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A Brief History of Queer Theatre

Author KevinKevin, June 4th, 2024

Happy Pride Month!

Queer theatre has always had a rebellious nature, and isn't afraid to show its true colours. It's sparked important conversations during times when openly discussing LGBTQ+ issues was taboo or illegal, throughout history, it has explored gender and sexuality under the veil of classic stories. Most importantly, it has given marginalised individuals the space to express themselves, whilst doing so fabulously in the process.

The Stonewall Era

1969, The Stonewall Riots - they mark a newfound sense of liberation and urgency in theatre, with playwrights like Larry Kramer, Harvey Fierstein, and Mart Crowley creating works that boldly confront issues of identity, sexuality, and AIDS. Kramer's The Normal Heart and Crowley's The Boys in the Band in particular broke new ground, presenting gay characters and their struggles with unprecedented candor.

The 1970s and 1980s

Companies like New York's La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club and San Francisco's Theatre Rhinoceros provided platforms for queer voices to be heard and celebrated. These companies nurtured a new generation of playwrights, actors, and directors. Key works during this time were Bent by Martin Sherman and The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O'Brien, Ripen Our Darkness by Sarah Daniels and Torch Song Trilogy by Harvey Fierstein and the first play to ever address AIDS: Anti Body by Louise Parker Kelley.

The AIDS Crisis

The AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s had a profound impact on Pride Theatre. The epidemic decimated the LGBTQ+ community, and theatre became a vital means of processing grief, raising awareness, and demanding action. Plays like Tony Kushner's Angels in America and William Hoffman's As Is confronted the epidemic head-on, blending personal anguish with political critique.

As theatre progressed into the 1990s, other queer works included Rent by Jonathan Larson, Beautiful Thing by Jonathan Harvey and Shopping and Fucking by Mark Ravenhill.

Contemporary Queer Theatre

Contemporary playwrights such as Tarell Alvin McCraney, Lisa Kron, and Taylor Mac continue to push the boundaries of form and content, exploring intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. Today, you'll find queer festivals all across the world, some including the Queer Arts Festival in Vancouver and the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. Contemporary queer productions include Fun Home, The Inheritance, Kinky Boots, and Everybody's Talking About Jamie. You can also see trans representation in Jo Clifford's adaptation of Great Expectations and Rikki Beadle-Blair's Summer In London.

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