Maxwell Schnurer/For the Times-Standard
Article Launched: 10/04/2007 04:30:30 AM PDT
Much of the televised presentation of gays and lesbians focuses on assimilation and cheap stereotypes. The Humboldt State University Theatre Department offers a counterweight in the form of tonight's "Homo Expo: a Queer Theatre Extravaganza."
While the issues presented are more complex than your average sitcom, the four monologues and a play presented also offer a solid range of humor coupled with insightful observations about sexuality and the intricacies of modern queer identity.
The selections are intentional discussion points chosen by the director Jean O'Hara, also a teacher at Humboldt State. O'Hara said she chose the monologues from modern queer writers to help showcase a more diverse series of representations.
"I'm tired of the image of the gay man who is an alcoholic and suicidal. That perception of the gay community that it is 'a hard life to be gay' -- that's not the feeling I get from the queer community. It's not a hard life, it's an amazing life. It's beautiful. It's so nice to be outside the social norms that confine straight people."
O'Hara said the monologues were the most difficult because "a.) I have a lot of new actors and doing a monologue is
much more challenging and b.) I've had to figure out how these monologues relate to each other. I've intertwined them, usually there is a break, but . . . I have to show how these characters connect and relate."
Taking some risks might make this theater piece more important. O'Hara stresses the value of everyone viewing the performances. Because the show is based on personal monologues from living queer writers -- some black, some bisexual, some Asian, some Jewish, some transgender -- they cover a lot of ground.
"This is good for folks who are not necessarily in the queer community -- putting aside their misconceptions, their narrow view of what it means to be gay, or a drag queen for instance," O'Hara said.
The "Homo Expo" is an attempt to remedy the mostly token inclusion of queer culture into mainstream culture by explicitly showing some different images. Famed trans-activist/author Kate Bornstein's play "Hidden: A Gender," is directed by O'Hara to become a circus in order to explicitly reframe the perception that queer folk are seen as circus freaks.
Denise Uyuhara's "Hello (Sex) Kitty: Mad Asian Bitch on Wheels," one of the show's monologues, offers a rare public discussion of bisexuality. O'Hara said she had to seek out this play in order to find a representation of bisexuality.
"It was really hard to find a theater piece that dealt with it, but I found one."
Implicit in all of the pieces in the show is an understanding that each person's identity is unique. O'Hara raises the question of the intersecting nature of identities: "It is different to be queer and African-American. What challenges do you face?" The director's choice to include three queer artists of color is an attempt to help audiences understand the experience of queers who are also people of color.
The actors are Humboldt State Students who have been working on their performances for more than a month. This has been a real education for the students who have been asked to draw on their own life experiences to help present characters that aren't characterizations. O'Hara described motivating students to create nuanced performances saying they often "feel invisible for other reasons -- that is the challenge with actors -- how does your human story connect with their human story."
The subject matter in the monologues and the play in the "Homo Expo" are valuable questions about the human experience. Family, sexuality, race, class and gender are all up for grabs every night that the show runs.
In the battle for representation of queer culture, most of what you'll see on television will affirm stereotypes and encourage a simplistic understanding of queer life. In our local community, a rebel director and a band of courageous actors will reframe the discussion, taking a leap of faith that audiences will appreciate -- the presentation of dense, complex queerness. Accept their invitation and come see this show.
"Homo Expo: A Queer Extravaganza" runs Oct. 4 through 6 and 11 through 13 at 7:30 p.m. in HSU's Gist Hall Theatre. The show is suggested for mature audiences and costs $10 ($8 for students and seniors).
Maxwell Schnurer is a frequent contributor to Northern Lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go:
What: "Homo Expo: A Queer Extravaganza"
Where: HSU's Gist Hall Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday Oct. 4 through Sunday Oct. 6 and Oct. 11 through 13