The Kids Are All Right
For Midsumma’s 25th anniversary they’ve commissioned a piece that tells the real life stories of children of same-sex parents, surrogate mums, donor dads, co-parents and guardians. Created by writer/director and musical theatre prodigy, Dean Bryant, Gaybies also features a star-studded cast. Mitchell Neems speaks with Dean Bryant about what inspired him to create this work.
It’s the original common ground and the defining point of opposition for all adults; for as certain as everyone had a childhood, no two were ever quite the same. J.M Barrie wrote of childhood’s fleeting beauty, and the lament that comes with its inevitable passing. William Golding laid bare its savage underside, while for decades Walt Disney has been exposing the intricacies of all that is fantastical and formulaic about the act of ageing.
Now one bold, new production is exploring a decidedly modern wrinkle in the long canvas of childhood, one that has more than a hint of a rainbow at the end of its kaleidoscope.
Specially commissioned by the organisers of Midsumma in honour of the festival’s 25th anniversary, Gaybies is the brainchild of festival favourite Dean Bryant and shines a light on what it means to be a child with gay parents.
“It’s all real life inspiration,” Dean told MCV, three weeks and thirty interviews into assembling his ode to family.
Gaybies is part of a genre called verbatim theatre, which means the entire script is pulled from answers given in interviews Dean conducted with people who have first hand experience with a gay parent.
“You can’t take artistic licence, so you have to make sure you ask the right questions,” he says.
“Then you use their words and mould them into a structure that has dramatic shape.”
Both the form and the subject presented Dean with an opportunity to tackle the “hot topic” of same-sex marriage in a way that has rarely been seen before, and away from much of the religious conviction that usually bookmarks the opposing side of the highly-personal debate.
“What about their kids?” Dean recalls thinking, in what hindsight might cast as a lightbulb moment.
“How do those kids get by? What are their lives like?”
“And I just thought, well I’ll go the kids. I’ll go to kids of all ages who have some experience with gay parents: maybe they were born into a lesbian mum relationship, or maybe their dad came out when they were growing up, or in one case there was a foster kid who was fostered out by two gay men and they ended up adopting him.”
And from such humble beginnings, the idea for Gaybies was conceived. Bringing the idea to term however, would require extensive research and legwork for Bryant.
Dean says he looked at all forms of gay parenting, and all ages, up to as high as 38 years old, and more or less asked two basic questions of his respondents ‘how’s your life been?’ and ‘what was growing up like?’
The stories, the tales of tough times and triumph, flowed from there.
“At the heart of it all, there was a lot of love present,” he says.
“These kids deal with whatever happens in their life as it happens, and having parents that are gay is just not one of the big things for them, it’s not a trauma. As long as they’re loved and they spend time with their parents, so long as they’re looked after, they grow up the way you’re meant to grow up.”
Though still very much a work in progress Dean says he is less nervous and more excited about seeing Gaybies come full-term at Midsumma.
“I think it’s going to be funny, and really moving, and a complete celebration, and I feel really excited about the audience seeing it,” he says.
“This is a milestone, it’s 25 years of this festival that’s very well attended, a lot of the people I interviewed, they’re now 25-year-olds who have been to Midsumma things every year. Their family life has been going to Pride March, going to Fair Day, so it feels like I’m telling probably the closest story to the community’s heart that I’ve ever had the opportunity to tell.”
And with the likes of Todd McKenney, Virgina Gay, Alex Rathgeber, Esther Hannaford, Kate Kendall, Trevor Ashley and Christie Whelan slated to take part, Gaybies is shaping up to be the hottest ticket in the positively electrifying Midsumma programme.
Behind the hype though, Dean says this is just him doing what he does best, and what he loves: taking the audience on a journey. Whether it’s sequins and Priscilla on Broadway or the life and songbook of a pop princess, Dean says it’s what is at the heart of all of his productions that really matters.
“The stories I’ve always been interested in, in the shows I’ve done, are funny and moving,” he says.
“All I’m asking the audience is what would it feel like to grow up with gay parents?
“Because it is a different world now where you can live the life of a gay or lesbian person, and also have a family life.”
Gaybies January 15 – 19, 7:30pm (Sat 4pm) Southbank Theatre, The Sumner
140 Southbank Blvd, Southbank, midsumma.org.au
(image) – Cast from Gaybies (l-r) Christie Whelan-Browne, Rob Tripolino, Emily Milledge, Alex Rathgeber, Brent Hill, Kate Kendall. Photo credit - Pia Johnson