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How Can We 'Queer' Musical Theatre?

Tori Taylor argues musical theatre is a "gay" space, but not a "queer" one.


Musical theatre is often lauded as a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community, where anyone is welcomed and accepted. Generally speaking, it is. Yet, after attending a talk at King's Arts Festival with Allie Daniel and Claudia Kariuku, I began to question whether it really was. There is little space for intersectionality and it begs the question: does musical theatre celebrate all parts of this community, or just tolerate them?


Unfortunately, the sad truth is that it doesn’t. In terms of LGBTQ+ representation in characters, casts, and community, musical theatre focuses mostly on gay, white cisgender men and drag queens. Theatre profits off and hinges on the parts of queerness that are palatable to society, and inadvertently closets those who defy these boundaries, confining them to the 'other.' Currently, only some parts of the queer community are acceptable and appealing to the wider audience. A musical has to sell, and only some people’s stories do. This statement may feel shocking, jarring even, but think about it: how many musicals tell the stories of lesbians, non-binary and transgender people, and people of colour who are also queer? Even more worryingly, where is the intersectionality within casting? Musical theatre is a gay space, but not a queer one.


As much as theatre is a welcoming space in most cases, there is an innate cruelty to it. It's a ‘diva’ world with an inherent pressure to fit the binary, whether that be in race, disability, class, religion or, in this case, queerness. In 2023, it’s hard to believe that what seems like such a supportive industry on the surface is so specific in who it sees as worth celebrating, with no space for intersectionality. So, how can we encourage theatre to make space for it?


Representation - The easiest way to open theatre up is to strive for better representation. Cast queer people in queer roles - and cast them in non-queer roles too! Let’s tell queer stories and open up centre stage to all LGBTQ+ voices, not just those that will entertain the masses but those that will educate them too.


Support - There are already fantastic queer stories being told, and plenty of queer actors performing in theatre across London. Support them. Buy a ticket and watch. Companies will see that queer stories are pulling in audiences, but we must make that change. Actively choose to show that queer stories are important ones too; show that you support queer performers and continue to promote their success. If you can’t afford theatre tickets (the cost of living crisis is hitting hard), follow queer actors on instagram, talk to people about them, and show your support however you can. It matters.


Voice- Use it. Everyone’s opinion matters, so tell your friends about queer theatre! Share it on your social media. Use your voice to uplift others in rehearsal rooms and audiences. Defend queer people, uplift queer people, and celebrate queer people. Ask questions, share your thoughts, start conversations, anything. Importantly, don’t be afraid to be loud.


Space- Take up space and make space for others to share what they have created. Be unapologetic. There’s space for all of us in musical theatre, so take it and exist proudly. Sooner or later, the space won’t feel so tight, so watched, or so limited. As we continue to do this, time will open up the space, and the theatre world will begin to acknowledge and accept it. Soon, the queer space in theatre will just be, and will keep getting bigger, bolder and braver, as we will too.


With thanks to King’s Arts Festival, Allie Daniel and Claudia Kariuki

 

Edited by Georgia Gibson, Theatre Editor.

Cover Image by Gaia Locatelli.

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