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Queer Performance


Queer performance is an important and effective mode of intentionally presenting an identity or perspective.

Performative vs. Performance

When it comes to the topic of identity there has been a line drawn in the theoretical sand between performativity and performance. The main distinction being between conscious intent (performance) and subconscious reaction (performative).

Performative = the manner in which you are perceived as fitting with or not conforming to the societal norm

There is a leading school of thought in queer studies and social science that gender is performative. In this video Your Behavior Creates Your Gender Judith Butler, Maxine Elliott Professor in Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at University of California, Berkeley, gives a concise explanation.

But I would like to go a step further and speak to performance as an art and mode of communication.

Performance = the active and intentional representation of a character, experience, or idea

The goal of performance is to share experiences, thoughts, and feelings. A successful performance is one that opens up the minds and hearts of the audience members. So, for the purposes of this site I am defining “queer performance” as intentional performance by or for anyone who identifies as queer. You may think that is an obvious definition, or you may not agree with my definition; either way that’s great!

There was one big question that came up for me during the course of this project. It is a question which I would like to put to you. What classifies a queer performance as authentic and meaningful? (Is it the authenticity of the intent or the impact that matters? In order to qualify as queer performance who or what needs to be queer: creators, production team, performers, text, and/or audience?)

But regardless of your, or my, answers to these questions, the importance of performance remains. In the context of a performance, an “if” may be posited, and the audience will follow right along with the performer(s) to the “then.” Disbelief is suspended, and possibilities are accepted without the blink of an eye. An audience walks into a performance with the intention of having a positive experience; they are receptive to the substance of the performance, at least until it ends.

Ranging Queer Performance

Staged queer performance can span a wide range of performance modes, for example: music, spoken (or signed) word, musical theatre, film, dance, etc… My particular expertise is in theatre, so that is what I will focus on here. Below are three short video examples: Kinky Boots (a Broadway musical), The Laramie Project (a stage show based on interviews), and Human Sexuality is Complicated (a video blog post).

Kinky Boots (a Broadway musical)

In Kinky Boots “Charlie Price (Tony nominee STARK SANDS) has suddenly inherited his father’s shoe factory, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. Trying to live up to his father’s legacy and save his family business, Charlie finds inspiration in the form of Lola (Tony winner BILLY PORTER). A fabulous entertainer in need of some sturdy stilettos, Lola turns out to be the one person who can help Charlie become the man he’s meant to be. As they work to turn the factory around, this unlikely pair finds that they have more in common than they ever dreamed possible… and discovers that when you change your mind about someone, you can change your whole world.”

There is also a 2005 film based on the same story, if you want to check it out.

The Laramie Project (a stage show based on interviews)

“In October 1998 Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, severely beaten and left to die, tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. Five weeks later, Moisés Kaufman and fellow members of the Tectonic Theater Project went to Laramie, and over the course of the next year, conducted more than 200 interviews with people of the town. From these interviews they wrote the play The Laramie Project, a chronicle of the life of the town of Laramie in the year after the murder. THE LARAMIE PROJECT is one of the most performed plays in America today.”

Newark Memorial High School’s production of The Laramie Project is an excellent example of theatre as both statement of identity, and consumption of identity. (When I say consumption of identity, what I mean is watching, internalizing, and reaction to the performance of identity.) When one of their own, Gwen Araujo, was killed in a hate crime targeting her transgender identity, students mounted their own production as a means of both raising money for Gwen’s family, and as an act of social discourse. They wanted their community to look into the theatrical mirror and recognize the systemic poison that fueled this atrocity and their need for drastic change. From those that consumed their action of performance came two diametrically opposed results. From the Westboro Baptist Church came vicious hate and threats. From many of the citizens of Newark came support and protection.

There are several excerpts and full length performances of this play available to view online.

Human Sexuality is Complicated (a video blog post)

A great example of someone who does not identify as queer giving a queer performance is Hank of the vlogbrothers‘  post, Human Sexuality is Complicated, regarding sex,gender, orientation, and behavior.

These are some examples of Queer Performance. There are countless other examples of Queer Performance in existence, I hope you have fun experiencing more.

Resources on Queer Performance

Want to create your own queer performance?

Johnny Saldana’s book Ethnotheatre: Research from Page to Stage is a guide to transforming critically analyzed experience into effective performance. Filled with advice, examples of differing approaches and styles, creative exercises, structural necessities, additional academic resources, and several (partial and full) scripts, this book is an incredible resource for the theory and practice of creating theatre as a salient and meaningful presentation of human experience. It sounds like a mouthful, I know, but this book is a great place to start!

