When a group of gay, male upperclassmen in the University’s musical theatre department saw a need for a space to celebrate an identity that they hold so close to themselves, they created the “Boys, Boys, Boys!” Cabaret –– a biennial performance put on by the group.
As performers and students studying musical theatre, this group realized that there was no better way to open a dialogue about the issues surrounding representation of the gay male community in musical theatre than through performance. The lack of representation for this community is not a new conversation within the world of theatre, and this age-old trend sparked a desire in the young men of the University’s department to work to make a change.
Justin Showell, Griffin Binnicker and Matthew Kemp — all juniors in the musical theatre department in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance — wrote in an email interview with The Michigan Daily, the collaborative nature of their answers a testament to how well they work together on projects like “Boys, Boys, Boys!” They spoke a lot on the catalyst for beginning the cabaret, and what it means to them.
“This cabaret’s conception was initially inspired by the lack of gay male representation in the musical theatre world; particularly in the ‘leading male’ trope. Too often is the assertion made that a homosexual man’s neutral is not believable as a romantic male lead. We constantly find that society’s heteronormativity not only stunts potential in our everyday lives but also in our artistic development,” they said when asked about what ultimately inspired the event.
The struggle of being a homosexual man in a world filled with heterosexual characters is often met with comments like, “Oh, he can play straight really well,” which could be countered by, “He can’t play straight at all.” These types of assumptions, in addition to others, are what makes being a gay male in the field inherently difficult.
The trio also spoke on cinematic representations of the gay narrative and how that ties into their inspiration behind holding the cabaret.
“Recently, leading roles have been portrayed by openly straight men (“Moonlight,” “Call Me By Your Name,” etc.). In this climate, it can be difficult to cultivate a sense of belonging in the theatrical field.”
Despite these challenges, the group is more than excited to have the opportunity to celebrate themselves in a way they love so much this coming weekend at the Kerrytown Concert House.
“The ‘Boys, Boys, Boys!’ Cabaret is a chance to stand in solidarity and shape our own sense of belonging,” they said. “This will be an evening of songs, traditionally sung by female characters in acclaimed musicals, to express the universality of love and to give us a conduit for our unique narratives.”
The performance will showcase seven of the department’s upperclassmen males, all with the mutual desire to tell their stories and make a space for more dialogues to arise about the day-to-day challenges they face carrying these identities in their field.
As performers, Showell, Binnicker and Kemp hope that the audience members who come to support them this weekend are able to take away many things from their performance. In general, marginalized people deserve platforms to share their narratives just as much as their normative counterparts do. In creating this cabaret, they not only create a space for themselves, but also inspire other minority groups to do so as well.
When thinking about the way in which theatre effects an audience’s sense of empathy, the group also had a lot to say about the relatability of their narratives to the general audience and demographic of people they are performing to.
“In representing marginalized identities, it becomes evident that people who you felt were worlds different than you actually share many similarities. When people of privilege are able to see glimpses of themselves in the narrative of persecuted people, we may find that society takes leaps forward in inclusion and tolerance of many, different cultures,” they said. This really plays into the importance of doing this kind of theatre, which seeks to start a dialogue and make a statement for a live audience.
The group looks forward to performing for audiences this weekend, celebrating their own identities and having a space to do what they love with full creative agency. When asked how musical theatre is the best or most prime medium to use for this type of statement, they had plenty to say.
“The musical theatre holds a mirror up to the society that the piece is speaking to,” they said. “People are far more likely to absorb and understand another side of the coin when it is presented to them in a way that is entertaining. The theatre is unexpected, and we get the most gratitude when people don’t even realize their minds are being changed.”