As Louisville and Columbus receive more national recognition for a growing queer community, especially when it comes to nightlife, it made me think: Where is Cincinnati’s place in all of this? What burgeoning queer organizations or popular queer spots in town are making their mark and promoting education, change and the values that make up the queer movement?
First on my list is Queen City Queer Theatre Collective. Conceived by actor and director combo Linnea Bond and Lindsey Augusta Mercer, this uprising theater company presents play readings that speak to the queer experience. The goal: Create conversation, challenge social norms and ideals, and enjoy moving plays in a relaxed environment. With assistance from Below Zero owner Nigel Cotterill and sponsor Absolut Vodka, the group of artists performs readings once a month for free at Below Zero’s Cabaret Lounge. I caught up with Bond to learn more about QCQTC and why it is important to Cincinnati.
CityBeat: What inspired you to start QCQTC?
Linnea Bond: I wanted to, first, work more. I’m an actor, and I wanted to do more work. And I wanted to do more work that mattered to me. I saw a hole in Cincinnati. Cincinnati kind of fell behind, but there’s also a lot of people who are interested in talking about their experience and there’s a lot of people experiencing life as a queer person who don’t have that kind of outlet to talk about it and are not seeing their stories onstage. And as a queer person myself, it was a part of my life that I didn’t get to experience that much before. I grew up Evangelical and pretty much as an adult came to terms with the fact that I was allowed to explore that part of myself. So it was something I’d been thinking about — how to explore parts of art that I wanted to address, and also be working more. So I decided to start this group and I found a space — I talked to Nigel. A friend of mine from high school helped me make that connection, and I knew that her finance was a director. I’d seen some of her work and I sought her out and talked to her about maybe being a consistent director and working on this project. And she was really excited about it, so she came on and we moved forward together as co-founders and got other people involved. I got together a cast for the first show — of people who were really excited to do this — and we moved forward from there. It’s just really evolved. The community has really come out to support us, and it’s been a really exciting and rewarding process.
CB: What was is it like working with Below Zero Cabaret Lounge owner Nigel Cotterill?
LB: Nigel actually was so excited about the first reading. He really wanted to support us and I was putting forth money on my own for the rights of the first show. He volunteered to take care of those for us, which was fantastic. And he offered to broker that relationship with Absolut Vodka, so now they sponsor us for rights for every show. That is something we are also so grateful for. And we’re grateful for [Nigel] to be extending that space to us, and it’s been a really positive relationship for the bar, I think, so it’s just wonderful overall. His bar is a huge cornerstone for queer culture in Cincinnati. It’s a place where not only queer people feel comfortable, but I know a lot of not queer people who go there and love the culture and experience. I think it is a really wonderful, inviting, nonjudgmental, celebratory place. I think that it’s really cool that we get to partner with him in that space.
CB: What is your view on the queer movement in Cincinnati? Why are organizations like yours important to the city and queer community?
LB: From my perspective as an artist, I think that art and artists are the soul of a society. I think that if we aren’t doing things, society will often close up and become cold towards whatever we are not talking about. Especially in Cincinnati, where there is a thriving queer culture, that there still is not legalized gay marriage. There are certain parts of town I’ve worked in before where I’ve received closed-mindedness toward queer rights and the queer experience. I think there are a lot of forward-minded people and there’s a lot of backward-minded people. So we are really hoping to encourage that discussion and make it a normal thing for us to be talking about. My hope in the future is that — as we’ve seen lots of supporters come out [to support], lots of activists, lots of people who share our experience — I hope that it extends to people who might not be comfortable with that conversation. I hope they feel welcome to come experience our art, and gain something they have not experienced before. That is why [QCQTC] thinks [performances] should be free. We want to be accessible to everyone, no matter what their financial background is.
CB: What can an audience member expect when attending a reading?
LB: We were wondering how it was going to be perceived because people are used to a full presentation. We knew people would like it, but we were surprised at how much people like having that different format. We do it very efficiently, very quickly. We put that show up; so we only have a couple of rehearsals. It is also up to our director, Lindsey, on how it is going to be staged. There is sometimes movement on and off stage. Sometimes there’s a little movement and staging in it. But ultimately, we want to focus on the text and communicating that text and those relationships as well as we can.
CB: Your website explains that QCTQC brings “free public theatre to Cincinnati’s queer bar scene, giving locals the chance to celebrate the queer experience in art while enjoying drinks and downtown nightlife.” But what are your goals for the future? Do you ever plan on expanding to an actual theater space or a larger venue?
