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Reviewed by:
  • The Gay Heritage Project by Damien Atkins, Andrew Kushnir, and Paul Dunn
  • Stephen Low
THE GAY HERITAGE PROJECT. By Damien Atkins, Andrew Kushnir, and Paul Dunn. Directed by Ashley Corcoran. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto. 31 November 2013.

Late in the fourth act of The Gay Heritage Project, Damien Atkins performed a scene in which HIV/AIDS was put on trial and convicted of the murder of 100 million people. After issuing the verdict, the judge opened the floor for victim-impact statements. Atkins took the stand to confess that he did not die of HIV/AIDS, is not HIV positive, nor had any of his loved ones died of the disease. But, eyes swelling with tears and mouth twisted in anger and anguish, he declared that “while I’m very glad that you’ve been convicted of one hundred million counts of murder, I would like to add another charge to that list. I would like to add theft. I can’t even really be sure what you stole from me. But I know that you did.” During this scene, Atkins captured the motivation for The Gay Heritage Project: to uncover a gay history that is lost not only because of the death of many gay men due to the HIV/AIDs epidemic, but also because of the inevitable disconnect between gay men of different generations, a disconnect that results from gay people being born into a straight world that cannot and does not speak sufficiently about the queer people who preceded them. The Gay Heritage Project searched for belonging by unearthing a history that could offer a deeper understanding of the self, and the community from which the self emerges.

The collage of small scenes that made up The Gay Heritage Project often mentioned cultural and historical references, from Leonardo da Vinci to Lady Gaga, that are both claimed and celebrated by gay audiences. By presenting gay cultural references, it performatively constituted community. As short scenes were performed one after another—and occasionally interrupted by a montage of images of gay cultural icons projected on a screen at the back of the stage—the laughter, silence, or tears heard in the dark space of the audience confirmed their common place in the present world. In one scene, when Joan Crawford appeared as a character alongside allegorical representations of Gay Identity and Gay Desire, a gay audience that would be particularly familiar with Mildred Pierce and Mommie Dearest recognized that gay community extends beyond a matter of sexuality to include cultural practices and artifacts that have a history of their own. As suggested in its very title, the play appealed to an audience that identifies as gay, but its sense of community materialized through the dynamic between the three actors and their public. The half-dozen wooden chairs that flanked the stage allowed the actors to watch one another as they performed these small scenes; this broke the barrier between actor and audience and consequently situated them as a part of the community that their project constituted performatively.

The brief cultural and historical references throughout The Gay Heritage Project were not only affective, but also pedagogical. Through a series of scenes in which an adult actor performs the role of two children playing with their “Gay Canadian [End Page 450]


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Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn, and Andrew Kushnir in The Gay Heritage Project.

(Photo: Tanja Tiziana.)


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Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn, and Andrew Kushnir in The Gay Heritage Project.

(Photo: Guntar Kravis.)

[End Page 451]

Action Heroes,” the audience was told the story of some of Canada’s most important LGBTQ activists. In these scenes, The Gay Heritage Project informed a younger Canadian audience of an important part of their history that they otherwise would not have known, which, in turn, connected them to an older generation who survived those tumultuous times. Along with exposing a younger generation to the devastation of HIV/AIDS during the scene in which Atkins offered his victim-impact statement, The Gay Heritage Project also included a scene that taught a new generation about the bathhouse raids in Toronto...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-332X
Print ISSN
0192-2882
Pages
pp. 450-452
Launched on MUSE
2014-11-19
Open Access
No
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