Im­port­ing JOAN

The award-win­ning drag king show JOAN is fly­ing into Malta from the UK in just un­der two weeks – and tick­ets are sell­ing fast. Here we meet Ty­rone Grima, the lo­cal pro­ducer who spot­ted the show in Ed­in­burgh and just knew he had to im­port it

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE -

JOAN fits per­fectly with Drachma’s ethos as it ex­plores the is­sue of gen­der, de­fy­ing gen­der bi­nary, and spir­i­tu­al­ity through one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters in his­tory. Plus it’s great fun!

There are shows that – quite sim­ply – grab you by the guts and reel you in. For some of us it’s mu­si­cals, for other dra­mas, and for oth­ers still its slightly off-the­wall cabaret shows per­formed at the Ed­in­burgh Fringe.

“The story of our re­la­tion­ship with JOAN dates back two years,” smiles Ty­rone Grima, who’s well known for both his di­rect­ing and theatre pro­duc­tion ex­pe­ri­ence lo­cally. “My hus­band (then my part­ner) Chris and I were at the Ed­in­burgh Fringe Fes­ti­val and we watched JOAN by ac­ci­dent – we hadn’t planned on watch­ing it, and we were com­pletely taken by sur­prise by it; so much so that we de­cided then and there that we wanted to bring it to Malta.”

A day later, Ty­rone and Chris emailed MilkPre­sents – the UK com­pany be­hind the per­for­mance – and, within days, were in con­tact and plan­ning ahead. “The one stick­ing point was the fi­nan­cial as­pect,” Ty­rone says. “It’s ex­pen­sive to bring a show over. So we even­tu­ally ap­plied for fund­ing through the Cre­ative Com­mu­ni­ties strand of the Malta Arts Fund and were thrilled to re­ceive a pos­i­tive re­sponse. Once that was sorted, JOAN was of­fi­cially on its way!”

Ty­rone and Chris de­cided to pro­duce JOAN un­der the re­mit of Drachma LGBTI – an NGO that fo­cuses on in­te­grat­ing spir­i­tu­al­ity with sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, and which Chris co­or­di­nates. There are two branches of it, the LGBTI sec­tion, and the sec­tion for the par­ents of LGBTI chil­dren.

“Al­though it is es­sen­tially Chris­tian in its ap­proach, Drachma em­braces all forms of re­li­gions,” Ty­rone con­tin­ues. “Over the years it has helped many peo­ple to in­te­grate two im­por­tant as­pects of their per­son­al­ity, and has also brought to Malta a num­ber of big-shots in LGBTI The­ol­ogy, in­clud­ing James Ali­son, Jea­nine Gram­mick and Mar­garet Far­ley. JOAN fits per­fectly with Drachma’s ethos as it ex­plores the is­sue of gen­der, de­fy­ing gen­der bi­nary, and spir­i­tu­al­ity through one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters in his­tory. Plus it’s great fun!”

Asked about the spir­i­tual side of the show, Ty­rone ex­plains that this emerges strongly in the last scene. “I won’t go too much into de­tail about it as I don’t want to ruin the sur­prise,” he says. “But that last scene is very strong. It strips the char­ac­ter of Joan (which will be played by UKbased award-win­ning drag king Lucy Jane Parkin­son) down to its bare es­sen­tials, show­ing the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of hu­man na­ture and rais­ing ques­tions about the spir­i­tual na­ture in all of us. It is done in such a clever way that it res- onates equally with athe­ists and be­liev­ers. It is never dog­matic or fun­da­men­tal­ist, but is dar­ing while still be­ing re­spect­ful in its en­ter­tain­ment. It is a piece that strikes more than one chord.”

And there is no deny­ing that JOAN is a show that also tack­les the im­por­tant ques­tion of how peo­ple bridge the gap be­tween spir­i­tu­al­ity and be­ing gay – which Ty­rone ad­dresses by stat­ing that he be­lieves many gay peo­ple ex­press their spir­i­tu­al­ity. “Of course, they ex­press it in dif­fer­ent ways,” he says. “What cer­tain peo­ple find dif­fi­culty in is in­te­grat­ing their spir­i­tu­al­ity within a re­li­gious frame­work. To be hon­est, that’s not sur­pris­ing. Re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions have not al­ways been em­brac­ing to­wards non-con­form­ists, and cer­tainly not un­der­stand­ing. I think the sce­nario is im­prov­ing, though, both lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. The Church is be­com­ing more in­clu­sive, al­though the re­ac­tionary and con­ser­va­tive side tends to be too strong. I also be­lieve that, when the Church em­pha­sises its con­ser­va­tive side, it is fail­ing to be gen­uine. Catholi­cism was al­ways meant to be rad­i­cal and rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Drachma’s con­tri­bu­tion lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally was, and still is, to show that it is pos­si­ble, if one de­sires, to be LGBTI, in the full sense, and to be Catholic, in the full sense, and these two as­pects do not con­tra­dict each other. JOAN can be read in ex­actly the same way. Joan of Arc (on whom the story is based) was not afraid to be who she was. She did not wait for so­ci­ety to change: in a cer­tain sense, she changed it her­self, and was brave enough to go against the waves. This play cel­e­brates this brav­ery and in­vites us to be brave too!”

And on top of all that, JOAN is also very funny – and Ty­rone be­lieves lo­cal au­di­ences will love the cabaret as­pect, too. “Lucy sings on stage, ap­plies her makeup, changes cos­tumes, and more; her en­ergy is amaz­ing. The in­ter­ac­tive el­e­ment is also en­ter­tain­ing and, once again, achieved in a very clever way. We’re not par­tic­u­larly fa­mil­iar with drag kings in Malta, so I have no doubt the show will be in­trigu­ing too, and ground-break­ing in its own way. There are plenty of sur­prises packed into this one-hour pack­age. There’s never a dull mo­ment!” he prom­ises.

Ty­rone and Chris

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