Pride 2018: Playwright Dane Stewart Talks Queerness, Sexuality and Power Dynamics in his play The History of Sexuality

Montreal Pride is upon us and with it tons of amazing entertainment! Whether you like drag shows, workshops, films, plays, or parties, Pride has something for everyone, all it requires is that you have an open mind and not be a bigot.

The History of Sexuality is one of Pride 2018’s many theatrical offerings. It started as a low budget two week production at the Mainline Theatre in September 2017 and was selected to be part of Pride’s 2018 programming. It was also recently awarded a grant from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Quebec (CALQ).

The History of Sexuality is producer/director/playwright Dane Stewart’s creation. He had the idea while doing his Individualized Master’s degree in Theatre, Communications and Gender and Sexuality at Concordia.

“I knew that I wanted to write something about queerness in Montreal but I didn’t know exactly what the format of the play was going to be,” the playwright said in an interview.

Stewart was more interested in the method of writing, so he had the idea to do interviews. The play is based on a series of interviews he conducted with queer people living in Montreal which he then worked into his script.

Many of his subjects were friends and acquaintances, while others were second and third degree connections he made by reaching out on social media. In order to tell their story faithfully, he offered copies of his script to interviewees for feedback in cases where he used their actual words in the play, and made sure he had everyone’s consent to include them.

“One of the things I wanted to incorporate while I was writing was a feedback mechanism,” he noted, “I used their words in the script, I then returned the script to them with those scenes so they could reflect on whether or not they felt they were adequately represented and if they felt they hadn’t been, I worked with them, usually one-on-one, to address those issues.”

I asked Dane about the title of the play as many would see the title and assume they were getting a history lesson. Dane explained that the play’s title comes from a book of the same name by the philosopher Michel Foulcault.

The History of Sexuality is kind of a bland book,” Dane said with a smile. “But it’s a sexy title. Put that title on something and pair it with a sexy image and people will come see it.”

He said that audiences will see a show that’s really sexy.

“There are on-stage representations of sex and there are all these different types of queer relationships represented,” he explained, “so there is a really sexy element to it. It is also highly intellectual. It doesn’t approach sexuality just to say ‘come and watch these people get naked on stage’, it’s ‘come and let’s watch people represent sex on stage and then let’s analyze the power and the truth and the dynamics that go into that.”

Stewart is not worried that he’ll lose audiences by being too intellectual because he admits that he’s not going to appeal to everyone:

“It’s been really a process over the three years I’ve been working on it to pare down the intellectual theory and really make it digestible and I think we’ve done a half decent job of that. People will have a fair number of questions hopefully…It’s about analyzing what power dynamics look like in our sexual relationships, what power dynamics look like in our romantic relationships, how we’re socialized and raised into those power dynamics and how do we, moving forward as a society, start to deconstruct that to make society as safer place for expressing sexual identity.”

I asked Stewart who he feels needs to see this play the most. He said the two groups are members of the queer community and, for the educational side of it, straight men.

“I think we’ve done a decent job representing real, honest queer experience on stage. A lot of representation of LGBT folks you’ve seen still is like a stereotype and we really work to overcome that so I think there’s a feeling of empowerment in seeing that representation.”

Regarding straight men, Stewart mentions that he recently incorporated an edit into the script. It’s a scene that will show in upcoming performances in which a woman recounts an experience of being sexually assaulted overlaid with audio clips from the actual interview he did.

In the scene the actress is speaking in dialogue with the actual audio clip. Following the #MeToo movement, Stewart really wanted to address that issue in his play, “and especially address what can men do improve their own actions, to address their own behaviors.”

“I incorporated an interview I did a couple of weeks ago with a man who identified as a perpetrator of sexual assault so we actually have the actress who’s playing a survivor of sexual assault interviewing another actor whose speaking from text from that interview. It’s intense, for sure, but I’m hoping to give straight men a point of access to say ‘Ok, I’ve heard all these conversations, I’ve heard all these women and others sharing their experiences of violence maybe I’ve perpetrated that but how do I recognize that and how do I start to move forward and be a better human.”

In the era of #MeToo and a growing recognition that sexual identity and consensual expressions of it is not something to be ashamed of, The History of Sexuality sounds like the kind of play everyone needs to see.

* The History of Sexuality runs August 9th through 12th. Tickets available through Place des Arts

** Featured image by Peter Ryaux-Larsen. (L to R) Darragh Mondoux, Trevor Barrette, Kayleigh Choiniere

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