Tennessee Williams at Glasgay!
It’s been Scotland’s biggest and best queer event for fifteen years. Now Glasgay! is reaching out to the mainstream crowd, Jasper Hamill discovers, with the help of one of America’s greatest playwrights.
It started as an angry political protest against a ban on discussing homosexuality in schools, but has now become an important and much-anticipated event in Scotland’s festival calendar. Glasgay, celebrating its fifteenth anniversary this year, has beaten a path into the mainstream, swelling from a fortnight-long festival to a month-long extravaganza that will welcome 25,000 visitors across 20 venues.
This year’s events programme concentrates on the American playwright Tennessee Williams, and will include widely-anticipated performances of plays that have remained unstaged in Britain for several decades. In many ways, says organiser Steven Thomson, Glasgay’s ascent mirrors the gay community’s own gradual progress towards acceptance. ‘We’re not just about protest now,’ he explains. ‘We want to bring a mainstream audience in and help them learn about tolerance, acceptance and understanding by giving them a subtler view of what identity and sexuality mean.’
Glasgay started in 1993 as a showcase for queer culture and a forum to use art to speak out against homophobic attitudes. They called for the repeal of Section 28, the controversial government policy that banned schools from discussing homosexuality and withheld money from organisations that existed to help gay and lesbian communities. The art produced was angry, edgy and deliberately set out to provoke and question the backward attitudes that still held sway. Fifteen years on, Thomson agrees that many of the gay community’s battles have been won but contends that there is still lingering prejudice. ‘Some of the same issues are there: homophobia and bullying aren’t going away and no matter how much you try to stop it, children find new ways of saying gay and then using it as an insult.’
He hopes that Glasgay’s focus on Tennessee Williams this year will help young gay people accept their own sexuality. ‘Williams always felt outside society despite his success. His life story and experiences resonate with a young gay and lesbian audience because, despite all of our shifts towards equality and civil partnerships, these people are still outsiders to a certain extent. During Glasgay, we want to go back and reclaim a queer hero.’
There will also be plenty happening away from the theatre during the festival. Various club nights will be taking place around the city - including one where punters are encouraged to design a ‘pom-pom for peace’ and another which will feature a Madonna-style ‘Vogue-ing’ dance-off. Tim Fountain will be discussing his book Rude Britannia and there will be a full film programme - featuring many rare prints of Williams’ films - showing here before going on tour to Edinburgh and London. Dance, art and comedy also feature, yet the main focus will remain on Williams, with rare stagings of his shorter plays and a newly commissioned theatrical piece that will respond to his life and work.