- Queer Theatre in Canada
Rosalind Kerr's Queer Theatre in Canada is the seventh book in Playwrights Canada Press's Critical Perspectives series, and like its predecessors it will prove to be essential reading for theatre scholars in this country and beyond. Kerr collects twenty-one articles in this stimulating, diverse, and highly readable collection, twelve of which are drawn from previous publications (spanning 1972 through 2005) and nine of which have been commissioned especially for this venue. The brief but helpful introduction offers thumbnail sketches of each article, allowing for very easy reference and making the collection an ideal teaching tool.
Given the controversy that has attached to 'queer' over the past few years in gay, lesbian, bi, and trans communities both inside and outside the academy, I initially approached this book with apprehension. Kerr and her contributors, however, make the problematics of 'queer' very much their subject matter, though not always in overt ways. The book can be divided roughly into three sections: early scholarly work in [End Page 534] Canada on gay theatre, including a handful of papers from the 1990s; work from 2001 to 2005 on topics that range from gay and lesbian theatre to lesbian performance art, drag performance of all kinds, and trans performance; and the commissioned essays (all dating from 2007). This last group provides a context, as well as a history, for the earlier work in the book, and I would recommend that those less familiar with the subject matter start here. Among the commissions, work by J. Paul Halferty, Sky Gilbert, and David Allan King offers three different perspectives on the shifting meaning of the term queer in Canadian performance circles since the founding of the iconic Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in 1979, Kerr and Louise Forsyth think retrospectively about lesbian representation in the Canadian theatre market over the last three decades, Ann Holloway does dyke comedy, and Frances Latchford and J. Bobby Noble reread contemporary drag. The collection ends with Mariko Tamaki's brief, loving paean to the Cheap Queers cabaret, a wonderful charge of utopic hope for the future.
My favourite thing about Kerr's collection is its balance. Authors write formalistically about gay plays; they also write smart, piercing analyses of the economic and cultural conditions that continue to prevent LGBT work from flourishing in the mainstream (Susan Bennett's reception analysis of Angels in America in Calgary is a stand-out). There is plenty of queer cultural theory here (I frankly got tired of all the references to Judith Butler's Gender Trouble; my hat goes off to Peter Dickinson, whose elegant essay on 'queer rituals of remembrance' deftly deploys her later work in Antigone's Claim and Precarious Life, both of which should be at least as trafficked), but there are also more than a few brief pieces (five or seven pages each) with nominal notes and Works Cited that speak just as eloquently of the book's main themes. (Darrin Hagen's smart rebuttal to the hetero-violence of the WWF and Sky Gilbert's diva rant against the mainstreaming of queer in the name of LGBT 'equal rights' are neither to be missed.) In fact, almost one-third of the book is work by artists.
If pressed, I would offer only one critique of Queer Theatre in Canada: it could easily be, and arguably should be, at least two books. There is material enough here to cover the LGBT mandate, but by Kerr's own admission (in the introduction) gaps remain to be filled. The process of 'covering' a group as diverse and fluid as this one, however, ought not to be about filling in gaps; it ought to be about exploring themes and issues in the LGBT performance community in depth. Obviously, this critique is not aimed at Kerr, who has produced a remarkable book (and has spurred me to rethink the shape of my Canadian Drama course in the process); I offer it only to encourage Playwrights Canada Press to consider future volumes on the...