Want to see queer performance?

Do an internet search for “queer performance” near you! (Didn’t find what you wanted? Try “queer stories” or “queer theatre.” ) There is more out there than you may think, here are a few examples:

A series of performances, StoriesQueerDiaspora, put together through Qcc is available on YouTube

Queer Cultural Center Founded in 1993, Qcc is a multiracial community-building organization that fosters the artistic, economic and cultural development of San Francisco’s LGBT community. We implement our mission by operating programs that commission and present Queer artists, that promote the development of culturally diverse Queer arts organizations and that document significant Queer arts events taking place in San Francisco.

By presenting, exhibiting, screening and documenting queer artists’ work, Qcc contributes to the development of a multicultural perspective on the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender experience.”

{YOUR NAME HERE} A Queer Theater is aimed at producing and creating groundbreaking and thought-provoking new works that positively depict the LGBTIQQA community and propel these stories to a larger audience. Our aim is to inspire, empower and celebrate. Our body of work will consist of full productions, a three-tiered reading series, talk backs, as well as a community/educational outreach component.”

“Founded in 2012, the DC Queer Theatre Festival is dedicated to unleashing and celebrating the underrepresented voices and diversity of our artists, audiences, and area. By featuring new plays with themes relevant to the DC area and local artists with roots in the community, the DC Queer Theatre Festival combines quality theatre with activism and charity. The 2012 and 2013 DC Queer Theatre Festivals partnered with The DC Center for the LGBT Community, raising money for and awareness of the essential services The DC Center provides to the LGBTQ communities in Washington, DC.”

Diversionary Theatre was founded in 1986 to provide quality theatre for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. The mission of the theatre is to produce plays with gay, lesbian and bisexual themes that portray characters in their complexity and diversity both historically and contemporarily.”

Queer Memoir is a  NYC-based storytelling event for the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual transgendered and gender nonconforming community as well as an opportunity to give voice to our collective queer experiences, preserve and document our complex queer history and celebrate the ritual and community-building value of storytelling.”

The Deaf Queer Resource Center (DQRC) is a national nonprofit resource and information center for, by and about the Deaf Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Intersex and Questioning communities (hereafter referred to as the “Deaf Queer community”).” This unique resource includes a page of coming our stories, both filmed American Sign Language storytelling and written text.

Still not finding what you’re looking for?

Try searching “queer community near (your town).” Form connections, gather information, ask questions, or just look for events!

And because we should always give credit where credit is due:

Works Cited

Alan Balch, Rebecca Gingrich-Jones, and Matt Ripa. DC Queer Theatre Festival. Retrieved December 2, 2013 (http://www.thedccenter.org/dcqueertheatrefest/index.html)

Deaf Queer Resource Center. 1995-2009. Our Stories. Retrieved November 4, 2013 (http://www.deafqueer.org/resources/support/coming_out/stories/)

Diversionary Theatre. Retrieved December 2, 2013 (http://www.diversionary.org/index.html)

Hank and John Green. 2012. Vlogbrothers: Human Sexuality is Complicated. Retrieved December 7, 2013 (http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=xXAoG8vAyzI)

Johnny Saldana. 2011. Ethnotheatre: Research from Page to Stage. Left Coast Press, INC., Walnut Creek.

Judith Butler. interviewed by Max Miller, directed by Jonathan Fowler, produced by Elizabeth Rodd, on BigThink.com. 2011. Your Behaviour Creates Your Gender. Retrieved November 20, 2013 (https://plus.google.com/share?url=http://bigthink.com/ideas/your-behavior-creates-your-gender) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Bo7o2LYATDc)

Kelli Dunham and Genne Murphy. Queer Memoir. Retrieved December 2, 2013 (http://queermemoir.com/)

Kinky Boots LLC. 2013. Kinky Boots – Official Broadway Site. Retrieved December 8, 2013 (http://kinkybootsthemusical.com/) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=H7csnufxx-M)

Tectonic Theatre Project. 2010. The Laramie Project Online COmmunity. Retrieved December 2, 2013 (http://community.laramieproject.org/)

The Working Group. 2010. Angles Turn their Backs on Hate. Retrieved December 6, 2013 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=RmIfEXiU7l8)

Queer Cultural Center. Retrieved November 22, 2013 (http://queerculturalcenter.org/NQAF/) (http://www.youtube.com/user/StoriesQueerDiaspora/feed)

{Your Name Here} A Queer Theater. Retrieved December 2, 2013 (http://www.yournamehereqtc.org/)


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