What the fuck is happening in Russia? It’s a question any decent human being has been asking recently. As the international community gets ready to celebrate the Sochi Olympics (in a country where lesbian punk bands get jailed, mentioning Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality could get you arrested, and gaybashing is state-sanctioned), people from around the world are speaking out against Russia’s legislated homophobia.
Enter The Wrecking Ball. It’s hard to hear that phrase right now without picturing Miley fellating a sledgehammer, but the Canadian political-theatre event was founded in 2003, so it has first dibs. Playwrights have one week to write their ripped-from-the-headlines pieces, and the directors and cast have one week to rehearse. Wrecking Ball #15 is subtitled For Russia With (Gay) Love and features new work by Ronnie Burkett, Daniel MacIvor, George F Walker and Catherine Hernandez, who spoke with Xtra about Russia, racism and her piece, The Femme Playlist.
Xtra: What can you tell us about The Femme Playlist?
Catherine Hernandez: It’s a one-woman show about what it's like to be a proud queer femme woman of colour. This comedic excerpt is from my daughter's imagined point of view as "queer spawn," delivered as a speech to the Catholic Women's League Speech Competition Judges.
Let’s talk Russia. A lot of the dialogue in the West has focused on boycotts — the Olympics, Stoli vodka, Coca-Cola. Do you think boycotts are useful as political protest?
I believe that boycotting is the easiest way to show solidarity with a particular cause. It's fast, your friends follow your example quickly, and it can make one feel like they are involved and active. But I believe in engaging in difficult conversations rather than simply walking away from things that cause pain and discomfort. It is hard. It demands a certain amount of energy not all of us have, but damn, it is important.
While it’s inspiring to see people speak out against Russia, there are a lot of other countries with terrible LGBT-related human rights problems. Why has what’s happening in Russia ignited such a passionate outcry?
History is written by the victor. The story of “what matters” internationally is written by those who have the privilege to write that story. It also takes an international community whose racism filters out stories of black, people of colour and indigenous communities who have been suffering the same atrocities for years. Who do you think the world will care about? Images of the brutalities in Uganda while activists wage war against its anti-gay bill or images of white activists in Russia? When I perform at The Wrecking Ball, I will be standing by queers around the world, not just Russia.
What do you hope audience members leave The Wrecking Ball thinking about?
How can I be an ally to all of my queer spectrum friends? How have I been passive? How can I actively deconstruct my notions of gender? How does my own racism and privilege make me active or inactive when it comes to LGBTQ issues and the theatre projects I support?