Glasgay!

A doubling in funding means three new productions and wide appeal. But how does Glasgay! in the mainstream support outsider voices? Robin Lee finds out.

There’s one event in the Glasgay! 2006 programme that doesn’t quite fit. Graffiti Brasil, a series of photographs of spray painting from the South American country, showing ‘fanatical vandalism’ and ‘jaw-droppingly elaborate murals’, doesn’t seem to have anything, erm, queer about it. No hint of an L, G, B or a T. So I have to ask the festival’s producer Steven Thomson: what exactly is gay about the exhibition?

‘Ha ha, I thought you might ask,’ he says. ‘It’s not. It’s about lost art and queer culture in a broader sense. Part of my research is into lost cultural practice that is now evolving beyond its original form, and taking on new, queerer edges. Work that stems from social and cultural isolation, from street culture to high art.’

OK, but isn’t Glasgay! supposed to be a festival for LGBT people? ‘By inserting less gay-themed work that is both edgy and quirky and otherworldly, I intend to look at queer cultures in historical times and draw comparisons with contemporary practices.’

Part of the dilemma nowadays of putting on a festival aimed at and featuring minority sexualities is that there’s so much tolerance. Glasgay! started out in 1993, when there were no civil partnerships, no gay Cabinet ministers, Section 28 was still in force, and acceptance was still an ideal. However, the ironic codicil to acceptance is indifference. If nobody cares that you’re a poof or a dyke, why put on a festival and shout about being one?

The point is that there are themes that cross over from the queer experience. Take Talking Heads, for example, the festival’s headline theatre piece. When Alan Bennett published this collection of monologues in 1988, he was a closeted homosexual, and it manifests itself in the writing. His characters are isolated, lonely, and without the polished handle on life that comes from feeling connected to the wider world. They are old, deluded, mentally unstable, or in the case of the one male monologue, a closeted homosexual still tied to mother’s apron strings.

Louise Welsh’s drama The Importance of Being Alfred (pictured) returns, too. Lord Alfred Douglas was Oscar Wilde’s lover, who in his 40s became a virulent homophobe and a proto-fascist. In 1918 he was caught up in a libel trial involving his friend, Hugh Pemberton Billing MP, who accused the dancer Maud Allan of being a lesbian German spy, bent on corrupting the war effort. The play imagines him meeting his younger self in the run-up to the trial.

The arc Douglas’s life follows appears to be that of the perpetual outsider, swinging from one extreme to the other, but Louise Welsh is not so sure. ‘Outsider status - I don’t know. I think if you talked to anyone in the street and said, “Do you feel that you’re an outsider?” they’d all go, “Yeah, I do actually.”’ And maybe there’s a simpler explanation for Douglas’ behaviour. ‘(The play is) about his inability at that point to be comfortable with his sexuality. It’s about not acknowledging yourself, and how difficult that can be. He’s just a member of the awkward squad.’

Glasgay! 2006 runs until Sun 12 Nov at various venues in Glasgow. See listings and www.glasgay.com for details.

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