by Mike Bryant
Legally Love, or
Homosexual Law Reform Concert, or
The Concert for the Gays, or
The Michael Stebbings Experience
Theatre is gay.
At least, that's the stereotype, right?
To the common person, the thought of the backstage area of a theatre production must conjure up an image of a perpetual Mardi Gras, with feathers and sequins and glitter, glitter, glitter. It must look like an oasis of beautiful, young, thin-hipped men in mascara and nail polish, mincing around, belting out the Wizard of Oz soundtrack and spouting wave upon wave of useless information about Broadway divas, living or dead.
But, ignoring the fact that, apart from being thin-hipped and beautiful, I tick all of the above stereotype boxes, anyone who has ever done any type of theatre knows that all of that isn't reality - backstage is quite often dusty and dark with gaffer tape covering every surface and a plethora of half-empty water bottles.
Nevertheless, theatre (particularly musical theatre) and homosexuality have always gone hand in hand in the public consciousness. Perhaps this is because theatre is a place where all the misfits and outcasts gather. I was lucky enough to have grown up in the theatre and was always surrounded by queer-identifying people so I wasn't as affected by negative opinions about homosexuality as many of my peers. It was just another personality quirk, of which the theatre is absolutely full.
In considering all of this, it seemed perfectly appropriate that Wellington Footlights did a wee concert to celebrate the thirty year anniversary of the Homosexual Law Reform.
"The New Zealand Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986 is a law that legalised consensual sex between men aged 16 and older. It removed the provisions of the Crimes Act 1961 that criminalised this behaviour.
Homosexual male sex became illegal in New Zealand when the country became part of the British Empire in 1840 and adopted English law making male homosexual acts punishable by death. The Offences Against The Person Act of 1867 changed the penalty of buggery from execution to life imprisonment. In 1893 the law was broadened so that sexual activity between men constituted "sexual assault" even if it was consensual. Penalties included life imprisonment, hard labour and flogging. Sex between women has never been legally prohibited in New Zealand."
Let me just say this again, for those in the back.
"Sexual activity between men constituted "sexual assault" even if it was consensual."
The Homosexual Law Reform Act was signed by the Governor General on the 11th of July 1986 and came into effect on the 8th of August the same year. I came out as gay when I was fairly young and I have lived a comfortable life and, while not completely free of bigotry and discrimination, I have never suffered too much at the hands of others because of my sexuality. Nor have I ever felt the need to hide something so fundamental to who I am as a person, and this is all because of the Homosexual Law Reform Act and those that were courageous enough to live openly in a time of such hatred. A time when people where actually thrown in jail for loving the "wrong" person.
The suggestion was posed to the Footlights committee, would we be interested in doing something to celebrate the thirty year anniversary? The committee unanimously agreed
The plan was thus: finish Legally Blonde, start rehearsing for the Homosexual Law Reform Concert, and at the same time start rehearsals for Heathers.
Somewhere in between all of this, the Orlando shootings happened, so Footlights also performed at a benefit concert at Eva Beva to raise funds for this. The shootings also brought home the fact that there is still so much homophobia in the world and that this is an event in the history of our country that is WORTH celebrating.
Musical theatre has so many roots in the gay community and vice versa, and Footlights is made up entirely of either queer or queer-friendly people, so doing something to recognise this made sense.
The decision was made to perform a concert at Ivy Bar, with my drag alter-ego Mama DeZiyah and Footlights Number 1 fan Alex (Kelly Fornia) as co-hosts. All proceeds went to a queer youth support group called School's Out, which I attended when I was sixteen and was involved with for many years.
This was a particularly exciting idea for me, as I have always said I have three families. My biological family (Hi Mum), my Footlights family and my Ivy family, which includes the staff Steve, Rose, James and Freya, the former staff like Alex and Blu, and fellow regulars like Braydon. (If I didn't mention them by name, I'd be in trouble.)
I don't think I'd still be alive without the love and support of my Ivy and Footlights families, so combining them was an absolute dream come true. I got to host a show with some of the most talented people I know, surrounded by people I spend most of my time with, donating to a group that has helped shape my entire life and co-hosting with my best friend? If only we had Patti LuPone singing the best of Sondheim, this would be my perfect evening out.
Stacey and Michael, the artistic director and musical director respectively, worked hard and put together an amazing song list for the evening, which included queer anthems like I Am What I Am, sung wonderfully by Patrick Jennings (side note, Patrick has been involved in every single Footlights show, whether a revue, a full-show or one off concerts like this), more modern musical theatre songs like An Old Fashioned Love Story, belted out in style by Ellie Stewart, pop songs like Take Me To Church sung by Ziyanda Matshe, Darryn Woods, Michael Stebbings, Ellie Stewart, Brigid Boyle and Dave McNamara with a breathtaking arrangement by Bruno Shirley, and Footlights classics such as Cell Block Tango (Pop, six, squish, uh-uh, cicero, lipschitz...) and Take Me Or Leave Me, belted to perfection by Stacey and Ruby.
Kelly Fornia brought the crowd to a standstill with her performance of Firework, including a costume change and a banner reading "30 years." Kelly and I also performed our (in my mind) famous remote control duet.
The concert was one of my favourite nights in my entire drag career, the crowd absolutely loved it and we managed to raise about $1000 for School's Out.
Big thanks to the cast, Patrick, Laura, Ruby, Brigid, Dom, Ed, Ellie, Dave, Zi, Margaret, Tania, Ben, Abi, Kree (who, due to unforeseen circumstances sadly had to pull out at the last minute, but put in a lot of work) and Darryn (who also helped with a lot of the technical sound-y type stuff); as well as the band, Stephen, Bruno and Paul.
Also BIIIIIIIG thanks to Stacey and Michael for throwing it all together,
AAAAAAAAND a huge, huge, huge, standing ovation of thanks to Steven and the bar staff at Ivy, who had to put up with us schlepping in and out of the bar for rehearsals, disrupting the cleaning crew and walking around behind the bar like we own the place. If you haven't been to Ivy, seriously you should go. Great drinks, awesome staff and probably me sitting in my accustomed corner.
And, of course, my main girl and co-host, Kelly Fornia/Alex without whom, I would have been lost (in terms of both the concert, and life in general.)
Love is love, and with Footlights and Ivy by my side, how could I feel anything else?