As devastating as the COVID-19 pandemic has been for South Florida theatre (and most everything else), it’s also had some unexpected but undeniable bright sides — and today, I’m talking super-nova bright. Thanks to Zeezou’s Stardust Extravagnza, the inaugural production of Area Stage’s Miami Queer Theatre Collective (or MQTC), I’ve managed to expand my theatrical horizons as far as outer space without ever actually leaving my house!
It all started around 5 months ago, when I stumbled upon one of the MQTC’s “Queerantine Creativity Challenges” on an early-pandemic Wednesday morning. These bi-weekly challenges took the form of morning prompts meant to inspire the creation of an artwork to be shared via livestream later that day. I participated in one of these challenges by impulsively writing an essayistic “love letter” to NYC, and a few weeks later, MQTC put out an open call for artists interested in participating in a longer collaborative project. Not only was I by then on the prowl for anything that would keep me from falling into a void of COVID-related creative inertia, I was also fascinated by the chance to delve more deeply into queer culture and my queer identity.
Thus far, being bisexual is actually not something I’ve thought a lot about, and this mostly because it just never seemed like a particularly big deal. For one thing, as someone on the autism spectrum, I was used to being thought of as “queer” in the word’s original “strange/odd” definition far before I had any awareness of sexuality period.
My natural Aspergian weirdness, in turn, led me to retreat at an early age to ultra-accepting and ultra-liberal social landscapes like theatre troupes and art schools, where queerness was commonplace and homophobia was basically nonexistent. So my gradual realization that I was attracted to women as well as men struck me as… like, literally nothing to worry about.
Still, though my dating app profiles have long been set to “seeking both,” I generally described myself as straight up until about 2 years ago primarily because I didn’t feel “bi enough” to use the label given that I’d never actually acted on any of my same-sex attractions, which probably circles back to the fact that I haven’t dated much period due to, like, the inherently terrifying nature of interaction with the rest of the human race. But post ~certain experiences~ during my time in grad school at, pardon the cliché, Sarah Lawrence College: I feel pretty damn bi.
Now, all that being said: back to Zeezou’s Stardust Extravaganza!
I admit that I was a little nervous going into the project, bc, you know, the inherently terrifiying nature of interaction with the human race, but I quickly found that working with my talented and friendly collective-mates was nothing to be scared of. On the contrary, I quickly found myself enjoying the camraderie, especially given that the pandemic had interfered with much of my usual interaction with the rest of the human race.
It’s the same push-pull paradox that’s kept bringing theatre back to the forefront of my life despite my repeated attempts to abandon it for more “sensible” and less nerve-wracking pursuits. Seldom do I feel more vulnerable and exposed than when performing in a play or seeing my writing come to life onstage; but seldom do I feel more alive, fulfilled, and genuinely connected to other people than when in the midst of putting on a show, even an online one!
It’s also worth noting that the decision to take this project virtual is likely the only reason this particular collective of people was able to convene. Though a non-COVID version of MQTC would have presumably been open only to artists who lived in Miami or close enough to commute there regularly, the online version attracted artists from not only all corners of Florida but as far away as Texas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.
The resulting troupe of 12 also ended up being an incredibly diverse one in regards to age, gender identity, and ethnic background as well as sexuality, meaning that getting a chance to work with and learn the perspectives of my fellow collective members was often as enlightening as entertaining!
After a few rounds of “collaborative speed dating,” we were able to establish a few basic objectives for our project:
- We wanted to address the sparsity of queer-themed children’s programming by creating a theatre work that would be suitable for the whole family and appeal to kids as well as adults
- We wanted to tell a positive and uplifting queer story rather than one that focused on struggles and hardship
- And we wanted to center gender nonconforming characters, play with metatheatrical themes, and embrace an out of this world aesthetic!
Thus, Zeezou’s Stardust Extravaganza was born! The appropriate-for-all-ages show mostly takes place on far-away Planet Rainbow, which is imperiled due to the ongoing war between the the two alien species who call it home. As one might guess from their names, “TellTales” are defined by their storytelling abilities while “SingSongs” prefer to spend their time singing and playing instruments.
The feud began when TellTales of yore started spreading “stories” about why singing was wrong, leading all but the bravest of SingSongs to abandon their music. This is the status quo until chosen alien Blippy learns via oracle that the only way to restore harmony is to fuse the two art forms is by putting on a Broadway musical with the help of a special and talented human child from planet Earth!
The resulting journey to opening night is a hilarious, whimsical, and tremendously catchy one, but the story also hints at deeper themes. For example, though sexual orientation is never addressed directly, it’s impossible to miss the affirming implications of songs like “Welcome to Planet Rainbow,” which celebrates a planet where everyone is free to be their true self without fear of judgement.
The harmful stories about SingSongs that TellTales pass down through generations are also a meaningful nod to the ease with which flawed representation can erpetuate negative stereotypes and insidiously work to perpetuate systemic oppression. It probably wouldn’t hurt most of us to think a little more about the kinds of stories we tell!
Soooo it’s definitely worth tuning in if you’re in the mood for a quirky and upbeat extraterrestrial escape this weekend orrrr if you’re interested in experiencing a script I helped develop as one of the many talented writers on the show’s content team orrrrr in hearing me pontificate in a ridiculously pretentious accent as the voice actress portraying puppet character Roy. G Biv. The role also required me to sing in “virtual public” for what I’m pretty sure is the first time ever, but no time like an international pandemic for jumping out of one’s comfort zone, I suppose! Well, at least as long as you do it inside…
Zeezou’s Stardust Extravaganza will premiere online tonight (July 25th) at 8 PM and will be shown again tomorrow (July 26th) at 2pm. The show will ONLY be viewable during those two time slots, so be sure not to miss its orbit! All you need in order to receive the link to attend is a virtual ticket, which is free with even a minimal donation in support of the MQTC’s future programming. Btw, the show only lasts a little less than an hour, meaning that you can watch and still keep the rest of your night/afternoon free to…um, what are we still allowed to do these days?
Finally: I’ve definitely emerged from this experience both far more aware of the importance of responsible representation and far more curious about the realm of musical theatre writing now that I’ve dipped my toes in. Fitting to realize while working on a super-queer theatre project that there’s no reason I have to stick to straight plays!
Now, all that being said: I should be back on-blog soon(ish) with a post about some other virtual theatre adventures and eventually with the promised last-three-posts in my Isolating Age series. Meanwhile, happy space travels!