Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

The bill to penalize those who “willfully and

The portrayal of the LGBT community
within theatre has always been something that has sparked my interest. Though
not a part of it myself, within the last 50 years, representation of people who
identify as, for example, gay or transgender has changed dramatically for all
the right reasons. To discuss my thoughts, opinions, and correspondingly, my
research into this topic, I will be showcasing in-depth analysis and knowledge
into both plays, Pronoun and slope, research into the chosen
practitioner, Antonin Artaud, and
research into LGBT as a concept. The
plays I’ll be discussing within this both have their own take on the LGBT
community; Pronoun discusses
transgender issues, whereas Slope is
focused on a gay relationship between two men. Over the years, specifically
within the 21st century, the idea of being gay/transgender has
become more accepted worldwide, e.g., gay marriage being legalised, and we have
also seen unisex/gender inclusive bathrooms in public places, too.
Additionally, the state of California is considering (as of
August 2017) the passing of a bill to penalize those who “willfully and
repeatedly refuse to use a transgender resident’s preferred name or pronouns”1 to
tackle and normalize the issue. I feel in theatre (as a whole), real life
situations are not portrayed, i.e., most plays are fictitious scenarios with a
happy ending and have a sense of falseness about them. But then again, life
isn’t a fairytale. The plays I’ve chosen, Pronoun
especially, reflect everyday life for most of the population; they reflect
scenarios and the confusion of identity, feelings, attraction, and what makes
one human. But, have these issues been
successfully portrayed?Evan Placey’s Pronoun is a play about a female-to-male teenager, exploring the
impact on relationships of someone’s decision to undergo gender transition. The
play was specially for the 2014 National
Theatre Connections Festival and was premiered by youth theatres across the
UK, including a performance at the National
Theatre in July 2014.The play’s protagonist, Dean (née Isabella),
is a transgender male. He was born female, but now identifies as male. The
focus of the play is Dean’s experience of that change and his relations with
his friends, his boyfriend, his parents, and his sister. He is undergoing hormone
treatment and is using a chest binder while trying to reach his final goal: chest
surgery. He picked the name “Dean”, because of
his hero James Dean, who makes a cameo in this play, and takes on physical form
in Dean’s private fantasy world. However, Dean has asked everyone around him to
treat him as the young man that he feels himself to be and to refer to him as
Dean, and while his friends are mostly sympathetic and supportive, his parents are
struggling to comprehend Dean’s experience for themselves. Dean’s sister, Dani,
is finding it difficult to cope with the loss of a sister and the gaining of a
brother, and Dean’s boyfriend, Josh, is stressed; unable to make sense of a disordered
jumble of feelings.Discussing this play, Evan Placey
writes: “While Dean’s transition
provides the structural spine for the story, for me, it’s really a story about
Dean and Josh. It’s a love story. It’s a romantic-comedy. For a play about
gender, I felt the play’s form had to somehow play with gender too. When researching the play, I ran a
workshop with a youth theatre… I went in wearing make-up just to see what
would happen. Nothing happened. When I asked the group half way through if
anyone noticed my makeup, about half had but hadn’t thought much more about it.
Which was really refreshing. Perhaps contradictorily, they were
less open to the idea of one of their friends being transgender. They didn’t
care if I didn’t conform to gender norms because I was some random guy doing a
drama workshop…”2Transgender issues are one that can
cause confusion for some people. For example, if a person was to be female and
wanted to identify as male, they may be classed – stereotypically – as a
transvestite or a drag queen, due to the stigma surrounding it. Of course,
nowadays it’s now classed as a social norm, and most countries across the globe
recognize that people can be one gender or another, or both, or none at all. Pronoun sticks out to me as a
brilliant play that challenges the stereotypes as there are elements of comedy
within it, and yet, there are parts where an audience, especially those who are
trans, can relate to it. The play itself is very true-to-life, i.e., it is
centred around a group of friends in a high school, going to music festivals.
However, what isn’t so naturalistic is that 2 of these characters (Kyle and Amy)
are engaged and the group are getting ready for the wedding. The character of
Dean isn’t played a male, but a female, to make it as realistic as possible. I
think this is a brilliant decision from Evan Placey, as I personally think that
if a male actor was casted, the whole transgender message would not be conveyed
whatsoever.Dr. Catherine McNamara said, “Pronoun
is story about a young person who has the right to be respected, valued and
cherished. It’s a story about mums, dads, sisters, brothers and other family
members, about friends and about relationships that can contribute so
positively to a young person’s experience of gender, when their relationship to
gender is complex. It’s a story that should be and will be seen by thousands of
people, many of whom will not have thought much about trans people’s
experiences of growing up, of coming out as trans and of making the first steps
towards transition. It’s a story that can have a seriously powerful impact on societal
understandings of gender and gender diversity.”3 Furthermore, Slope by Pamela Carter is a unique twist and portrayal of the true-life
love affair between the 19th century poets, Arthur Rimbaud and Paul
Verlaine, and the effects it has on Verlaine’s wife, Mathilde. Described as “an
intimate and hedonistic examination,”4
Verlaine and Rimbaud’s association was that of a private one, though for the
most part, friendly, yet forbidding, and very real. It was originally
produced by Untitled Projects in 2006,
directed by Stewart Laing.The play itself is rather unusual.
Certain parts of it are definitely
