Gaybies

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By Kelly McConville

Gaybies – a term coined to reference children with one or more gay parents, is also the title of a premier event currently being staged at MTC as part of the 25th Midsumma Festival. Exploring real life stories from children of same-sex parents, surrogate mums, donor dads, co-parents and guardians, the play explores the depth, breadth and fluid nature of human sexuality and relationships.

Performed in the style of Verbatim Theatre, the play takes the words of real life ‘gaybies’, from preschool aged children to adults with children themselves, who have been interviewed about their experiences growing up in families with one or more same-sex attracted parents. Their responses to intensely personal questions have been cleverly woven into a script by writer, Dean Bryant (Prodigal, Liza (on an E), Britney Spears: The Cabaret). These stories are placed in the hands of actors to deliver in a manner befitting the honesty and rawness of the material given to them.

Now, we all know storytelling is an art form. It involves so much more than simply retelling the details of a scenario. It is about peaks and troughs, the correct timing and placement of humour, attention to rhythm and tone and a great commitment to the delivery so the audience remains engaged and satisfied until the very end of the journey. There are few things better than a good storyteller and there’s nothing worse than a bad one!

So, heading in to see Gaybies, a few questions ran through my mind. Was this collection of personal stories going to be engaging enough to capture its audience for the duration of the performance? Was it going to live up to the hype surrounding the star-studded cast? Was it going to delve into the tensions surrounding same-sex parenting in an honest manner? Was Director Daniel Clarke (Theatre Works’ Creative Producer and Director of The Golden Dragon) going to be able to steer all of those intricacies of storytelling into creating a performance that is as engaging as it is relevant?

The answer to all of the above, quite simply is yes.

With a set as colourful as the characters that came to life within it, the feel of a celebration was in the air before the lights went down and the cast of familiar faces entered it. Balloons, streamers, party hats and a birthday cake adorned a table at which the actors sat and helped to create birthday decorations throughout the performance. One by one, the performers left behind their arts and crafts long enough to embody various characters, sharing with the audience their perspectives on growing up as a gaybie.

Covering taboo subjects such as: concerns over friends and peers finding out, running into your dad at a gay club, homophobia from a teenager’s perspective, the gaybies’ own sexuality, the definition of family and the life and death of a parent – it really is a no-holds-barred look at life as a young member of an unconventional family. So engaging were the stories and anecdotes, one soon forgot these were actors delivering someone else’s words and they were often looking at the books in their hands for their lines (forgivable, but not unnoticeable).

The major draw-cards for this performance were undoubtedly well known queer celebrities, Todd McKinney and Magda Szubanski, who both gave hilarious and heart-warming performances as various characters. Add to the mix TVs Virgina Gay (Winners and Losers, All Saints), along with some of theatre’s brightest young stars: Rob Tripolino (adorable, enigmatic), Christie Whelan-Brown (striking, warm), and Alex Rathberger (boyish, wise), to mention just a few. Each member of the ensemble skillfully embodied multiple personas, ranging in age from 3 to upwards of 20 and did so with empathy, warmth and humour.

In terms of this performance as an engaging piece of theatre, this is where the talents of writer Dean Bryant and director Daniel Clarke really shine. The thematic structure of the interwoven stories worked so there was enough contrast between specific stories, but the links were never confusing. The subtle use of music, simple shifts of focus, and the relaxed activity of the ensemble working away to create party decorations all worked harmoniously to create a performance that was varied, joyful and meaningful. As each player placed their closed book (the colourful symbol of each individual’s story) on the edge of the stage, the journey of their stories came to a satisfying conclusion.

This performance is as enjoyable as it is relevant and timely. It addresses so many issues associated with the current debate about the definition of family. It would be a shame if certain members of our political right weren’t inclined or able to see it. Not only is it a socially significant piece of performance art, it is a wonderful demonstration of skillful storytelling, and an absolute must-see of this year’s Midsumma festival.

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