Delving into queer experiences

The History of Sexuality will be playing at the MainLine Theatre from Sept. 21 to 30. Photo courtesy of Erika Rosenbaum Photography.

Dane Stewart debuts a self-written, directed and produced endeavour

While reflecting on the intent behind writing his newest theatrical piece, Dane Stewart expressed that he wanted “to combine Foucauldian, feminist, queer theorists and their texts with lived experiences of people in Montreal.”

As one of Concordia’s recent graduates of the individualized master’s program, Stewart is set to debut his play at the MainLine Theatre on Sept. 21. The production, titled The History of Sexuality, explores themes of power, sex and queerness in the context of student life in Montreal. The plot follows five graduate students who are enrolled in a seminar studying the philosophy of French intellectual Michel Foucault. Stewart said he had studied Foucault’s work at Concordia himself and became particularly inspired by the philosopher’s book, also titled The History of Sexuality.

Foucault’s philosophy, along with a number of theatrical pieces using a technique called verbatim theatre prompted Stewart to start writing his own play. Verbatim theatre involves the playwright conducting a series of interviews, transcribing the interviews and using the direct quotes to script the play. So, as Stewart explained, the actors in a verbatim theatre piece would speak the words of the interviewees.

Dane Stewart wrote the play as part of his thesis for his master’s degree. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

Typically, this method is used in documentary-style plays so actors portray the real-life people whose words they are speaking. Stewart, however, decided to use the verbatim theatre technique in order to adapt real-life experiences into the lives of fictional characters. He conducted interviews with several people within Montreal’s queer community about their experiences. Then, Stewart extracted sections of these interviews to be spoken by the characters in his play. By doing so, the playwright added, he was able to include a variety of perspectives outside of his own without needing to speak for anyone.

Stewart called this technique “fictionalized verbatim theatre,” although he recognizes that he may not be the only playwright using it. He developed this method while working on his thesis for his master’s degree, and received a grant from CALQ (Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec) to further improve it himself. The grant allowed him and his team to hold workshops in order to explore and develop this writing technique. With this help, they were able to write several drafts and spend time perfecting Stewart’s work.

After finishing his thesis and graduating from the master’s program where he studied theatre, communications, and gender and sexuality studies through an interdisciplinary program, Stewart began working towards showing his play at the MainLine Theatre. He worked alongside Michelle Soicher, a fourth-year undergraduate theatre student who took on the role of assistant director and stage manager to gain experience as well as academic credits.

“Queerness, non-normative sexual identity and sexual practice have been a big part of my life. It’s also been a very challenging part at times,” Stewart said.

Although drawing upon his own experience as someone who identifies as queer was extremely useful, Stewart said he wanted to capture the realities of other people in Montreal’s queer community as well. Through conducting a number of interviews and refining his writing technique with the workshops funded by CALQ, Stewart is finally left with a piece that he said he believes tells the stories of the individuals featured “very well.”

The playwright also recognized that the stories explored in his play are just a small portion of the diverse experiences that make up the queer community as a whole. He added, “I also am a believer in intersectionality and striving—as someone who takes up a lot of space or has the capacity to take up a lot of space in life and in society—to subscribe to the mandate of ‘take space to make space.’”

According to Stewart, The History of Sexuality is very much based in reality. The setting is a replication of what attending graduate school in Montreal is like today. It was important to Stewart to not only acknowledge the diversity within the queer community in Montreal, but also to represent the characters in his play as real people living real lives.

“One of my goals with the piece,” he said, “is to present queerness—to present non-normative sexual practices, sexual identities and expressions of gender—as just intimate and honest and real.”

“A lot of media and a lot of art that’s surrounding queerness and queer sexualities and genders these days, I feel is quite sensational,” he added. “[The characters in the play] are just people going through their daily lives. I think it’s important for us to see that.”

The History of Sexuality will be playing at the MainLine Theatre, at 3997 Boul. St-Laurent, from Sept. 21 to 30. Showtime is at 8 p.m. with additional showings at 2 p.m. on Sept. 23 and 30. Tickets are available through the Facebook event and the MainLine Theatre’s website. Prices can vary depending on your financial situation.

Feature photo courtesy of Erika Rosenbaum Photography

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