for a mature audience, and I’m certain that Pamela Carter has published this
for a target audience of 18+, but saying that, other parts of it are quite humble
and humorous, and I feel anyone who is in a relationship can see elements of
their own love life within Slope.
Though some of it is rather questionable,
like the events both Rimbaud and Verlaine get up both on their own and
together, it is clear that they both truly do love each other, even though they
audience can clearly see that it isn’t working, and that they’re trying to make
something out of nothing.The more intimate side of Verlaine and
Rimbaud’s relationship is explored within Slope.
In an interview with The List, Stuart Laing said, “He’s Verlaine an older,
alcoholic man who wants everything; the comforts of his bourgeois marriage and
the adventures with a young man just obsessed with chaos.”5The play shows the audience that Verlaine
is captivated by the younger Rimbaud, and as a result of this, he’s sent him a
one-way ticket to Paris to live with him, temporarily. The play also notes that
in 1872, he was no longer attracted nor satisfied by his wife Mathilde, and
successfully abandoned her and their son, preferring his new, exciting lover.
Their wild affair took them to London in. It was sensual, but it was
catastrophic. The relationship between the two poets grew increasingly bitter. Their time in London is shown on the
stage to be difficult, and that the preconceived “honeymoon phase” has worn off.
The setting of the grimy flat they both share, and the gloomy ambiance further
drives the point that they are no longer attracted in each other, and it is
clear to the viewer that they both just want to go back home to France, but at
the same time, they don’t want to leave each other. Their relationship (what’s
left of it) is very toxic and unhealthy, and it is made obvious that they were
both using each other for their own pleasure and satisfaction, and how now,
they are bored, and they are finished. And as a result of this, Verlaine
leaves London for Brussels. And when found by Mathilde and Rimbaud, Verlaine in
a drunken, resentful rage, fires two shots with a pistol at Rimbaud, though this
wasn’t life-threatening. As a subsidiary result of this occurrence, Verlaine is
apprehended, and imprisoned at Mons, Belgium, where he undergoes conversion to
Roman Catholicism due to his homosexual acts,
which again influenced his work and motivated Rimbaud’s sharp disparagement.
The audience is shocked at this outcome, but then again, the time and setting
of Slope clearly recognizes that the
idea of one being a homosexual is highly offensive and illegal, and watching
this in present day, they can see that things have definitely changed for the
better. The two plays in their own way both
portray LGBT factors at face value. Pronoun
tackles the stigma surrounding being and/or identifying as transgender right
from the first scene, where we are introduced to Dean’s character, his friends,
and his parents, whom are portrayed by the opposite gender, e.g., the mother is
played by a man, and the father is played by a woman. I feel this directorial
decision really expresses the inner conflicts and confusions that any individual
who is going through a transition or identifies as the gender they weren’t
assigned can relate to and also gain an insight on how normal this topic
actually is. Placey’s play portrays Dean’s
character in an extremely realistic way by casting him to be played by a female
actor, which works as Dean is a female-to-male trans person. I feel the use of
his parents being opposite genders entices the confusion surrounding it; it
will make an audience look twice, but also think twice about the subject. I feel the use of James Dean helps
with this play as it adds an element of comedy that Evan Placey wants. The
audience will most likely recognise the famous face, and also understand that
he is, in a way, Dean’s mentor. Dean chose that name after him, and his
appearance is based on James’s appearance on the silver screen, for example, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), which is
referenced within the play. Upon reading through the play’s script
and also watching adaptations of it via YouTube6, I
found myself having emotional reactions such as laughter, and sadness,
throughout its naturalistic realism. To me, this play is someone’s experiences
condensed into an hour long performance. Its purpose is to entertain, but it is
also to inform and to educate, which it does so epically.Evan Placey has taken the stigma
surrounding LGBT and turned it into a relatable piece of theatre that can be
watched by anyone, and still have the same result; to educate and tell the
world that transgender people do exist, but they’re just like me and you. They
are people with feelings, thoughts, opinions, and interests, and we shouldn’t
treat them any differently just because they’re a boy born a girl, just like
Dean is in Pronoun.Dean is just an ordinary teenager with
this burden over him. Placey, I feel, made his main character as relatable as
possible for his target audience; teenagers, especially those confused about
their own identity/sexuality. Not only is Dean identifying as a guy, he’s also
identifying as gay/bisexual, regarding his relationship with Josh.However, on the other end of the
spectrum, Pamela Carter showcases the reality of any relationship, just in this
instance, it involves two French poets, of whom have a 10-year age gap.
Considering their relationship was very real, Carter’s take on it was rather
realistic. Reading through the script, I was shocked to find that Verlaine and
Rimbaud were portrayed, essentially, as everyday, normal people, and weren’t
hyped up like phony poets who only speak in the third person; Carter’s choice
of characterization just shows the two as normal guys, of which argued like an
old married couple. I feel this also tackles the stigma surrounding LGBT as the
stereotypes7
are formulaic overviews, opinions, or images based on the sexual orientations
or gender identities of LGBT people. Stereotypical views may be acquired
through interactions with parents, teachers, peers, and mass media8 or,
more generally, through a lack of first-hand familiarity, resulting in an
increased reliance on generalizations.9
