‘The warmth in the auditorium was something I’ve only experienced on community nights at blackfella shows’: Carissa Lee on The Butch Monologues
The Butch Monologues is an anthology-style reading developed by The Drakes, a London-based group of butches, transmen and gender rebels who have been touring this project since 2012. Interviews collected from the UK, Europe, USA, the Caribbean and Australia are collated and edited into series of monologues by Laura “Doc” Bridgeman and are then read by a group of five transmen, butch, and non-binary performers that is re-cast locally wherever the work is performed.
A major reason I wanted to see this show was that people of colour featured on the initial publicity poster, so when I saw a mainly white cast I was a little taken aback. But it has to be said that the Melbourne cast is pretty damn wonderful. It includes disability and queer rights activist Jax Jacki Brown, newcomer Fiona Jones, Anne “Dan” Harris, researcher and writer Quinn Eades and Jacques de Vere.
The show’s director, Julie “Mac” McNamara, says that, as a “custodian of lived experiences”, she wanted to make sure that everyone was telling each other’s stories, “holding them sacred for each other”. Each performer brings their unique flavour to this harrowing, funny and sensual feast of stories.
Brown’s quiet delivery creates a telling contrast to the sometimes graphic content. Harris seems like the most trained actor, with consistent projection, a relaxed performance and great comic timing, while de Vere’s stoic presence adds to the vulnerability in the stories they read, enhancing the funnier pieces with their dry delivery. Jones brandishes an attitude that shifts from comedic to honouring the tougher content. I was surprised to learn that this was their first gig, because for me they’re one of the stand-outs. However, my favourite is Quinn Eades’ intimate reading, which makes it feel like they are confiding in the audience, as if we are close friends.
The rest of the cast actively listens while the others are reading, which is a beautiful aspect of the whole performance. This being present with their fellow readers gives a sense that no one is ever alone in telling these sometimes challenging stories. The Butch Monologues isn’t about spectacle, or focused on entertainment: it carries the powerful sense that these are significant stories from people who are often forced into silence. This resonated strongly for me, as a queer woman of a colour who grew up in a country town, always stifling that part of my identity for the comfort of others.
The monologues took us to many places: from orgasm synesthesia, where fisting is blue (like the Ikea logo) and clitoral orgasms are green, to the on-going problem of entering female bathrooms aggressively policed by straight women. Importantly, these stories range far beyond confessional moments of pain, giving us insight into a diverse world of sexuality, exploring explore personal preferences, the benefits of a larger clit or a passionate partiality to anal sex-play, and the femme-butch dynamic. There are moments of uncomfortable response from the audience: one man sitting in front of me laughed at a monologue that spoke of a six-year-old’s sexual awakening with an older child, which felt disturbing.
There is a Q and A after each performance, which I highly recommend. The chance to sit down with the creative team permits a hugely rewarding insight into the company and each performer. It was during this session that I learned of the reason for cross-casting within the reading – why white readers were reading texts by people of colour, non-disabled performers were reading the stories of disabled people, and so on. “We’re all just people in a room trying to get on,” said McNamara. “And that’s how I direct.”
The Butch Monologues doesn’t only create a space for these otherwise silenced voices. It allows fellow queer and non-binary audience members to have a yarn with these performers and gives audiences a chance to ask questions about a culture they might not know much about. The Q and A opened up questions I’d never considered before, such whether we are losing or gaining nuances of sexuality and gender in current times, or the pressures of being in some kind of transit when it comes to social notions about gender.
On a personal note, seeing this show on the public holiday allocated for Survival Day was of great significance for me: it was a much-needed boost for this sad blackfella on the shittest weekend of the year. The Butch Monologues is touring to Sydney for the Mardi Gras, so I hope everyone tells their Sydney friends to get along. The warmth in the auditorium, which followed through to the gorgeously decorated foyer at Theatre Works, was something I’ve only experienced on community nights at blackfella shows. These artists welcomed us in: and that’s precious anywhere, not just in the theatre.
The Butch Monologues, written by Laura Bridgeman, directed by Julie McNamara Performed by Jax Jacki Brown, Fiona Jones, Anne ‘Dan’ Harris, Quinn Eades, and Jacques de Vere. The Butch Monologues at Theatreworks St Kilda. Until February 3. Bookings Sydney Season: Sound Lounge, Seymour Centre, February 23 – March 1 Bookings