It’s an exciting time to be a queer history nerd.
Not only are books on the subject practically growing on trees, but we’re delving into lesser-known areas too. It’s not all Oscar Wilde and Stonewall — It’s that 17th-century Spanish nun-turned-lesbian pirate; It’s the real extent of homosexuality in the Nazi movement; It’s what the slang term “trapeze artist” meant to American lesbians in the 1930s.
And for Ottawa playwrights Sarah Waisvisz, Lawrence Aronovitch and Margo MacDonald — who, together, make up the 321 Writing Collective — it’s not just a field of study, but a playground. It’s something to be not only reconstructed, but at times re-imagined.
Suddenly you have the story behind this or that event. Or the meetings and conversations that never took place, but maybe could have. Or should have. And now that they have — at least up there, on the stage — what do we learn from them and about ourselves? Is there insight to be gained? Are there laughs to be had?
At the upcoming Just Mingling: A Queer Theatrical Salon, each of the three playwrights will present a new short play they’ve written based on lesser-known historical gay or lesbian artists, or lesser-known details in the lives of better-known figures. And at times with some re-imagining or wishful thinking thrown into the mix. Each play is set between the 1920s and 1960s.
All three plays are directed by Amy Stratton, who MacDonald describes as a “young, up-and-coming lesbian director” from the United Kingdom. The actors are MacDonald, Waisvisz and Scott Garland and Matt Pilipiak
Waisvisz’s Heartlines is about two lesbian artists and their work with the French resistance during World War Two. Aronovitch’s The Auden Test has WH Auden giving a lecture on the day he finds out about the suicide of his friend Alan Turing. And MacDonald’s comedy, Rap Once for Yes, has Noël Coward poking his nose in while Radclyffe Hall holds a seance in an effort to contact a former lover.
The event itself is a bit of a playground too. It’s less an austere night at the theatre, than a salon or cabaret. In keeping with the theme of the plays, MacDonald encourages folks to wear “fabulous vintage outfits.” The night begins with drinks, mingling and a silent auction. Then, with drag king Titus Androgynous assuming his role as host, the plays get underway. Musical guests will play era-appropriate numbers in between each performance.
“It’s meant to have a bit of the feel of those old salons that we’ve heard about from the past,” MacDonald says. “Where you dress up in something fabulous, you go to somebody’s hall or whatever, you have some drinks, meet some interesting people, somebody presents their work and you talk about it afterward.”
Each play is a work in progress that the playwrights may decide to leave as is or expand, in part based on audience feedback. Attendees are encouraged to give their feedback when mingling with the director, the actors and playwrights in the very informal post-show period. “There’s nothing formal about it, other than maybe some people’s outfits,” she says.