“What binds us together as a community is our history,” Cameron Mackenzie says vehemently as he paces back and forth in his Main St home. “What binds us is the struggles we’ve faced, continue to face, and will likely face in the future.”
“We think we have our rights secured —that was all done in the ’70s and ’80s and it’s over. But it really isn’t,” he says. “Those sorts of things aren’t things that you do once.”
Mackenzie’s exasperation is tangible. The 27-year-old director’s concerns for the gay community —our often indifferent youth, our growing complacency —seem to sharpen as the political climate of the country plummets.
Part of the problem, part of the complacency and disconnectedness, he says, is our lack of lineage —a queer inheritance of which we are often robbed.
“My partner talks about the idea of gay grandparents and the gay bloodline. We don’t have gay grandparents in our lives. We don’t have this lineage that binds us to the past. As a result, we’re an orphaned community, and it’s for this exact reason that we need to establish dialogue —not even dialogue, more than dialogue: actual relationships, across generations.”
Mackenzie hopes to help establish that dialogue —and help inspire our “orphaned” community to pursue its history and connect to the people behind it —with Whale Riding Weather, a haunting play by Bryden MacDonald, which he will direct and produce this February.
Slated for a 12-show run, the play focuses on Lyle, the central character who will be played by multiple-Jessie Award-winning actor Allan Morgan.
“Lyle has lost his world around him,” says Mackenzie. “He never leaves the house. He drinks all day. He has lost touch with reality.”
Lyle’s barren relationship with the young Auto, a listless runaway he has taken in, is a suffocating arrangement —even as a third character, Jude, attempts to liberate the reluctant Auto.
“Lyle supposedly saved Auto from the streets,” says Mackenzie, even as he argues that “nobody has the wisdom to save anybody else.”
Mackenzie imagines Lyle’s childhood as one “made up of wounded, stunted individuals clinging to one another for support,” and compares it to his own South African upbringing: “A world where to be gay was still a terrible thing that left you segregated and sentenced to a life of existing only in the sphere of ‘gay.'”
As a child, his understanding of himself as an outsider —exacerbated by his family’s insistence that, despite being raised in South Africa, he was Scottish —was only heightened by the emphasis his peers at his all-boys school placed on strength and athleticism. “I always sucked at sports,” he says, his South African accent suddenly growing sharp, his enunciation pristine.
Mackenzie began studying acting at Studio 58, an acting conservatory at Langara College, in 2002. Before he finished the program, however, he realised his ambitions were unclear and decided to move to Australia as a challenge to see if he “could do anything else. But I decided to come back and finish things at Studio because I like finishing things, I don’t like leaving them unattended. I also realized that I’m not good at anything else.”
Mackenzie began reading Whale Riding Weather during Vancouver’s 2003 Queer Film Festival. While waiting for a film to begin, he finished the play and felt “my insides drop. What struck me the most was that I had lived the story.
“I fell in love with a young director. I had never before experienced such an attraction. I physically felt the pull of his body with mine.
“He moved to Calgary for the summer. And I decided I would follow him and move there to be with him. We existed in a honeymoon fairytale state. Then I met his Lyle. His high school drama teacher —his mentor, guide, possessor. He was fashioning my lover in his image. Every play my lover had directed his Lyle had once directed and instructed him to direct.
“Although this Lyle had invited me to dinner, he did not once look me in the eye. With his feet up on my lover’s lap, he took out a cigarette and called for ‘fire’. My lover responded by taking out his lighter and lighting his Lyle’s cigarette. The next time I saw my lover he said we weren’t going to be together anymore. There was only room in his life for one man.”
Whale Riding Weather “describes a slice of gay life that many of us have either encountered or know about,” says local arts patron George Stephenson.
“It portrays something which most gay men eventually meet,” he explains. “What happens as a result of a relationship changing and how that matters and what it does to both the older gay man and his younger lover.”
Aging in the gay community “has a particular set of difficulties for gay men because there is so much emphasis around us on youth, beauty, vitality, future,” Stephenson adds.
Mackenzie agrees. “This play speaks to North Americans’ obsession with youth and beauty and their fear of aging and disregard for the elderly,” he says. “That’s very prevalent in the gay community and in North American culture —this adoration of the young.”
Mackenzie feels that if gay people growing up could just have what he describes as a “gay childhood” —infused with some measure of and reflection of same-sex love, lust and interactions —we would be “less inclined to be obsessed with youth.”
Getting the chance to experience gay childhoods would enable us “to honour the stage of life that we’re in as we’re in it,” he says.
“Because if you’re encouraged as a child to be a child, and to explore your sexuality, and explore yourself in that stage, then that sort of leads you to always be exploring who you are in the moment without trying to block and distance yourself. And without ever trying to look to the future for salvation.”
It’s no coincidence that Mackenzie chose to stage his production at Coal Harbour’s Performing Arts Lodge Theatre. “PAL is a Lodge for retired actors and artists,” he explains. “It’s affordable housing for them, essentially —a perfect example of a small, marginalised community that’s very much had to take care of itself. This is a theme that runs through the play as well: what happens when a young man recognises and honours this older gay man.”
He has also secured a community partnership with The Centre and will be doing post-show presentations with members of its Generations Project and GAB Youth groups to foster dialogue and bring together older and younger gay men and lesbians.
Mackenzie emphasizes the link between the gay childhood and the gay lineage —that all-important heritage of queers from every generation.
“I think, if we have our gay grandparents, we will know more about where we come from,” he says. “We’ll know what we need to do to continue the fight. We’ll be able to look forward to a future filled with, hopefully, influential gay grandchildren. And, in this day and age, [biological] grandchildren.
“We are not limited by our queerness,” he concludes thoughtfully. “We are freed from limitations by it.”