Queer era­sure on stage

Kamp co-cre­ator Garry Wil­liams is wor­ried about straight-wash­ing the­atre.



Kamp be­gan its read­ings and work­shop per­for­mances in 2015, much of its buzz and ac­co­lades sur­rounded the cast, which has been a show­case for many lo­cal queer per­form­ers who au­di­ences have never seen on stage.

“I re­mem­ber some­one ask­ing me who all th­ese peo­ple were,” says Garry Wil­liams, cocre­ator, with Jamie Bradley, of the mu­si­cal about a bar­rack of gay men in a Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp. “There are not so many op­por­tu­ni­ties for queer iden­ti­fied, or iden­ti­fi­able, per­form­ers. In my vi­sion orig­i­nally, I imag­ined Kamp as a ve­hi­cle for peo­ple who oth­er­wise might not be cast in mu­si­cals or plays be­cause so few roles are writ­ten for a va­ri­ety of queer char­ac­ters.”

In Oc­to­ber, Kamp will have its premiere with Eastern Front The­atre un­der the di­rec­tion of Sam Rosen­thal, the com­pany’s new artis­tic di­rec­tor. While the ma­jor­ity of the cast is queer-iden­ti­fied, there is a notable lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of lo­cal LGBTQ+ artists and the lo­cal com­mu­nity at large.

This week, two roles were re­cast to in­clude two lo­cal ac­tors who have been a part of Kamp’s pre­vi­ous work­shops. Oth­er­wise, of the cast is made up of mu­si­cal the­atre pro­fes­sion­als from Toronto, and Rosen­thal him­self is a straight man from Toronto. Which is to say, EFT’s pro­duc­tion of Kamp has its sights set on main­stream ap­peal, caus­ing the play’s cocre­ator to worry that a story of queer era­sure is it­self be­ing straight-washed.

“It is true in 2018 that I doubt you would hire a male di­rec­tor to di­rect Top Girls [by Caryl Churchill],” says Wil­liams, “and I doubt you would hire a white di­rec­tor to di­rect The Color Pur­ple. I won­der why in the wave of giv­ing power back to artists and com­mu­ni­ties that have long been si­lenced and whose sto­ries have been long ap­pro­pri­ated, the queer com­mu­nity seems to be out­side of that trend and out­side of that gaze.”

“I’ve come to this process in a new com­mu­nity with an open heart,” says Rosen­thal. “I worry that we’re be­com­ing a so­ci­ety of telling peo­ple what they can and can­not do. We are artists. I thought that was a level play­ing field where peo­ple re­spect each other and we have each other’s backs to tell this beau­ti­ful story. I know it’s a story about gay men, but it’s about gay men in the Holo­caust. As a proud Jewish man, I have to say that EFT is for­tu­nate that I am Jewish. That’s a story we are also telling. I’m not queer but I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced life.”

In 2015, Wil­liams and Bradley be­gan host­ing read­ings of early drafts of Kamp. Early on, a re­volv­ing door of queer artists be­came in­volved, leav­ing their foot­print on the project in some way. Many of th­ese artists were as­so­ci­ated with DaPoPo The­atre, a dar­ing, of­ten queer the­atre com­pany of which Wil­liams is cur­rently the artis­tic di­rec­tor.

“Ini­tially, we shared the ex­cite­ment about the pos­si­bil­i­ties of, for ex­am­ple, au­di­tion­ing drag per­form­ers rather than mu­si­cal the­atre artists and to think of un­con­ven­tional cast­ing that way,” he says. “And per­haps favour­ing lay-per­form­ers in terms of mu­si­cal the­atre ex­per­tise, be­cause they would bring a dif­fer­ent ex­per­tise.”

When the en­deav­our of in­clu­siv­ity is pit­ted against mar­ketabil­ity—namely the ap­peal to straight white au­di­ences—the choice for many is an ob­vi­ous one.

“I sus­pect that ho­mo­pho­bia around this runs deep,” says Wil­liams, about Kamp. “My own sad fear is that there are a lot of peo­ple who will not want to see a pro­duc­tion with and about iden­ti­fi­ably queer peo­ple.”

At a time when we are chip­ping away at the the­atri­cal in­sti­tu­tion that has been dom­i­nated by cer­tain peo­ple, who tell sto­ries in cer­tain ways, Wil­liams says that learn­ing to read queer­ness in sto­ries is another im­por­tant chal­lenge.

Whether that’s how Kamp will be re­ceived re­mains to be seen, but Wil­liams is op­ti­mistic.

“I think it will all de­pend on whether peo­ple see the show and rec­og­nize them­selves in it,” he says. “If this pro­duc­tion of Kamp man­ages to tell the story in a way that the queer com­mu­nity here and else­where says, ‘Yes, I rec­og­nize that. That is me,’ it will be a beau­ti­ful, in­clu­sive, cel­e­bra­tory ex­pe­ri­ence.”

any­thing in pub­lic, where it ac­tu­ally “counts.” No back­sies, as it were. Bi­sex­u­al­ity is ridicu­lously easy to hide, or at least qui­etly deny, when you’re a straight-


Kamp co-cre­ators Garry Wil­liams and Jamie Bradley.

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