Saturday, 2 February 2019

REVIEW: The Butch Monologues by Laura Bridgeman

The Butch Monologues

Representation matters.

In the discourse surrounding representation on stage and screen, whether we are talking about gender, race or disability, the argument always seems to be that the path to equality will be difficult or impossible. That years of cis white male supremacy will be difficult to overcome. And that’s probably true, but I look at something like The Butch Monologues, as a kind of grass roots campaign for representation that isn’t difficult or impossible. It exists and it is brilliant.

Playwright Laura Bridgeman has spent years talking with butches, transmen and gender rebels across the UK, the United States and the Caribbean – and now she has collected those stories into a series of monologues that explore gender and sexuality for self-described “butches”.

The monologues are all brief, allowing for dozens of them to paint a portrait of the butch experience across the world. Performed at Theatre Works as part of Midsumma, five readers tackle the wry, amusing, shocking, and sometimes very simple tales of people who society can be suspicious of because they do not fit into an expected gender norm.

There are stories about being ashamed to wear the kind of boots that might out someone as butch or queer, stories of sex and domination and submission, stories of leaving small towns to find their place in the big city – where they felt more comfortable, finding a community that would embrace them. Many of the stories touch on a universal queer experience of feeling like an outsider, but also bring along a more complicated kind of gender baggage that cis femme queer women don’t experience. And that feels so radical.

The extraordinary kaleidoscope of experience on stage, presented by readers who aren’t necessarily performers, made the whole show feel warm, inviting and without artifice or pretence. These people weren’t telling their own stories explicitly, but they were presenting their experience to the world in bodies and gender types we are not used to seeing on stage.

Representation matters because people who do not have these experiences should hear them, but it also matters for an audience who has never seen themselves on stage. More than one of the monologues touched on an obsession with musical theatre, which is so often the identifier of a femme gay man. I know that musical fandom knows no boundaries, not really, but I also know that particular genre almost never has a space on stage for butch women.

The Butch Monologues was a place for butches and transmen and gender rebels to see themselves on stage – and given the make-up of the audience at Theatre Works last night, this particular audience turned out in droves. This is a very special show that has traveled the world and I am so thrilled that Midsumma and Theatre Works helped to bring it to Melbourne.

Making theatre is never easy. Making this show must have been hard at times. The research is expansive, impressive. But it’s also five people on stage, under a comforting light, telling small intimate stories. Theatre does not need to be big and complicated to be important and to have impact. More of these kinds of nights, please. Tell me stories of people I do not know or have never heard from.

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