LGBTheater – Rainbow Curtain Stories #9: We can be Genet (just for one day)

Not many authors can say they have a Pulitzer, a Pinter Prize, an Oscar or a Nobel. Even fewer can say they have been quoted by his majesty David Bowie himself in one of his songs. 1972: The Artist Formerly Known As Ziggy Stardust releases Jean Genie, single taken from the all-time-classic Aladdin Sane: the title clearly refers to Jean Genet, French playwright and novelist, who in the meantime was traveling through the Middle East as a journalist, managing to get an interview with Yasser Arafat in Jordan.

Jean Genet.

The rebel spirit of those incredible years, avoiding every definition but the genius one, the definition that transcends definitions… by definition. That’s the definition for both the words’ master from the suburbs of Paris and the Thin White Duke. Bowie earned that epithet from climbing the Olympus of the black music with his bare, pale hands. If music was a car, his said Brixton on the plate, but his passengers were Ray Charles, James Brown, Stevie Wonder. While RCA tried to get the exclusive on the new hit of the Duke, Genet was a couple miles from there, invited in the USA by the Black Panthers as the reporter with the most lethal pen on the revolution side.

As Koltès, Genet stood with the last ones, without considering himself one despite the oppressions he suffered for his sexuality. In his work The Blacks, the French dramatist inverts the poles of Bowie’s game of masks and make-up: he asks the black actors, and at least one spectator if the whole audience is black, to do the whiteface. Cross-dressing has a main role in The Maids, a play about two girls the author wanted to be impersonated by young male boys. 

With a little help from his troubled life, from the more than humble origins, the arrest for homosexuality, and the early death of the man he loved, Genet develops his sense of smell for the world’s bitterness. Cruelty lies in every corner of the world, through the deviated nature of men and the power structure of the society. The only way to display this is through theater in the theater: the characters have their own characters, the tool they use to sadistically impose themselves over the weaker ones. Homosexuality, outstandingly for a gay author, is one of the many means to mask a vision of love solely made of hate and domination.

Thinking about Bowie’s dresses, made of plumes and sparks, before the only coming out as a straight man the history remembers, the ghosts of the two artists seem to merge. Parallel destinies escaping from social, demographical, and sexual identities, who as every parallel line finally met: the Duke dies at 69, Genet at 75, still with the punk attitude of those who are young eternally, always siding with the good. So, here’s the ninth challenge for the Carlo Annoni Prize’s participants: imagine your play as it was music. How would you like it to sound? 

LGBTheater – Rainbow curtain stories #2: All the Bard’s men

We didn’t even know it was possible, but now it happened: we finally met someone who didn’t like Shakespeare in Love. Someone who thought the Weinstein case was about his brother Bob for directing such garbage: a pile of cliches, uninteresting characters, and a whole bunch of Spanish sit-com ex machinas. Someone who tried to stop us from writing this article.

So why are we talking about it anyway? Shakespeare in Love tells about the creation of Romeo and Juliet: our dear William must write and direct the famous tragedy he chooses a young actor for, who, we will find out, is a girl dressed as a man. Let’s not forget it was forbidden, at the time, for a woman to play on stage. The movie narrates about the Bard by using a device he himself utilizes in The Merchant of Venice: the character (Portia) dressed as its opposite sex.

So, the worm of doubt starts shaking: did Shakespeare, the movie one, fall in love with his actress when he finds out she’s a woman or before, during the audition? We know the original Shakespeare to be married, but many of his sonnets are directed at a male figure, such as the notorious Sonnet 18 (Shall I compare thee to a Summers day), furthermore appearing in the movie.

Not everyone agrees this is sufficient proof for an outing. The idea that, in the Renaissance, it was accepted that a straight man praised another man’s beauty is quite widespread. Still, let’s keep in mind the opinions of many historians were forged in times when bisexuality was even less accepted than today.

On the other hand, someone who never denied his homosexuality was Pietro Aretino, who openly called himself
a sodomite”. In the comedy
Il Marescalco he writes about a farrier (“Marescalco”, in 16th century Italian) forced to marry a woman he doesn’t want, since he’s “Coy with women as a moneylender with the expenses”. The efforts of the other characters lead to nowhere. The nurse who praised how joyful marriages are gets answered: “To take syphilis instead of a wife, that’s lesser pain”. That may look like anything but the complaints of the man about his wife at the pub, but we know enough about Aretino’s private life to suppose this time it’s different. By unveiling the bride, finally, the farrier finds out she is just a male page with a dress: he discovers the joke, is happy about that, and sighs of relief.

If the character losing its costume, in modern-time Shakespeare in Love, “saves” the protagonist from a gay affair, in Pietro Aretino’s play he is saved from a heterosexual one. An author ahead of his times, who now throws the second challenge to our participants: how cross-dressing in theatre can speak about a society where dressing up, figurately, can save one from prejudice