“Cocktails After Curtain”
By Sophie Balaban
A note before I get too deep into this: This isn’t a review and shouldn’t be taken as such. Think of this as the 2-margaritas-deep post-show musings of your femme friend who went to Sarah Lawrence for a semester.
What happens when you give a bunch of lesbians free reign over a theatre space? We get loud. And vulnerable. And naked in more ways than one. I use the term ‘lesbians’ loosely, in the same way I see leaked photos of Mackenzie Davis in the new Terminator and murmur, “I’m so gay.” I’m not gay. I actually identify as queer, but some people still find that term offensive and my parents are from New England, so sometimes it’s just easier for everyone at the dinner table if you grab for the loudest buzzword.
In this case, though, generalizing under one identity is a major misstep. Last night was a celebration of the identity spectrum that saw more than lesbians descend on the Fountain Theatre for ‘Summer Stock: Bottom,’ the second of three shows that make up this year’s installment of ‘Sorority.’ The brainchild of mad genius queer theater maker Gina Young, ‘Sorority’ is a soirée that creates a platform for trans, nonbinary, and queer female performers to take the stage and do what they will with what they’ve got.
And what they got was the female-leaning queer experience laid out in mosaic. Stand-up comedy on alcoholic parents and finding the right strap-on, a manifesto on becoming confessor to clients’ vulnerability while waxing their vaginas, poetry on the violence that comes from existing while black and female. The night’s prompt was bottom, and while some performers took that more literally than others - with more than one actual tuckus making a guest appearance onstage - others mused on hitting their personal rock bottom, or simply arrived as a bottom-identifying individual and then carried on with their unrelated performance.
Only it’s not unrelated. Hold that thought. I’ll come back to it.
What ‘Sorority’ ultimately does is serve as a meeting point between two underserved Los Angeles communities desperate for a space of their own. There are no longer any bars in the city that cater specifically to queer womxn, just the odd roaming ‘ladies night’ where you and your girls all show up looking like Leo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s R+J, then proceed to stand around for three hours making eyes at other packs like it’s a middle school dance. Don’t even get me started on the lack of sober spaces.
As for theater, there are those in the industry who will insist on telling you - often and loudly - that Los Angeles “has more theaters than New York City, actually.” That may be true, but the theater community itself is adrift. We have no anchor, no spaces of our own to act as home base. And with the loss of landmark locations like The Samuel French Store earlier this year, the situation isn’t improving.
At the intersection of this lack of space is ‘Sorority,’ the quietly radical feminist community hub for queer artists to call home, and for queer audience members to feel seen. And not to get overly pedantic about the whole thing, but at the end of the day isn’t that what artists are in the business of doing? We put work out into the world that says, “This is me. This is my experience. This is what I know to be true.” And when people see that art they respond, hopefully, with, “Holy shit, yes. I also know this. I see you. And you see me.”
When you’re part of a marginalized community, you stumble across that glorious moment of being seen all too rarely. We learn to read between the lines, identify with the bones of mainstream stories and archetypes, take what crumbs are thrown our way. I can rattle off a whole ass list of close friends who saw Booksmart three or four times within its first week of opening because they had never seen themselves reflected with such hilarious laser precision in a mainstream comedy before, and they were literally drunk on the experience.
We are hungry to be seen, to have our experiences validated and reflected back to us in our entertainment. We are hungry for a place to experiment with our own art and connect with other artists. So that thing I was saying about performances being unrelated to the prompt? Not totally accurate. For a place to exist where someone can stand up and say, “Hi, I’m a bottom. (A nonbinary artist. A transgender man. A lesbian.) This is my art, not about my identity but reflected through the lens of it. Here’s what I know to be true. Here’s the color I’m adding to the narrative.” For that place to exist?
Yeah, that’s pretty radical. And we need a lot more of them.
Note: This is not a critical review of “Sorority”
“Sorority” Event Coordinator: Gina Young