These stereotypes are often negative, and are associated with homophobia,
lesbophobia, biphobia and/or transphobia, and this can lead to be very violent.Regarding Slope, the portrayal of homosexuality within it is something I’ve
always considered to be dramatic, yet for the most part, normal. It is a
play, it will be dramatic. In some parts, like when Verlaine shoots Rimbaud,
that is rather extreme, but at the end of the day, both men are just loved up
and are trying to make something out of nothing. Pamela Carter clearly shows
that their relationship isn’t healthy, and that they’re just using each other
merely to meet their own desires and needs. And I feel she and Laing have made
these directorial decisions to make an impact on an audience; to shock them,
and to show that even the most creative people, like poets, regardless of
gender, can have their dark days.Regarding violence, both plays –
though relatively naturalistic in their own right – do showcase elements of
Antonin Artaud, and his Theatre of
Cruelty idea. For example, within Pronoun,
Josh and Dean have an argument over their future plans, and Josh expresses the
fact that he feels Dean should just “be a girl”, and that his transition is a
waste of money and effort. Dean’s reaction to this is to grab a pair of
scissors, and to threaten to cut off his breasts, which he has concealed behind
a binder. They also have another argument post-break-up, where Josh confronts
Dean about him being with another boy (named Bartholomew), and ends up giving
him a black eye. Both scenes are heart-wrenching as the emotions and confusion
Dean is experiencing are vividly shown on stage, and I found myself looking
away just to avoid the visual discomfort. I understand Placey wanted to trigger
an emotional response from his audience, but unlike myself, within a theatre,
you just have to sit there and endure the scene in front of you, and in a way,
it makes you wake up and realise the harsh reality of the life of a trans
person.Artaud’s theory can be seen as a break
with out-dated Western theatre, and a means in which actors assault the senses and
emotions of the audience and make them feel the unspoken feelings of the
subconscious. While Artaud was only able to make one play in his lifetime that
imitated the views of this theory, the works of many theatre artists reflect
his theories.10
He points to both “theatre” and “cruelty” that are separate from their idiomatic
meanings. For him, theatre does not merely refer to a staged performance before
submissive spectators, but that theatre is a practice, which “wakes us up, nerves and heart,” and
through which we experience, “immediate
violent action,” that “inspires us
with the fiery magnetism of its images and acts upon us like spiritual
therapeutics whose touch can never be forgotten.”11 Pronoun is without a doubt a
romantic-comedy, but the harshness surrounding it regarding the violence and
threats Dean experiences, and the negative stigma surrounding LGBT.  Slope
is a fictional retelling of the relationship once shared between Rimbaud and
Verlaine. Unlike Rimbaud, Verlaine was an alcoholic, a “dilettante homosexual”,
and a violent man who repeatedly assaulted his pregnant bride, Mathilde, whom
had knowledge of this affair. Both men were bright, hot-blooded and extremely loyal
to the quest for the new, in art and life. Rimbaud was a poet in his
adolescence in search of a supporter, whereas Verlaine was a poet in search of
distraction – not least from his miserable marriage. Verlaine’s brother-in-law described
Rimbaud as “a vile, vicious, disgusting, smutty little schoolboy”,
but Verlaine found him an “exquisite creature”12.
He didn’t seem to mind that Rimbaud rarely washed, and that put he sulphuric
acid his drinks, and how he hacked at his wrists with a penknife and stabbed
him in the thigh. But by then, he was infatuated. Their love is clearly
expressed all throughout Slope, in more
ways than one.Whilst analysing it, I found myself
smiling at the rare moments of genuine content between the two men. Their
characterization is absolutely fantastic, and Carter’s portrayal of fiction within
historical moments really does bring this play to life on the stage. Carter also
challenges and discusses the stereotypes surrounding homosexuality within this
play. For example, whilst in conversation, Arthur and Paul recall how a fellow
acquaintance disregarded gay men as “extra-terrestrial beings,”13
and in a cocky response, Paul replies, “all it takes is a big mirror over Paris
and we can shine messages to Mars.”14Slope
is significantly more violent that Pronoun,
though both explore LGBT in their own right. Slope’s target audience was not teenagers, and it was definitely
those above 18 years of age due to its violent and sexual throwaways. The play
has in-depth detail of sex, violence, and rape, which again highlights how
their relationship was just a fling, and the men were just using each other for
their own satisfaction. Verlaine, being the adult in the relationship, does use
the younger Rimbaud to his advantage, and as he is 17 years old, he cannot
consent or say no. This, for me, does portray Antonin Artaud in the best way
possible, but then again, I feel the portrayal of LGBT within it is not
accurate, unlike Pronoun.In conclusion, with the research I
have discussed about both plays, and Antonin Artaud and his theory, it is
evident that Evan Placey’s Pronoun
portrays LGBT issues more accurately and more realistically than Slope. Pronoun does convey elements of Artaud, but all in all, it is very
relatable for an audience. You can see the emotional/realistic side of what it
is like to be/identify transgender, and this is what the portrayal of LGBT
should be. However, the LGBT portrayal within Slope is next-to-none. It is very harsh, and graphic, and in its
own right, rather discouraging. Evan Placey took a naturalistic approach
regarding his decisions for dialogue and relationships, and the National
Theatre have made it a generally warm play to watch. But, Pamela Carter has
really enforced Artaud’s theory and ideas, and for the most part, I really did
not enjoy reading/seeing it, as it has genuinely disturbed me, but I feel
that’s the response Carter wanted from her audience. LGBT is one issue that
should be taken at face value, and not exemplified with chaos.

