In mainstream media there is a distinct lack of representation and discussion of gender and sexual diversity. In Scene, Director Jess Green addresses and engages in this discussion head on by presenting collated thoughts, opinions and experiences of 13 LGBT New Zealanders through verbatim theatre.
There are many things to admire in this production. The stories themselves are blistering, tackling topics as diverse as ‘Coming Out’, ‘Professional Gays’, ‘Social Changes’, ‘Family’, ‘Transitioning’, ‘Misrepresentation’, ‘Things We Still Need,’ and each account is lively, heartfelt and insightful. Some of these stories seem familiar, some surprising, but each one is enlightening. And while the subjects expectedly discuss the struggle of living as LGBT in New Zealand, I really appreciate that they don’t shy away from the triumphs and advantages of living in a first world country.
The show also successfully delivers on its promise of diversity, with subjects spanning different ages, classes and obviously gender and sexual identities. The similarly diverse and uniformly excellent cast (Alayne Dick, Alex Rabina, Ashley Holden, Keagan Carr Fransch, Kelly Moen and Oliver Probert) bring their stories into brimming life. Some of my favourite moments in verbatim theatre are when actors successfully capture the idiosyncrasies of a speaker, and each member of this ensemble acquits themselves handsomely, creating characters that are clearly defined and developed and giving performances that are fully lived-in and emotionally resonant.
In this ninety minute salvo, Green and company attempt a laid-back and conversational feel. They are successful in achieving this vibe but as the show unravels and the running time becomes more apparent, this choice proves to be a detriment as it deprives the show of building real momentum and forward thrust as a narrative, even ending on a very low-key and unassuming note. The show is also plagued by some craftsmanship problems; unnecessary blackouts during transitions seem to enhance the glacial pace and technical glitches which should have been easily avoidable prevent the show from truly soaring.
Despite these, the cumulative experience of watching Scene is a greatly positive one. The lack of representation and discussion of different gender and sexual identities in media is a real problem and Scene largely succeeds in opening the door a little wider. This is an important documentary and I challenge Green to go even further, dig even deeper, include more accounts from people who aren’t living in the four major cities, subjects who are younger, who come from more diverse racial backgrounds, etc. There is truly something special in the show that with even further refinement and exploration could truly broaden the conversation.
In some ways, I was wary of my position critiquing the show being a cis-gendered man, but as an artist, I am quite grateful of the experience as I am determined to take up the challenge posed by the show and embrace diversity in the work that I produce and patronise. I can only hope that other artists and audience members feel the same way and that we not only continue supporting and encouraging LGBT artists but also do our part in furthering discussion, normalising representation and blowing that door wide open.