Theatre and Queerness at St. Olaf

By Leilah Kidess

Theatre has always been a place for people to explore different controversial topics. It is often a judgment free place in which audiences are able to form their own ideas about issues based on what they see on stage. In the past, theatre has been used to discuss issues such as wars, poverty, racism, and LGBT+ rights. The theatre community in general is often a place where minorities and those discriminated against can feel welcome. This has included the LGBT+ community and continues to do so.

The inclusivity and ability to talk about issues for the LGBT+ community is true of the theatre department at St. Olaf this year. As a member of the LGBT+ community, I have always felt welcome in our theatre department. There are many other members of the LGBT+ community in the theatre department and the professors of the department go out of their way to be welcoming and respectful to everyone. Many of the theatre productions this year had some queer ideas present and students in the department have also been exploring ideas in the LGBT+ community.

In the fall production of the comedy Love of Three Oranges, written by Carlo Gozzi and directed by Jeanne Willcoxon and Irve Dell, many of the characters were intentionally gender-bent. This created a very queer feel to the show. The prince in the show was played by Shannon Cron. This created an interesting dynamic, especially when the prince married a girl at the end of the show and the prince took of his hat. There was a bow in Shannon’s hair. This little touch created a subtle yet powerful statement about LGBT+ rights and the complexity and fluidity of gender and sexuality. Denzel Belin and Joey LeBrun both dressed in drag for the show. Denzel played a princess while Joey played a witch. They both wore heels and wigs to enhance their characters. Seton FitzMacken also played a man who assisted the villains of the show and wore a baseball cap. Along with the gender-bending, the king’s assistant, played by Nathan Aastuen, and the king, played by Memo Rodriguez had some implied onstage romance. The assistant comically portrayed his crush on the king and they shared some comical romantic moments. All in all, this show challenged the norms of gender and sexuality in a very palatable manner.

In the interim production of Cymbeline, written by William Shakespeare and directed by Gary Gisselman and Jon Ferguson, there was a lot of intentional gender-bending. Lily Bane played Polydore, a son to Belarius and was a hunter that lived in a cave. The character was fairly masculine and engaged in sword fights and even chopped off the prince’s head. Megan Behnke played Belarius, the father of Polydore and a hunter as well. Seton FitzMacken played Doctor Cornelius, a comical doctor that knew all the events of the play. Christine Menge played Caius Lucius, a Roman general that battled the Britains and King Cymbeline. Victoria Green played a French gentleman, a British lord, and a Roman attendant to Caius Lucius.

In the student-directed one-acts this spring, The Twilight of the Golds, written by Jonathan Tolins and directed by Olivia Mansfield, dealt with issues of abortion and homosexuality. The play follows the journey of a family comprised of a mother, father, gay son, daughter, and her husband. The play takes place at a time when prenatal screening has just gotten to the point where physicians can detect almost everything about the fetus with almost-complete certainty, including the fetus’ sexuality. The daughter of the family discovers that she is pregnant and learns that her baby will be gay, like her brother. The daughter and her husband must then decide whether or not to abort their child. The son finds out what his sister is planning and confronts his parents about it and asks them whether or not they would have aborted him if they knew and then confronts his sister. This show was very powerful and confronted many controversial issues without explicitly telling the audience what they should feel. I think that this show very effectively portrayed the subject matter and introduced issues for the LGBT+ community in a very accurate and captivating manner.

For his theatre senior capstone project, Joey LeBrun decided to look at gender as performance. To do this, Joey dressed up in drag for a full week and documented his experience. He called his project “Born Naked” and was looking to start a dialogue of gender as performance on the St. Olaf campus. He went about his daily life dressed as a drag queen and had different costumes each day. He got his inspiration from a RuPaul quote which says: “We’re all born naked, and the rest is drag!”