1 http://www.breitbart.com/california/2017/08/17/california-bill-1-year-in-jail-for-using-wrong-transgender-pronoun/

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2 Drama
Online. (2015). Pronoun. Available: http://www.dramaonlinelibrary.com/plays/pronoun-iid-158054.
Last accessed 26th Nov 2017

 

3 http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/catherine-mcnamara/being-young-and-trans-pronoun_b_5075890.html

4 Nick
Hern. (2014). slope. Available: https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/slope. Last
accessed 26th Nov 2017.

5 https://www.list.co.uk/article/66080-interview-slope-creators-stewart-laing-and-pamela-carter-discuss-2014-revival/,
last accessed 28th Nov 2017

6 TheLittleBlackwood.
(2015). Pronoun. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIBS8GF7TBs. Last
accessed 10th Dec 2017.

 

7 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_stereotypes

8 Stangor,
Charles (ed.) (2000). Stereotypes and Prejudice: Essential Readings.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Psychology Press

9 McCrady,
Richard; Jean Mccrady (August 1976). “Effect of
direct exposure to foreign target groups on descriptive stereotypes held by
American students”. Social Behavior and Personality. 4 (2):
233

10 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_of_Cruelty

11 Gorelick,
Nathan (2011). “Life in Excess: Insurrection and Expenditure in Antonin
Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty”. Discourse. 33 (2): 263.

12 http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/verlaine-and-rimbaud-poets-from-hell-6109698.html

13 Carter, P. (2014). Scene IV. Slope. UK: Nick Hern Books.
p27.

14 Carter,
P. (2014). Scene IV. Slope. UK: Nick Hern Books. p27.

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