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Throwback Thursday – Standing on Ceremony

Sifting through the photo archives of Studio 180, looking for a charming backwards glance suitable for a Throwback Thursday, I came across this:

The cast and director of Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays (L to R - Kimwun Perehinec, Sarah Orenstein, Jonathan Seinen, Mark McGrinder, Mark Crawford, Jessica Greenberg, Jeff Miller

The cast and director of STANDING ON CEREMONY: THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS (L to R – Kimwun Perehinec, Sarah Orenstein, Jonathan Seinen, Mark McGrinder, Mark Crawford, Jessica Greenberg and Jeff Miller

It’s a shot taken backstage at Buddies after a performance of Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, a one-night-only special event presented in conjunction with Tectonic Theater Project and some 50 theatre companies across North America. Given the mass wedding taking place as part of World Pride today, it seemed a no-brainer as far as #tbt content goes, but the complex political discussions that spring from the issue of marriage equality suggested a blog might be more appropriate than a cheeky Tweet.

When the notion of taking part in the Standing on Ceremony event came up, there were plenty of reasons to jump on board. Tectonic Theater Project, creators of The Laramie Project, were spearheading the initiative in the face of Prop 8 madness. Our own connection with Laramie and the positive experience of taking part in a simliar Tectonic led event a couple of years earlier implied a perfect fit. At the time, we were in the midst of a run of The Normal Heart and were already taking part in several outreach initiatives looking at the state of LGBTQ rights “then and now” – this seemed like a reasonable addition to the list. But there were reasons to be cautious as well. Was “gay marriage” an issue for us the same way it was in America? And, given past criticisms of The Normal Heart as advocating heteronormative rights (particularly as evidenced in its own marital finale), might this be a reinforcement of those narrowly focused aspirations?

The highly emotional, and politically problematic "wedding scene" in THE NORMAL HEART.

The deeply moving, and politically problematic “wedding scene” in THE NORMAL HEART

In the end, the appeal of solidarity with groups across North America, coupled with the script’s awareness of the contentious nature of marital rights being presented as synonymous with gay rights, made the decision to take part an easy one. In a way, it’s those complexities that draw us to all the work we do. “Mickey, why didn’t you guys fight for the right to get married instead of the right to legitimize promiscuity?” rails Ned Weeks, the Larry Kramer surrogate in The Normal Heart. It’s the type of conservative statement that raises eyebrows when heard in isolation. But what makes Kramer’s play so compelling is the counter arguments we hear and the tension created between those fighting for “sameness” and those who fear that fight is eroding all that makes them special.

Shortly before our performance of Standing on Ceremony, I had the opportunity to be interviewed on CBC’s Metro Morning, a radio program that I greatly admire. As the play’s director, I was prepared to be a spokesperson for the show, but hadn’t anticipated that I’d also be asked to be a spokesperson for a community. The preliminary interview, conducted by someone who was not Matt Galloway, encompassed the usual confirmation of basic facts and general information gathering required for a quick and focused conversation. But a couple of minutes into the pre-interview chat – it got awkward. “Why is the issue of marriage equality is so important to the gay community?” she asked.

Hmmm . . . there was so much I found problematic in this query. 1) What is “the gay community” and why do you assume that this issue is important to everyone in it? 2) Why do we always ask members of a marginalized community to speak on behalf of that community in its entirety? 3) Why do we assume that people who crusade on behalf of a group are a member of said group? This last one gave me the most pause, primarily because it put me in position to throw out a classic, “I’m not gay, but . . . ” statement which I invariably find distasteful. That said, I felt that it needed to be clarified in order to address all three concerns correctly. I eased into it and inferred that a chief reason to do the play was the fact that it was a divisive issue in the “gay community” and that the right to marry wasn’t something that everyone was clamouring for. I said I didn’t think that one person could or should speak on behalf of a community and then, apologetically, I said that I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to answer on behalf of the community because I wasn’t gay.

“Oh,” she said ” . . . I’m sorry – I just assumed that you were.”

Macklemore and company post SAME LOVE performance/mass wedding at The Grammys

Macklemore and company post SAME LOVE performance/mass wedding at The Grammys

Shame spiral. I felt shame that she was compelled to apologize, that I felt the need to clarify, and that I couldn’t let go of why I thought it was a curious conclusion to draw. I feel simultaneously entitled, compelled and guilty with regard to crusading for rights that I have not been denied. The issue becomes even more complex when the focal point is marriage equality. By standing up for fundamental human rights, do I run the risk of offensively prescribing my view of normalcy for all? And does this cis-gender, white guy diminish the past and ongoing efforts of the community by exploiting my own privilege to do so? One needn’t look much further than the Macklemore backlash from another “mass wedding” to see that these are legitimate concerns. But I’m pleased that on November 7, 2011, members of the cast of The Normal Heart and members of Studio 180’s Core Artistic Team took to the stage at Buddies for an intimate and emphatic assertion that human rights are not to be accompanied by an asterisk. It is also possible that Mark Crawford and Jonathan Seinen were unintentionally married in the course of the performance, but we left them to sort that out for themselves.

It’s a lengthy caption for a Throwback Thursday picture, but it seemed one worth sharing.

  • A co-founder of Studio 180, Mark is a Toronto-based actor, writer and producer. As a member of our Core Artistic Team, Mark coordinates the company’s new play development initiatives and is one of our Studio 180 IN CLASS workshop leaders. More posts by Mark McGrinder

One Response to Throwback Thursday – Standing on Ceremony

  1. Mark McGrinder says:

    This is a really great articulation of the concerns regarding the prioritization of marriage equality. A highly recommended follow up. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/29/same-sex-marriage-straightened?CMP=fb_gu

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