[A Night Without Fear]
I’m in the TAPAC foyer, waiting for my male friend to arrive. The atmosphere around me is light as eclectic and alternative beauties mingle – one woman wears little more that a fishnet body-stocking and a big smile; towards the bar, the crowds part intuitively for numerous wheelchair users as they join friends. Instantly, I know I’m in a safe and inclusive space.
When my friend arrives though, there’s an uneasiness about him which I haven’t seen before. We met in Melbourne and, after years repressing his sexuality because of his religion and upbringing, he came out to a few close friends. We spent every weekend in drag bars in what felt like his coming of age.
He joined me in Auckland this month, after the big move with his Kiwi boyfriend. He doesn’t know the community here, and I wonder if his edginess rests in the unfamiliar.
As we make our way to the bar, he tells me. He is out, and his parents have disowned him.
It’s hard to find the words to articulate his pain. As tears fill our eyes I hug him, instantly glad to be surrounded by people who might be strangers but who – in the next seventy-five minutes, with their proud performances, infectious smiles and laughter – will hopefully make him feel less alone.
And, from the second Mother Nature (Aeyla Duncan) hits the stage in a balletic flourish, that’s exactly what happens. The room comes alive – the supportive energy a renewing, electric current. It feels like an hour and a half of bodies pressed against us, a mental hug for everyone who has ever felt ‘other.’ A celebration of every part of the rainbow flag – through devilish drag lip-sync, eye-watering aerial arts and dance routines polished to perfection.
The dialogue is snappy and witty as brash British ‘Bird’ (Bryony Skillington) leads us and Bee (Monty Montgomery) down the garden path to meet the creatures of the night. Skillington’s gutsy performance of ‘All by Myself’ has the audience crooning in support and the other musical numbers pack a pride punch – Celine Dion and the Weather Girls underscore a fun frolic beneath a watering can spout.
Gay Red Rose (James Luck) seductively commands the stage as a loose-tongued Frenchman with a flair for fiction; then there’s free-loving Orange Tiger Lily (Ellyce Bisson) and bisexual Purple Venus Fly Trap (Rebekkah Schoonbeek) – who manages to snare all sexes with song and seduction. Fetishist Green Poison Ivy (Electra Shock), and the suave Bluebell (Colette Wilson) round out a colourful cast of queer performers, along with Josh Morris, Oli Mathiesen and chorus member Amanda MacFarlane – all adorned with ostentatious outfits in rainbow colours, and more than one cheeky grin.
Lighthearted but full of heart, Night of The Queer teaches us without preaching. Bee learns about the ins and outs of sexual expression and, by the end of the night, a simulated act of self-love has the audience in fits.
As we leave the theatre, I can sense the performance has already worked some magic. My friend and I both remark on how nice it is to see diversity on the stage – a ‘gender-bending cast’ – different from the usual drag line-up. Queer women proudly taking up space. It makes me reflect on how supportive my parents were when I came out.
To those who may not be that lucky, we have the most amazing community in Auckland. I encourage my friend, and anyone in a similar position, to head out and join the tribe. Soon they’ll become a beautiful, rainbow family.
The 2020 season of Night of The Queer plays at TAPAC as part of Auckland Pride, 7-15th February 2020.
Night of the Queer is presented by the dynamic dance theatre company Luck & Schooney and made possible through the Pride & Spark Empowerment Initiative. It is sponsored by The Coffee Club and Rainbow New Zealand Charitable Trust.