Saturday, 7 July 2018
Closeted Gay Men Will Save the Theatre
The theatre has always been ours; I’m happy to say it will be gay men who save theatre.
The theatre was always my place to hide. When I was an adolescent people remarked on my fluttering hands and my dramatic way of speaking. They were concerned and…uncomfortable? When I decided that I was an actor it all made sense — to everyone. It wasn’t that I was gay, it was that I was an actor. I started a gay and lesbian theatre in Toronto many years ago. Much of the opposition was from gays themselves. The problem was that a gay theatre was a contradiction in terms; theatre was a place where gay men went to hide. Everyone knew that. Promoting a gay theatre meant that the hiding place now had a bright light shining on it. When I ask people abroad if there are gay theatres in Europe, they say ‘’Oh no, all theatre is gay here.” Indeed it is. What they mean is that theatre is a place for gay men to hide.
Why not also speak of lesbians and the theatre? Because, unfortunately, in a sexist society, it is men’s mannerisms and actions that are remarked upon with the greatest concern. We’re supposed to be running the world. We’re not supposed to be girly!
The fact that theatre is where gay men hide became explicitly clear to me when I read Simon Callow’s autobiography. In Being an Actor he spoke of acting as a disguise. He said that as a little effeminate gay boy, putting on the mask of a character was the only way that he could feel good about who he was. I recognized this syndrome in myself, and I see it in many closeted gay men.
That’s why we gay men will always save the theatre. These days there are two opposing political movements that are gradually changing the world. One is a move to right wing dictatorships (it’s happening in America, we all know that, but we are afraid to say it). Probably in the next year the U.S. Supreme Court will repeal gay marriage (along with Roe vs Wade’s precedent making abortion legal). In the future, Canada may be one of the few countries where gays will be safe. At the same time there is a cultural wave of political correctness and a ‘reality theatre’ trend that have combined forces to wage a war on what is the very essence of the theatre: disguise. Avant-garde and thoughtful artists these days are challenging whether they do, or should, have the right to put on a disguise, to create art about anyone who is not exactly like themselves.
It is the closeted gay artists who will speak out about this, I guarantee it. They are gay, their friends know, but these artists don’t feel the necessity to talk about it too often. Just being in theatre is enough. Their work is not about gay things, not about being a gay man. No, no. Their work is sensitive, looks back in history, is colourful, innovative, design centred — it’s often about women and feelings and usually music is central. Closeted gay artists have worn a disguise and made theatre that was not about gay subject matter for centuries. I expect they will continue to do so, and be applauded for it.
As the world becomes more and more oppressive, as our little Glad Day — our time when we had our civil rights, and felt we could celebrate our sexuality by dancing and kissing in the street — becomes something to remember (a thing of the past!) the closeted gays will be very motivated to hide again, in their favourite hiding place.
And the one good thing about all this is: the closeted gays will save the theatre.