheim, is now being revived in Britain, with a gay couple among the roles that were not present in the original version of 1970.

The British theatre director Marianne Elliott had suggested changes to the play that Steven Sondheim initially did not like. But after Sondheim had seen excerpts from the samples of his modified work, he was thrilled.

It has to be said that Elliott has proposed some unusual changes: Firstly, the character of Bobby is replaced by a female figure called Bobbi. Even more courageous is the replacement of Amy's character by Jamie, but with the same fiancé, Paul.

So the straight couple is replaced by a gay couple in London’s West End version. Sondheim has even worked with Elliott to revise the script and texts so that the audience can applaud a same-sex couple at the Gielgud Theatre, where the musical will take place from 26 September to 22 December 2018.

By the way, this year Marianne Elliott also coproduced a lighthouse of the LGBT repertoire, Tony Kushner's Angels in America.

The Comedy Oklahoma! returns to LGBT mode

Seventy-five years after its premiere in the United States, the musical Oklahoma! written by Oscar Hammerstein – after a play by Lynn Riggs and with music by Richard Rodgers – is the subject of two surprisingly different revivals of the original production.

The version staged by Bill Rauch is planned for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival until October 27, 2018. This revival, which has been performed at the Angus Bowmer Theatre since 18 April, stands out from the original work in its plot and cast.

As expected, the love story is told by Laurey (Royer Bockus) and Curly, except that Curly is an actress (Tatiana Wechsler) and not an actor and that the heterosexual relationship becomes a lesbian one. The love affair between Ado Annie and Will also takes place in the revised version between Ado Andy (Jonathan Luke Stevens) and Will (Jordan Barbour), i.e. between two men.

Here is the trailer for this play, which makes you want to watch this show despite a certain kitsch content:

After a first moment of amazement, the rights holder's representative, Ted Chapin, read the revised text and approved the gay and lesbian turn of the work, which had already shaken the conventions of its time.

I just kept looking at it, thinking, man, you couldn’t have done this five years ago.
Ted Chapin, in American Theatre of September 2018.)

But why was straight love turned into gay love? Bill Rauch, who has lived with his partner for 33 years, explains that his love of musicals at a young age was disappointed by their constant heterosexuality. Violation occurred first by race (with actors whose skin color did not match that of the role), then by gender (more female or feminized roles), and finally by sexual orientation. Bill Rauch explains this in this interview, among other things:

It seems logical that this show is now led by Bill Rauch, because Lynn Riggs, the author of the original play (Green Grow the Lilacs), was himself homosexual.

The Turing machine, empathic and cheering

Benoit Solès is an actor and playwright. The playwright has already had the opportunity to mention another gay icon in his play Call Me Tennessee, i.e. Tennessee Williams. The actor, who is known to the public mainly for his many roles in films and television series, is characterized by his benevolent and friendly face – even though he promotes a right-wing party in Paris.

The Turing Machine

Amaury de Crayencour (left) and Benoit Solès (right): 1 + 1 = 4 (or even 5). ©Fabienne Rappeneau

Benoit Solès is both the leading actor and author of The Turing Machine, a play by Tristan Petitgirard. It was already shown in Avignon in July 2018 and will be performed at the Michel Theatre from 4 October to 30 November.

Four characters are represented on stage by only two people: Alan Turing, played by Benoit Solès, and three other characters who shaped his life, all played by another actor.

What is it about? Homosexuality is only one element in the play, but still more important than the others. Turing was one of the greatest geniuses of his time, and he was gay. The homophobia of English society eventually led him to commit suicide. The plot of the play functions like a kaleidoscope and combines three different biographical elements into a fourth narrative element.

In short, a play for everyone, in which everyone finds something to think about, according to their own perspective and way of thinking.

Update of May 15, 2019: The Molière Award Ceremony 2019 – a French version of the Tony Awards – was dominated by the play The Turing Machine, which had received four nominations and actually won all four of them:

  • Molière for the best French-speaking author alive: Benoit Solès, for The Turing Machine
  • Molière for private theaters: The Turing Machine
  • Molière for the director of a private theater: Tristan Petitgirard, for The Turing Machine
  • Molière for the best leading actor at a private theater: Benoit Solès, for The Turing Machine

In other words: Best author, best play, best director and best leading actor.

In order to celebrate this quadruple victory, here is the trailer of the play, with Benoit Solès in this wonderful role…


In Pourvu qu'il soit heureux (“If it makes him happy”), Laurent Ruquier reminds us of the (or his?) coming out

The current issue of the French cultural magazine L'avant-scène théâtre from mid-September 2018 reports on Pourvu qu'il soit heureux, the new play by Laurent Ruquier. The French presenter, comedian and playwright discusses the topic of Coming Out as it is experienced not by the person concerned but by the parents.

