(Privileged) Naked Boys Singing: The Sequel
Like yesterday, but with bigger, less entertaining words…
Yup, I was curt with a community theatre troupe yesterday. No, I’m not sorry.
I definitely experienced some typical *white man reacts poorly when confronted with privilege* behavior from more than one person associated with the Toto Too’s Naked Boys Singing. FTR, it’s a privilege to declare when a critique is “convenient” or “appropriate”. Most Torontonians don’t want to think about a wealthy slave owning family every time they’re on Jarvis Street, but that’s the unavoidable inconvenient context.
My post was an act of protest against the lack of effort on the part of Toto Too producers to create an inclusive show. I have no enthusiasm or solidarity to offer Naked Boys Singing, and I vehemently reject that queers should be less critical of queer organizations and events on the basis of assumed sameness. Our activisms will look very different more often than not. To the quick defenders of the play, I remind you that it is more fundamental to offer accountability than demand solidarity.
I reiterate; I directed no ill words toward any of the actors who performed, nor would I, having not seen the show. In truth, I commend their audacity. I commented on administrative and creative decisions. I did so because these decisions in combination created a palpable “gay men’s club” pretext for the show.
There was no effort to use inclusive language in any of the advertising, and the styling of the promotional material unarguably communicated the idea that the objectification of gay men’s bodies was a large part of the viewing experience. From everything I’ve read, the show purposefully resists lewdness. The difference between “musical with nudity” versus “peep show with music” was blurred to the end of reinforcing the ideal viewer as a gay man willing to spend 30$. The venue isn’t wheelchair accessible, and I have no reason to believe that respects were paid for our presence on aboriginal lands at the onset or that the venue’s bathrooms were made all-gender for the duration of the show. (I will happily retract these assumptions with proof to the contrary.)
There’s nothing “wrong” with how Naked Boys Singing was produced, but they can’t have their capitalist cake and eat their queer solidarity too. To most, queer solidarity looks like commitment to liberation spaces that take in to account people’s financial, physical, and social means to participate. By choice or complicity, the production unfurled in a way that was inconsiderate of disadvantaged members of Ottawa’s queer communities.
In capitalist terms Toto Too’s Naked Boys Singing is peachy. Free labour is propping up the non-profit industrial complex and delivering a service for which there is demand. Problem: a lot of us don’t want a capitalist queer movement. “Queer community theatre” means a diligent commitment to creating inclusive programming.
I could have been nice. I could have written an email drawing attention to their ignorance, suggesting they apologize gingerly for the oversight and offer the remaining unsold tickets as pay-what-you-can, but we don’t live in a world where being nice gets things done.
Instead, I took a strip off a presumed “ally”, nailed a catchy headline, and got 500+ blog views. Yeah, #sorrynotsorry.
In real analog life, I probably stoked tens, maybe a hundred, meaningful conversations about what inclusivity in queer community theatre settings might look like. Addressing the shortcomings of the well-intentioned is no less an important task for social change than educating the masses.
Originally published at www.mylifeinletters.ca on June 23, 2016.