“It’s oral sex, in a very different way,” says director Carolyn Fe of the love scene in her company’s upcoming production of Bent, a love story set in a Nazi concentration camp. “It’s unforgettable.”
Toeing the edge is nothing new for Altera Vitae, the two-year-old theatre company whose other three productions have touched on suicide, state-sanctioned torture and the prison system.
Altera Vitae’s mission is to partner with local organizations whose work is connected to that play’s theme. For Bent, Altera Vitae teamed up with GRIS-Montreal, a group that aims to eliminate ignorance and prejudice by educating high school students about homosexuality.
Xtra.ca sat down with director Carolyn Fe to talk about theatre, pink triangles and homophobic high schoolers.
Xtra.ca: How did you get into directing?
Fe: Okay, the anger might come out. Lack of visible minorities on stage.
As an actress, going out for auditions, I’d get comments like “We love what you have to offer but… you don’t look the part.” Oh, okay. When you read the script, it doesn’t matter what colour the part is. I understand that directors have to be true to what the playwright wrote, but let’s have some creative licence. The message will still get through, in my opinion. So I started Altera Vitae.
Xtra.ca: Why did you choose to partner with GRIS-Montreal on Bent?
Fe: There are kids who want to come out and are just afraid. I found that in high schools, homophobia is still strong. I’m seeing a lot more acceptance in society but it’s not 100 per cent yet.
One of my actors, Vance, he was walking around downtown with his boyfriend, holding hands. He said it felt so comfortable, even out of the Village, out of the context. In my days, you didn’t do that. When I was in my teens, people didn’t dare hold hands in the street. People didn’t give kisses, even goodbye kisses. Society in general is a lot more accepting. High school, I find, is still a world of its own.
You hear it, the stupid jokes that kids do. They might not be aware of what they’re saying, but it’s not helping their buddy who is gay or lesbian and who’s dying to come out.
Xtra.ca: What’s your connection to the gay community?
My connection to the gay community is my family. I have eight gay cousins all on a volleyball team. [Laughs.] One volleyball team, all eight of them, and they tour.
It’s that. It’s me having friends who have been bashed. Witnessing it, bringing them to the hospital. The “minority” attitude that is given to the community bothers me. We’re people. So why separate [us]?
Xtra.ca: Bent highlights Paragraph 175 [a German law making homosexuality a criminal offense]. Tell me about it.
Fe: That law was put in place way before Hitler came into power. Gays were already ostracized in Germany. They were already imprisoned. So being closeted was the way of life at the time. As Hitler gained power, he kept reinforcing it. Even before the Jews were put into camps, the gays, the gypsies, artists were in camps. The treatment was a lot worse, specifically to the pink triangles. They were the lowest of the lows. In the camps there was actually a ranking of who was the lowest. Nobody would touch them, eat with them. If you touched a pink triangle, you would be shot.
A lot of the young folks today don’t know where the pink triangle comes from. They know about the rainbow, that’s the more modern version of the flag, let’s say. They wear it and they think it’s a fashion statement.
Xtra.ca: What do you hope people take away from the play?
Fe: For me, this play goes beyond the pink triangle. It goes all the way to accepting and believing in oneself regardless of how difficult the environment or the times may be.
It would be good if people come to the theatre, in general, not only as a form of entertainment, but as a form of social awareness. There are theatre pieces where you know it’s entertaining. You go there to have fun or to get scared. But there’s also to go to the theatre open-minded and see the messages behind it. I’d like to hear people come out of the show saying, “You know what? It was funny or it was sad but I liked why” and they start discussing. I want to get people talking.
Bent plays at Espace 4001 (formerly Geordie Space) from Nov 5-15. See Alteravitae.com for details.