The History of Sexuality Interview with Dane Stewart

Dane Stewart's The History of Sexuality. Banner Clara Legault Dane Stewart's The History of Sexuality. Banner Clara Legault

MainLine Theatre will be the home of a new work by Dane Stewart from Sept 21st-30th called The History of Sexuality. This work explores queerness, sex, and power, based on real life interviews with people in the Montreal community.

Sinj Karan spoke to the writer, director of the play Dane Stewart.

Sinj Karan: What got you interested in this work and give us some background of your experiences and education?

Dane Stewart: The project is called the History of Sexuality. It’s a play I have been working on for about two years. I started work on it during my Master’s at Concordia, under the Individualized MA Program. This is a unique program at Concordia, where you basically design your own research. I was interested in studying queer theory and gender and sexuality; I proposed a degree studying these through theatre.

After a year of my studies, I got really interested in verbatim theatre (interview based theater). Most people who aren’t familiar with theatre might still know about the Vagina Monologues and the Laramie Project, both of which are verbatim theatre pieces.

So, I used the verbatim technique, where I interviewed queer folks in Montreal and then I transcribed portions of the interviews, but then, I fictionalized them; inserting them into a fictional narrative. This work differs from most verbatim projects in that it’s not documentary-style. It is based on these interviews, but it fictionalizes stories and characters around them.

Sinj Karan: When you say in the description of the project, that this is meant to be “honest and intrinsically human”, what do you mean? Can you please elaborate?

Dane Stewart: That’s why I used verbatim theatre to write it. One of the central questions of my Master’s work was, “How do you write stories outside of your own experience?” This method of writing, which I call fictionalized verbatim theatre, is an answer to that question. When I say that they are honest and real and human characters, I believe that they are because they are speaking the words of these people I interviewed. Its real stories.

For example, in the play, a few characters are sex workers and one of them is based on an interview I did with a woman who works as a stripper, another one based on an interview with a gay escort. When I am displaying these characters, I try not to sensationalize their stories. It’s quite literally the words they spoke and the experiences that they brought forth. With that you will see issues surrounding sex work, sexual assault and so many other issues coming to the foreground.

Dane Stewart's The History of Sexuality. Photo Erika Rosenbaum Photography

Dane Stewart’s The History of Sexuality. Photo Erika Rosenbaum Photography

Sinj Karan: When you are talking about writing characters that are outside of you, do you draw from your own personal experiences at all?

Dane Stewart: Oh yeah, for sure. I do identify as queer and identify as gay, and so in writing a show about queer identity, I have a stake in the community. While I can’t speak to the experiences of queer women or trans women, or sex workers, I can speak to my experience with non-normative sexual identity.

There is a character based on my personal experiences. I also do a lot of work in the kink and BDSM communities in Montreal. I do a lot of organization, demos and educational outreach in that community, that’s where I pull my experiences from.

Sinj Karan: What do you mean by queer intimacy? How is that different from say non-queer intimacy?

Dane Stewart: I want to say two things in response to this: The first is the idea of normalizing queer intimacy, it’s such a struggle, right? Because normalizing non-normative sexual identities and practices can be beneficial in certain instances. It would be great if people didn’t have to come out as gay or trans or even as a sex worker. But the reality is that these identities still have real stigma attached to them. You can frame things in a way that a non-queer, non-LGBT person can relate to them, while still highlighting the fact that these experiences are unique and different from “normative” experiences and that’s important to recognize.

It gets super complicated when we talk about queerness and I address it in the play, we have this whole conversation of what it means to be queer. It is such a contentious term.

When I talk about queerness and do seminars on queerness, I always start by asking people in my audience to speak to me about what they mean or understand by the word ‘queer’. I’ll go around the room and always come back with some very interesting ideas and explanations of what people feel.

Personally I feel that the use of ‘queer’ focuses around one of three definitions: first, a reclamation of the pejorative term of queer, which obviously has historical connotations. Second, it speaks to the whole need for solidarity around communities of care and sexual practice. Lastly, queerness understood as technology of power, which is explored further in the play.

Sinj Karan: How have you approached intersectionality in this work?

Dane Stewart: There is intersectionality where we are exploring queerness overlapping with sexual assault, sex work, etc. I also interviewed a number of queer people of colour during the research phase. We had a few roles we wanted to cast with people of colour. One actress, a person of colour, who was cast in the play, recently landed a big movie role and thus I had to go back to recast, less than three weeks before the show. I sent out all these emails and hoped that I could find someone, but I wasn’t able to find an actor of colour to replace them. So, I recognize that I have failed a little bit in terms of racial representation. But then again, we can’t always speak to all aspects of intersectionality, especially in independent theatre where resources are often so limited.

Sinj Karan: What is the larger message of this play?

Dane Stewart: I think my goal and philosophy has been to use storytelling as a means of affecting progress. I think there is a lot belief-stating in public spaces and social media in particular, but not enough listening. I think active listening is very important and valuable and acts as a foundation for engaging with issues that are important to me.

Also, my work is directed to bringing awareness around stigmas surrounding sexual practices, public stigmas and the resulting oppression. I want to give voice to issues like sexual assault. I also believe that there are only one, two, or three issues that we can really be passionate about and work on. If I’m over here working on affecting progress in the realm of sexuality, I have to trust that others are pouring their time and energy into other issues in other sectors that need to be addressed.

Sinj Karan:
Do you want to tell us something more about the play that people can expect?

Dane Stewart: As far as the show is concerned, I’d just like some disclosure to anyone who is interested: the content contains a re-telling of a sexual assault story and there are on stage depictions of sexual acts and consensual sexual violence within a BDSM context. Just so people are aware of this.

Sinj Karan: Well it’s pretty strange that we as an audience watch violence and gore and all sorts of things, so easily accessible these days. But when it comes to sexual practices and/or sexuality, we turn so puritanical.

Sinj Karan: What kind of audience are you looking at? Are you focused on the niche LGBTQ audience or are you hopeful that you can make inroads elsewhere?

Dane Stewart: I am hoping that it will a little bit. That’s the reason I have marketed the show a little bit like that and called it what I did and used certain images. You will see a lot of sexually enticing and provocative imagery. From a marketing perspective, I hope that we can get straight people interested and then we can surprise them and help spread a little bit of education.

The History of Sexuality is playing from Sept 21-23, 27-30 at 8 p.m., Sept 23 and 30 at 2 p.m at the Mainline Theatre (3997 St. Laurent). Cost: $20 – General (Sugar Doggy); $16 – Middle Class Dog; $12 – Broke Ass Dog. Tickets HERE.