Being Aware Part II
In “normal” musical theatre there is a leading man and woman who eventually find love with one another. It’s not surprising, or even profound. It’s just how it’s been, forever. Straight characters are main characters. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of other pieces that feature queer relationships (anything non-heterosexual) for lead characters, but those pieces generally come with labels. Any piece that features a queer cast of characters is considered a “gay musical” by audiences: Rent, La Cage aux Folles, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Kinky Boots, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Fun Home…the list goes on. These shows, while from a queer perspective, have difficulty transcending heteronormative labeling. They are “gay musicals.”
In a world absent of the heteronormative, labels would mean nothing.
There’s something about looking at gender, sexuality and relationships outside of the binary we’ve been programmed to embrace that makes theatrical romance a whole new kind of magic.
There isn’t a popular show I can think of that does not have a straight romance at the fore that isn’t a “gay musical.” Musicals that contain a queer-central story have an important place in modern musical theatre, but why can’t any audience, queer or heterosexual, see themselves in and relate to the characters without feeling as though they are the “other”? Can we begin to train today’s theatre audience to partake in a show because of the story, and not the superficial aspects that are marketed through stereotyped advertising? By putting shows in neat little organized groups, they automatically become exclusionary, which is not what some art wants to be. So many works are written with the understanding that there is the “other.” A “traditional” relationship is traditional because queer relationships exist and vice versa. Let all of these different types of relationships and people coexist in our little utopian worlds we create for them, because the world we live in doesn’t allow for it. Audiences who are open to the characters and relationships we show them can carry that openness to the world.
I am by no means saying we should avoid addressing the real issues queer people today are having to deal with, but so many people who aren’t trying to “make a statement” simply avoid writing these characters and relationships in the first place. The way of thinking is that if you aren’t writing a “gay musical,” there’s no reason to write a gay character; if you aren’t writing a piece about race, there’s no reason to have people of color in your world; and if you aren’t writing a piece about women’s rights, there’s no reason to write a strong female lead. This just leaves us with straight white men who find straight white women with gay white best friends populating “normal” theatre.
I argue that any cast of characters, with any people you choose to build it on, is worth exploring outside of the binary understanding of gender identity, and the basic white majority. The more we write outside of what is comfortable or traditional to us as writers, the more we allow audiences to explore their discomfort, and question their place in the more complex world of human nature that exists outside of your typical Broadway fare.