Theatre Western is an incredible and important resource for students and campus at large.
Theatre is often considered a space where difficult and complex issues can come to light in a nuanced and ultimately human way, allowing for empathy and understanding. As students at Western may learn about social justice theoretically in classes, theatre can be seen as a resource where students can apply them to the arts and social justice more broadly.
A piece run recently by The Gazette focuses specifically on the Purple Shorts one-act student play festival as being a sight for development and support of student voices, particularly those that are often excluded from conversation. The emphasis is put on the opportunity two students have felt as a result of participating in the festival, and how that has shaped both their identity as students at Western, within the London community and as artists.
As a previous participant of the Purple Shorts festival in 2016, I did not feel the same amount of uncompromised support that they did. My experience with Purple Shorts and Theatre Western was much more complex than simply going into the process and coming out with an accessible theatre community ready to assist me with future projects. If anything, I felt deterred from participating in theatre at Western. Amongst the many reasons for this, the main issue was how I felt the festival and the Theatre Western team handled the themes within my original play, Loud in the House of Herself.
The play was a deeply personal piece for me, the story dealing with issues I myself has struggled with for most of my life. The themes dealt with in the piece include relationships between women, repressed sexuality, homophobia, emotional dependency and mental illness. The relationship between the characters is intense and deeply emotional, but most of all complex. After a lot of conflict and turmoil throughout the course of the play, it ends with the main characters, who are women, kissing each other, an act fuelled by a myriad of circumstances, among which queerness is obviously a factor.
Unfortunately, my experience with the show being chosen as one of the six plays to run at the festival was not reflective of this. From the very first day of development, the show was unofficially billed as the “gay play” or the play about “the crazy lesbian.”
Rehearsals started, and I kept hearing about how excited everyone was for the show, the main draw, from what I could gage, was the kiss at the end by the two actors. It wasn’t just a stage kiss, but a distinctly gay stage kiss, a “bi-curious,” Katy Perry-esque stage kiss, the connotations of which have been sexualized and misconstrued to the detriment of many queer women, including myself. It became apparent that this was the main aspect of characterization that was becoming important to those involved in the production and its potential audience. This taboo was what garnered my place in this pageant as a writer, not my sincere dialog or careful structuring of scenes. A five second conclusion before the lights went down.
The Dubbies took place, a mock award show Theatre Western holds every year as a fun end of the year celebration. My show was awarded “Best Lesbian Kiss,” an extremely insulting “honour” to bestow upon my work. My participation in the festival this year as a writer has continued to be shaped by the degrading and ostracizing perception of my previous show, and I was appalled to have my work introduced by the preface that I had written the “crazy lesbian” character.
I accidentally outed myself in one of the last rehearsals before the show. The mistake I had made laid out in front of me: I was now the lesbian director. The lesbian writer. The lesbian who was writing about herself as the main character in my play and who was undeniably insane. I wasn’t myself, but an outline of a person. All the connotations and ideas about my characters were now projected onto my identity. It wasn’t a safe space for me, and I didn’t feel welcomed with open arms. It felt like the worst kind of performance, which is an insincere one. The gap that needs to be filled within the festival is not only one of more diversity, but also of acceptance, and most importantly, compassion.
- Emily Wood, women's studies II