Imagine you were tasked with creating a play on the expansive theme of “gay heritage.” Now imagine you had to do it in 25 minutes. What would you include? What would you leave out?
For Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn and Andrew Kushnir (the team behind The Gay Heritage Project), the process began with asking whether such a thing even exists.
“Wrestling with the idea of heritage, as opposed to history, meant drawing a connection from past events to the present and into the future,” Atkins says. “Gay history is often undocumented, so any kind of linear path was sort of impossible. We’re not attempting a comprehensive overview of the subject. Instead, we’re starting the process of remembering.”
The challenges of researching the subject, and contemporary gays’ ignorance of their own past, form the core of work. While playing the gay son of a Nazi refugee in Hannah Moscovitch’s East of Berlin three years ago, Dunn began researching the Third Reich’s persecution of gays. More upsetting than the atrocities perpetrated during the Second World War was his realization that he had no knowledge of this history, a problem he recognized as common within the larger gay community.
Atkins and Kushnir were immediately interested when he approached them with the idea to build a show based on this quandary. While international events are key, Toronto’s own gay history plays a pivotal role. The 1981 bathhouse raids, the founding of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, and the particular effect the AIDS crisis had here, all play in. Despite the material’s weight, the work is neither dour history lesson nor monotonous lecture.
“We wanted to make sure this subject matter, which is big, overwhelming and maybe even a bit dry at certain points, translated into something fun,” Atkins says. “What we’ve produced is certainly informative, but it’s also very funny. We wanted to create something that fills the space between education and entertainment.”
Though the work is still in the development phase (Rhubarb marks the first official showing) the group is keen on expanding the project. Rather than simply unpacking gay history, the goal is to explore how it tracks into the future.
“We’re all in our 30s now, and we’re realizing a lot of young people have no connection to these histories,” Atkins says. “Most younger gays don’t know anyone who died of AIDS. They don’t know about the bathhouse raids or the origin of the pink triangle. We hope this piece is a step towards unearthing and preserving these lineages.”
The Gay Heritage Project
Sat, Feb 18 at 9:30pm and Sun, Feb 19 at 2:30pm
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
12 Alexander St