Devised and written by the That’s So Gay Crew
Directed by Toni Regan
BATS Theatre | April 26-28
The use of the word ‘gay’ is a hotbed for debate. We live in a world where changing the lyrics of a song about a happy kookaburra can make headlines across the world, and where kissing your girlfriend in [public] can send righteous Facebookers into rants of indignant proportions. In this context, Toni Regan and School’s Out bring us That’s So Gay, a community theatre piece that is a part of Regan’s MA in Directing at Toi Whakaari. Using techniques of verbatim theatre as a launch pad, the ‘That’s So Gay Crew’ has distilled the experiences and opinions of the queer community into a genuine and honest, if slightly unsatisfying forty minute piece of theatre.
The piece is structured around 18 ‘moments’; vignettes expressing the pressures and problems faced by the ‘That’s So Gay Crew’. Moments include the Lesbetron 5000, explaining the clichéd lesbian as a terminator-style robot. Nature vs. Nurture is a video game style battle between the two concepts. Facebook plays out a typical conversation about letting two gay men attend a school ball (complete with an actress playing an internet troll). In Ellie Kitten we hear about a drag queens recent date. Other moments express frustration with fitting in, playing with childhood toys, being bullied, coming out, etc. Each moment is based on the individual experiences of 13 young people but, while most are presented in exciting and personal ways, others have been stripped down beyond the specific details that made them unique and they veer into cliché. At its most successful, That’s So Gay articulates the unique experiences of, and the mentality of unconditional acceptance that exists within the company and, by extension, Schools Out. Yet I cannot help but feel that this piece could be much more than an expression of a problem, and a reminder of the range of sexualities and gender issues.
This is stripped back theatre in the extreme; beer crates make up the only set, costumes are gestured at, props are limited and the actors wear theatre blacks. The thrown-together feel is endearing however it does lead to limitations on a practical level. The soundtrack really needs to be turned down, and actors need to speak up.
In a post show discussion it was revealed that this season was hopefully only the start of a larger project, something it certainly deserves. I would challenge future productions to mine deeper into where these issues and assumptions come from. As the first step in what will hopefully be a long journey, That’s So Gay sets up a good working model for playing out the issues and concerns of a community.