Queer Playwriting as Mindful Performance

Below is the transcript of my presentation from the roundtable I participated in at Q2Q: A Symposium on Queer Theatre & Performance in Canada, which took place July 22, 2016, and hosted by the frank theatre company and SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts. The subject of the roundtable was playwriting.

The video of the roundtable can be found here.12342405_1186370434726469_1149545932065161981_n.

First, let’s establish the matrix from which my idea of queer playwriting as mindful performance emerges.

The matrix being:

  1. I’m brown.
  2. I’m queer.

***

  1. I’m brown.

So, I was born here, on Coast Salish Territories, to Filipino settler/immigrant parents.

I was raised with very little connection to my Filipino heritage.

Assimilation was taken for granted as a must and need.

So what I ended up doing was imbibing the culture of the colonizer wholeheartedly and without question.

And I don’t mean just passively taking in British or American or Western popular culture.

In my case it was an active searching for, seeking out and drinking in of what I perceived as the highest forms of the colonizer’s culture.

So for me, my religion was not Roman Catholicism – that most obdurate and colossal remnant of Philippine colonization.

It was art. High art. And I went at it with the ferocity of a newly converted Christian.

I felt immersion in high art was necessary to elevate myself.

It took a while for it to land with me that this high art was borne of a culture that my people had virtually no part in building or creating.

This high art was borne of people who had denigrated, hurt and killed mine.

And yet this high art quite literally saved me.

It has defined me and continues to define me and is the #1 reason I get up in the morning.

It is something I love and honour and am inspired by and yet is the product of undeniable macro-aggression.

(For the longest time I took pride in my relatively secular upbringing, thinking it an act of resistance against European Christianity. In reality, I had simply replaced Catholicism with Western high culture.)

So this is the reality I am constantly negotiating every day as a practitioner.

I am largely Eurocentric and Euro-trained in my methodologies, and I cannot divorce this from the fact that this is the product of a system that is the most oppressive the world has ever seen.

And so I am always in two places at once: in both a place of adoration, and one of justified and righteous anger.

***

  1. I’m queer.

Growing up a queer kid, suffused in heteronormativity, I was never allowed to be made aware of my own body.

My physical urges and impulses were always suppressed, stunted, ignored.

So that forced me to live in the only safe space available to me: my head.

So not being aware of my own body for the longest time has made me hyper-aware of my body now.

And I cannot ignore it when I write.

***

So how does this all tie in with queer playwriting as mindful performance?

It means writing both inside the language – in my case, English, the language of the colonizer – and outside of it. Simultaneously. All of the time.

It means allowing myself to privilege language in my plays while also being mindful that this privileging of language is itself Eurocentric.

It means being both unfailingly rigorous in the craft of writing English and aware of its arbitrariness.

It means being both in love with the language and fiercely critical of it.

It means writing the initial drafts of all my creative work by hand, because only by writing by hand and moving around a lot as I write can I feel truly connected to my body.

So it really is about hyper-awareness. Being as aware as I can possibly be.

Being aware of contradiction & multiplicity & ambivalence & ambiguity.

Quite simply, queerness = hyperawareness.

Queerness is seeing power and deconstructing it.

Queerness is seeing how seemingly unconnected things are connected.

Queerness is seeing how sexuality cannot be divorced from issues of race or gender or economics or privilege. It is all one indissoluble cluster.

Queerness is being both inside something and outside of it. Simultaneously. All the time.

My Indigenous Filipino ancestry is tinged with European ancestry.

I am a settler on unceded Coast Salish Territories. No where else do I feel truly at home, but in no way is this my home.

Professionally, I do a lot of work in the centre, Toronto, but I am based here, in Vancouver, on the margins.

And even if hypothetically I do end up in the centre – Toronto – I am a West Coast artist through and through.

My work will always be informed by the fact that I come from the geographical margins of this country.

And that opens up the question of, do I remain proudly off-centre or do I redefine the centre?

So to sum up – being a queer playwright is a hyper-aware high-wire act that takes nothing for granted – an endless performance that constantly negotiates between conflicting truths, identities, marginalities, loyalties, communities; and it’s about embracing these tensions, even when it’s fucking difficult, because it’s the truth.

 

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