LB: Anything is possible at this point. We love our relationship with Nigel, so we appreciate the space and want to maintain that. But we have thought about possible partnerships with churches. GLSEN is an organization we also respect. We want places that are available to youth. We are very limited by the fact that people who are under 21 cannot come to our performances because it is a bar. We are hopeful for increasing accessibility in the future. We don’t know what that is going to look like, but that is something we think about. How can we expand? How can we reach more people?
CB: What is your process when choosing from a plethora of queer plays and literature?
LB: Some of it has to do with logistical constraints — you know how big the cast is, that stuff. We really want to do trans* shows, but we’re really sensitive to the fact that we don’t want to put a cis[gender] actor in the position of playing a trans* character. That is something we have to think about in terms of casting in the best way we can. We hope for that in the future, but it is wherever our heart leads. We have plenty of time. We’re in a sustainable position, so if something moves us — that we can’t do right now — we can perform it later. The first play that we did — The Beebo Brinker Chronicles is one I found over the summer — moved me so much because it shows so many different perspectives, especially the queer experience from the woman’s perspective. Additionally — and some people might disagree with me on this — I think that it is an early example of someone who wants to change their gender in a society that doesn’t have that dialogue.
CB: The past decade has provided entertainment through television programing like The L Word and Orange is the New Black that gives the queer woman’s perspective as you mentioned. Now TV shows like Transparent and RuPaul’s Drag Race have entered the mainstream, sparking a conversation about gender identity and gender roles in society. This has not always been the case. Still, today, the entertainment industry continues to glamorize the cisgender white male experience. Do these pop cultural themes or the role of cisgender white males in society contribute to the plays you choose to perform?
LB: We think of ourselves foremost as educators, but we think of ourselves, also, as artists telling good stories that are moving. I, personally, would like to do more shows that are about the intersectionality between the oppressive queer experience and other experiences of oppression.
CB: In high school I read Angels in America by Tony Kushner and it changed the way I see the world, myself as a queer individual and the queer movement. What was the first queer play you read that inspired you to connect your art and activism?
LB: That’s a great question! There was certainly stuff before this, but my mind first goes to reading The Beebo Brinker Chronicles last summer. I was able to come across a play that had characters I could really connect to — people who didn’t think they were allowed to feel the attraction that they felt.
CB: How can one get involved or audition for QCTQC? Is it only 21 and older?
LB: We’re working on it. We don’t have answers yet, but we know there is that energy and we’re really trying to find ways to serve it. The best way is to get in contact with us through our email, which is email@example.com. We started this through a grassroots energy effort and if people have that excitement to join, we absolutely want to meet that energy. We feel so grateful to the people who have supported us, who have been moved by what we are doing. I feel so grateful.
Queen City Queer Theatre Collective presents a reading of The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me by David Drake tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Below Zero Cabaret Lounge. 1122 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine, 45202.
With the news of local musician Jess Lamb competing on the 14th season of American Idol, I’ve been watching and waiting for the initial audition episodes to end so we can really get into the competition and see more Jess. This week was the first half of Hollywood rounds, where some 200 contestants that received golden tickets during the aforementioned auditions before the judges — Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr. — converged under one roof. The musicians and singers will perform solo and as groups for the judges, who will gradually dwindle the crowd down to the top 24 finalists.
Unfortunately for locals (Spoiler Alert), we got about 30 seconds of Jess Lamb air time between this week’s two episodes. But on the upside, she’s still in the game!
On Wednesday’s episode, the judges surprised a room full of contestants, telling them a select few would be called onstage to perform right then. For viewers at home, we’ve seen these folks before — they’re the ones we saw audition and receive golden tickets (but keep in mind there were many more than what we saw), the judges’ “most memorable auditions.” But they don’t know that. For those in the crowd, it seems like random contestants were pulled up to perform in front of their competition with no immediate feedback from the panel of mega-stars. And the judges were continuously bewildered as to why these kids were coming up scared shitless.
First up was Jax, who looks like a PG-13 Ke$ha that got puked on by Forever 21, but gave a really cool cover of “Toxic” by Britney Spears.
Walking New York stereotype Sal was also called. According to the show he’s 19, but this man is definitely at least 45 judging by his voice, appearance and penchant for standards (his name is Sal for crying out loud).
Afro’ed Adam — who gave a boisterous performance of “Born to be Wild” in his audition — surprised everyone with a softer side that the judges didn’t seem to like.
Fast-forward through what seemed like a million 15-year-olds that made me feel like a stale prune…
And it was nice to see Garret, the blind cowboy with a voice of a thousand Country angels. He so needs to be in the top 24.