Sunday, 26 May 2013

What’s Wrong With Soderbergh’s Liberace

            I know, I haven’t even seen it yet, which I know seems cranky of me. But I’m sick and tired of this kind of thing.
            I mean, have you read the interviews with the cast? We are supposed to be so happy, nay perhaps grateful, that these hugely successful, straight, Hollywood actors have stretched their instruments (pardon my French) to such a degree that they are able to play gay men. There have been lots of jokes about the admirable lack of discomfort Matt and Michael have about kissing each other (well gee -- aren’t you guys open-minded!). And Matt Damon has warned us that he has a big ass (really Matt, that kind of thing is absolutely no problem – at least for me!) And we’re supposed to be oh so impressed with what wonderful actors they are to be able to play gay roles. I’m sure they will both be so brilliant that people will wish they could be nominated for Oscars instead of simply Emmys (which I’m sure they will win). Nothing says great acting like a confirmed straight guy playing an effeminate gay role.
            Why am I so offended by all this?
            Because I founded Buddies in Bad Times theatre almost 35 years ago and I thought we would be over it by now!!
            In the early years of Buddies there was a lot of homophobia surrounding my theatre. I remember being on a Canada Council committee with Eric Peterson (1985). He whispered to me: “I’ve always wanted to come to Buddies, but you know, most people think that if they went to your theatre, they would have to wear a paper bag over their head.” I have nothing against Eric -- who was, after all, simply trying to be nice. Unfortunately, Behind the Candelabra reminds me of Eric’s well-meaning -- but ultimately homophobic -- remark.
            I founded a gay theatre for one reason and one reason alone. I was gay, and out, and I knew that theatre in general was a place for many gay men to hide. Effeminacy, vulnerability and emotionalism are aspects of gay culture, and some gay men are willing to exhibit these qualities more than straight men do – but in the theatre men can exhibit these qualities without being thought of as gay (they are only acting). The problem is that if you are gay, and a good actor, you a) might feel the urge to come out and b) if you do come out, you may be accused of not being as good an actor as a straight man.
            I did a drag performance at the University of Toronto a couple of years ago, and two very sweet innocent male students who had somehow never heard of me (I know it sounds arrogant, but I was surprised) came up to me, bowing and scraping -
“Um, do you mind if we ask you if you are gay?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Well because, no offense, but if you were straight then that would mean you were a magnificent actor, really, but if you were gay then it would just be – something that you do.”
            Sadly, we are in exactly the same place we were in back in 1985 -- no one would ever think of putting a major gay Hollywood actor in a gay role in a major Hollywood movie (first of all, who are the major, Hollywood, gay actors?). Secondly, most men still seem to fear that being in the theatre might mean that they are gay, and they go to great lengths to prove their heterosexuality -- whether in or out of gay roles (have you noticed that in recent years theatrical bios have come to include information about the actors wife and family? I mean, who cares?).
            When will we realize that what makes a good actor is her or her ability to inhabit any role, regardless of gender, or sexuality? When will we learn to stop caring whether anyone is straight, gay, bi, or trans? When will the theatre stop being a closet that people pop in and out of, alternatively -- sometimes hiding, occasionally peeping out to say hello?
            When it comes to Behind the Candelabra -- I’m sure I’ll enjoy the show, as all involved are mighty talented. (If nothing else, the font used to advertise the show has already been put to good use: Harper employed it in his attack ads on Trudeau to make the young, handsome, future candidate for Prime Minister look gay!)
            But the whole thing makes me mad.
            And honestly, this is not just because I’d make just as good a Liberace as Michael Douglas! 
            (And, might I point out -- my ass is much better than his!)

N.B. If you care about this issue, and you are an agent, an artistic director, or some other powerful Toronto theatre person, I would love to see you at The Kitchen Party Nervous Breakdown Reality TV Show, on the evening of Monday June 17. It’s an annual event hosted by my drag character Jane, only an hour long in total, where you get to see young queer actors create their own material -- and then meet them afterwards in an informal setting. If this is you, you can get more info at: