Anais' first blog with Pi!
Jumping Into Breath:
The Queer Female Protagonist in David Grieg’s The Events
I wanted to start my first post as Associate Artistic Producer of Pi Theatre by diving straight into conflict. I like my theatre confrontational and I like to embody that in my writing as well.
Last night, I tried to watch a Canadian lesbian indie film. I could barely get through the first fifteen minutes. What ultimately disinterested me was how clichéd the queer female representation was. I’m tired of seeing the same old tropes: the confused bisexuals, the predatory lesbians, the fetishization of relationships between women. But what bothered me most was the story-line: the one that reiterates, once again, that being queer is the only struggle that defines an LGBTQ+ person’s life.
I don’t mean to cut down the work of an indie queer film with an all-female crew. But I think that, as artists, we all have a particular soapbox we like to stand on. It’s the issue we fight for with tooth and nail, the crux around which our art revolves. And mine has always been achieving queer female representation that is nuanced and authentic.
In an interview about diversity in casting, the National Theatre’s casting assistant Jacob Sparrow said: “It's almost impossible to find representation of trans or bisexual people, and lesbian women are often narrowly represented in terms of stereotypes. Sometimes LGBT people are only allowed to exist within an LGBT play; it can't just be a play, it has to be a queer play”.
This taps into one of the reasons I applied for the Early Career Development Grant with Pi Theatre. Their plays showcase diverse characters in complex and genuine ways. In the past few years they’ve produced some of my favourite playwrights, including Sarah Kane, who pens searing visions of the tortured female psyche, and Ayad Ahktar, who gives voice to the Muslim-American experience. When I read the script for their upcoming production, The Events, I was enthralled.
The Events by David Greig isn’t a play about being queer. In fact, queerness is hardly ever mentioned in reviews, synopses or media coverage of the play. The Events is an incendiary and poetic meditation on trauma and our inability to understand people who are different than us. The central character, Claire, is a female priest who incidentally happens to be queer. Her queerness is not her defining characteristic. She is allowed to navigate other struggles: violence, PTSD, obsession, and a deteriorating relationship.
Claire is also an autonomous and deeply complicated woman. She grapples with faith and disillusionment. She is proof that queer women are capable of leading viewers through a cerebral, political, and highly provocative text. And Claire being queer and female didn’t prevent the play from becoming a critically acclaimed, worldwide success with audiences outside the queer community.
Don’t get me wrong. Plays crafted specifically for queer audiences are important. And plays about being queer are necessary. Much of my work explicitly discusses being bisexual.
What I’m trying to articulate (and I’m not the first) is that white, cisgendered, straight men are not the default protagonists of every story. Even the stories that aren’t explicitly about race, gender or sexuality. It’s not easier for audiences to insert themselves into that lived experience. And why should it be? According to the Playwrights Guild of Canada’s statistics, the majority of theatre-goers aren’t even men.
In The Events, Claire longs to empathize with a boy who commits a terrible act of violence. She says: “If he’s human I can connect with him.” She “invites him to jump into her breath.” She opens herself to a mass-murderer’s humanity, just as we open ourselves to hers.
I hope Pi’s production of The Events will act as a catalyst, spurring mainstream playwrights to write more queer female protagonists.
- Anais West