Barely Visible tours nationally from February to May 2023
BY ROWENA GANDER, IMAGES BY ROWENA GANDER
“Welcome to Bury Your Gays.
Did you know that 215 lesbian characters on TV have died to date?
It is extremely hard for a lesbian character to stay alive.
So, in this episode of Bury Your Gays, we count down our top ten lesbian deaths”(Barely Visible, 2022)
Above is an excerpt from a scene in Barely Visible, a powerful solo show that brings light to common issues that gay women face. An issue connected to Bury Your Gays is that if a lesbian is visible, in a TV show, for instance, her visibility is temporary, and her imminent, and often ridiculously presented, death is awaiting her.
Visibility of lesbian characters, or lack thereof, in film and TV, has been acknowledged by some scholars and practitioners who are calling out for lesbians to be featured as more than a transient novelty. However, when it comes to stage, such as dance and physical theatre, lesbian representation is pretty much non-existent.
Let me share my experience with you to make clear why this is a problem.
When I was younger, I attended dance classes and I loved them more than anything else at the time. The dance studio was a creative space for me, where I focussed, worked hard, and I achieved high grades.
However, at age 14, I realised I was gay, so I left dance.
I left because, unlike gay men, who were often celebrated in dance, lesbians were considered repulsive, disgusting, and not someone other girls wanted to share a changing room with.
I left to save myself the embarrassment of ‘coming out’ to a closed-minded industry that did not accept and acknowledge the existence of lesbians.
I left to start underage drinking at bars and nightclubs, where I did see myself represented. Though, this change in environment brought on a set of new challenges, where I lost focus and became depressed because I was disconnected from the passion and creativity I experienced when I danced.
Lucky for me, nine years later, I managed to claw my way back into the dance industry and have carved out a successful career for myself. But what about all the other young girls who have left dance because they did / do not have any lesbian role models? How can we ensure lesbians don’t feel excluded from the stage?
Industry practitioners and teachers should recognise that sexual orientation is an important aspect of any student’s identity and should thus assume responsibility for creating environments in which each student can be acknowledged and included for exactly who he or she is.
To raise lesbian visibility on stage, practitioners can:
- Consider the many facets of lesbian identity and use them as inspiration for the work we make (without only using brief female / female interaction as a joke to arouse / entertain the audience).
- Make uncensored autobiographical work that gives insight to the lesbian experience – there is an audience for it, and you will meet more lesbians, trust me.
- Stop worrying about male gaze and start making the highly physical female / female duet you want to make (maybe that is a note to myself).
In the classroom, facilitators and teachers can:
- Form LGBTQ+ groups and include dance theatre, lesbian focussed or not, as part of the conversation.
- Include lesbian centred performance work as part of the curriculum at schools – books, live performance, resources.
An excellent place to start, if you are looking to include lesbian work that is made for stage, and includes element of physical theatre, contemporary dance, and pole dance, is Barely Visible. This empowering show was created and choreographed by me, directed by Elinor Randle and produced by Claire Bigley – a team of gay women who are taking firm and confident steps towards changing the landscape of lesbian representation in the physical arts.
Join us as we tour Barely Visible nationally, from February-May 2023.
For more details on show dates, wrap around events, including pre- and post-show discussions, and blog, see www.rowenagander.com.
This work is supported by Arts Council England, Pole Purpose, Metal Culture UK, Physical Fest, Tmesis Theatre, and Together.
Rowena Gander is an international performance artist / academic who creates thought provoking solo performance works that question and negotiate themes of sexuality, power and objectification in women. Since 2015 she has worked creatively with objects to tease out how they can add to or dissolve female subordination. She has uncovered many ways of not only working creatively with objects, but also, how application of different methodological approaches to research can aid the negotiation of power. Rowena has published multiple creative resources because of her practice, and teaches regular workshops that focus on subjectivity, sexuality, and identity. Find her across all socials @rowenagander, or follow @barelyvisibleshow on Instagram.
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