I auditioned for the Sydney University 2014 Queer Revue, Nightmare Before Mardi Gras, on a whim. Four months later I was standing backstage with a cast I had grown to love, sick with excitement, moments from stepping on stage.
From the aptly named ‘Camp Camp’ to the after party of feels-heavy speeches, my experience as a cast member of Queer Revue is one I’ll never forget. We don’t get anything material out of the revue – we’re not getting paid, it’s not necessarily the most prestigious thing to put on your CV – we do it for us. To meet great people and be creative and sometimes to make ourselves laugh so much we can’t breathe. To come into university on a bright Sunday morning, dance to “Singing in the Rain” and get showered in condoms.
Despite all the long days, the very average lunches, and the shitty funding/rehearsal space/treatment we received as a cultural revue, it was so, so worth it. The moment we exited the theatre after a successful opening night performance, cheered on by our family and friends, was when I realised the potential of cultural reviews. For all the love of faculty revues, there’s nothing like a performance supported and empowered by a community of individuals united by who we
are rather than what we study.
A queer person will likely be welcomed in the cast or crew of most faculty revues – sometimes the script may even stray from the dominant format of heteronormativity and embrace queer relationships as a central, respected part of a skit. So why bother with a Queer Revue? Why spend months of work on a tight budget with no faculty support? For me, the answer is because queer-focused, queer-run entertainment is rare. Public celebration of the queer community is still an integral part of our movement towards equality. We are still told by some of our politicians, parts of society, even our loved ones: “It’s fine if you’re queer – just not in public”.
Faculty revues might welcome queer cast members, but in the script and onstage our identities disappear. Heterosexuality is assumed, binary sex/gender is assumed. Most of my parts in Queer Revue would have traditionally been given to a cis male, but “fuck the binary!” we cried, and awesome roles I was given.
Of the three revues I witnessed this season, only one explored a queer love story, and none attempted to deal with queer issues. We dealt with parental homophobia, we mocked the cliché gay narrative, our opening number critiqued queer culture and our closing number celebrated it. Would these skits make it into a non-queer revue? Would audiences be comfortable with them, knowing that the performers are most likely straight cis people mixing queerness with comedy?
Audiences of Nightmare Before Mardi Gras could assume the cast and crew likely had lived experience of the themes being discussed, as in a show like ours queerness is assumed. Our stories and our voices are at the forefront, not in the background. My experience with Queer Revue was hilarious, exhausting, overwhelming, supportive, creative, loving and ultimately political.
Image: Jennifer Yiu.