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 terrifying 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 camaraderie, 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!