Richard "Bugs" Burnett's national column and blog on LGBTQ life and culture across Canada and around the world
Monday, 10 October 2016
PLAYWRIGHT JORDAN TANNAHILL ON VIDEOFAG, QUEERNESS, COMING OUT AND THE GGs
Jordan Tannahill (photo by Lacey Creighton)
Bugs' original interview with Jordan Tannahill ran in POP TART in the Montreal Gazette on Oct. 21, 2015.
Governor General’s Award-winning playwright Jordan Tannahill is one of the hottest names in Canadian theatre and author of the 2015 book Theatre of the Unimpressed– a look at how dull plays are killing theatre and what we can do about it – as well as Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays, which won the 2014 Governor General’s Award for drama. He also ran a storefront arts space called Videofag out of a defunct barbershop in Toronto’s Kensington Market with William Christopher Ellis, which they closed in April 2016.The Canadian playwright, filmmaker, and theatre director has been described by The Globe and Mail as “the poster child of a new generation of (theatre? film? dance?) artists for whom “interdisciplinary” is not a buzzword, but a way of life.”
I sat down with Tannahill for toasté hotdogs, burgers and poutine at the Montreal Pool Room, on the eve of his play Total Liquidation, which his National Theatre School students put on at the Monument National in October 2015.
Jordan Tannahill: As a theatre maker and director, what makes live performance vital in the 21stcentury? When there is cinema, video and television, why tell stories live in front of an audience? The book attempts to answer that. Why live? I think the vitality of theatre still rests in that very simple, elemental question.
Do you think theatre in Canada could be more queer?
“I don’t know if cinema or television are more queer than theatre, but in some way theatre remains a fairly accessible form for makers. I think stories can be told anywhere, so if you run into a (conservative) gatekeeper then just go around them, make your own palaces.”
Make your own Videofag.
Exactly! I think the question you’re asking is if there is a lack of queer representation on major mainstream stages. Perhaps. I think the straight narrative is still the default narrative.
How central is your queerness to your identity?
I think it is very central. It is integral in my world views, in the art that I feel speaks to me, or the politics I support. Some of my shows are overtly about queer characters, but some od them are not, but (even then) I can’t help but write (in) queer characters. Questions about gender or identity, outsiders, voices on the margins – those are questions I am drawn to immediately.
What was your coming out like?
I was young. I was 14. My mom was great, she had a lot of gay friends, so I was exposed to gay men in my childhood. I came out later to my father, and when I did, he was very open and accepting. I can’t cry foul when it comes to my own coming out stories. But when you are in a minority, you are aware of the hegemonic mainstream and you are consciously, biologically or implicitly rejecting that to some extent.
What is it like to win a Governor General’s Award?
That day was exciting in many ways, but it does transform your relationships. I don’t feel like I have to constantly prove myself with every project. I can present crazy, wacky, weird ideas to artistic directors now. There’s a kind of willingness now to see it through. The GGs have even allowed me to make even bolder, stranger proposals now. I am fortunate to have success at such a young age. I am increasingly producing my stuff not at spaces like Videofag, but at the NAC or Canadian Stage. But how to remain a shit disturber, how to remain angry, because for me anger is the primary fuel of good art.
How excited are you about directing your students in Total Liquidation?
I’ve been working with these actors for three years now, so I’ve seen them grow up. They have also created all of their own original punk music for this play, inspired by the Montreal scene, and they’re a politically-engaged group. This is a unique work, made with them and for them. We’re going to detonate the Monument National!
How do you like Montreal?
I just love it! For me Montreal is a profoundly queer city, it’s a romantic city, it’s a city dripping with sex and it has profoundly informed Total Liquidation, which is a politically and sexually-charged piece.
Are young men throwing themselves at the feet of Jordan Tannahill?
(Laughs out loud) I wish! That’s so sweet. Actually, I have a boyfriend now and I’m really falling head over heels for him!