The obviously very autobiographical play will be performed at the Théâtre Antoine in Paris until December 30, 2018. Depending on the date, a seat costs between 20 and 61 euros.

Christophe Honoré revives Les Idoles in Switzerland and France

Speaking of French playwrights, we cannot ignore one of the most famous, Christophe Honoré, whose play Les Idoles will be performed at the Vidy-Lausanne Theatre in Switzerland from September 13 to 22, 2018. In the following month and until February 2019 the same play will go on tour through France.

Les Idoles

Les Idoles by Christophe Honoré (rehearsal photo). ©Jean-Louis Fernandez

What idols are those? Among those who enchanted Christophe Honoré's youth before his death from AIDS were the writers Bernard-Marie Koltès, Jean-Luc Lagarce and Hervé Guibert, the filmmakers Cyril Collard and Jacques Demy, and the critic Serge Daney.

Update of May 15, 2019: Marina Foïs received the Molière Award 2019 as best leading actress in a play at a private theater for her interpretation of Hervé Guibert in Les idoles by Christophe Honoré. However, Harrison Arévalo did not take home the Molière Award as best talented young actor 2019, for which he had been nominated.


Milo Rau transforms a homophobic crime into a work of art

Swiss playwright and director Milo Rau mainly stands for “documentary theatre”, often about murder or genocide. This time in Liège, he will address the torture and murder of a 32-year-old gay young man, Ihsane Jarfi, in a play entitled The Repetition – Histoire(s) du théatre (I).

The Repetition

The Repetition by Milo Rau. Beyond usual theater. ©Michiel Devijver

This clearly homophobic crime had caused fear throughout Belgium in 2012. Milo Rau and stage designer Anton Lukas have restored it with a meticulousness that would be unbearable without the metatheatrical dimension: the murder is filmed on stage, the actors constantly question their role and the event they are restoring.

The play could already be seen in May in Brussels and in July during the Avignon 2018 Theatre Festival. From 22 September to 5 October 2018, it will be performed in Dutch and French at the Théâtre des Amandiers as part of the Festival d'automne.

Desasterkids bring German Metalcore to the forefront

A metal band that “is the perfect symbiosis of contemporary modern rock and a pinch of old school hard rock…”

It's not the Scorpions from Hannover, but an alternative metalcore group that “rejects the pressure and problems of the metal scene, dominated by white men...” – the Desasterkids from Berlin.


Desasterkids, four tattooed guys making music. (Photo courtesy Red Toad Music)

The group released their second album Superhuman at the beginning of August 2018 and announced the first dates of their summer tour until the end of September 2018: Hanover, Wiesbaden and Berlin.

Here is the official video clip for the song “Oxygen”:

Somehow it's a mixture of Motörhead's Heavy Metal, Public Image Limited's Avantgarde-Punk, Nirvanas Grunge and Glam-Rock like AC/DC or Def Leppard.

The difference to the other Metalcore bands is that the four Berliners in the wind (Andi Phoenix, Iain Duncan, Max Rosenthal and Tommy Hey) don't just spray riffs, decibels and testosterone into their songs. They also talk about fashion and homosexuality.

Her latest album talks a lot about oppression, shaky self-esteem, confrontation, deception, disruption and break-up, but also about self-affirmation and pride.

Just Scream and shout
The choice is yours to make you proud
Just let it out
Because we are the here and now
Desasterkids, in “Here and Now” (from the album Superhuman)

For a better idea, here is “Break Me”, the first song of the Superhuman album, with a bit more electro and R&B accents.

If you want to hear more from them, you can order their album here (be assured, we don't get any commission).

Terrence McNally has the last word

Since this long blog article began with the mention of Terrence McNally, a quote from the same playwright is appropriate at this point. In the preface to his most famous work Love! Valour! Compassion!, he writes the following words:

The time has come to speak about gay theatre. Fortunately, that’s a phrase you don’t hear much anymore. Unfortunately, there was a time when that’s pretty much all that was said about a play if the characters and/or the playwright were out. Theatrical excellence or originality of mind were not held up for critical scrutiny if the play and its author could be labeled as gay. Rather, these plays and their playwrights were swept into a collective dust heap and marginalized as theatre written by a minority for a minority.
Terrence McNally, preface to Love! Valour! Compassion, 2015

Times seem to have changed considerably in just two decades.

Today, many public and private theatres, both well-known and avant-garde, no longer hesitate to include plays that question or exchange gender roles or emphasise differences. The bitterest opponents simply see in as another excess after the postmodern, crazy or iconoclastic stagings of the past.

These days, criticism no longer refers to gays and lesbians who write plays, but to theater artists who happen to be gay or lesbian – although their sexual orientation is mostly known today but basically irrelevant to critics and the public.

Frank-S / MensGo

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