Performance Arts

Transluminate: Exploring Gender and Sexuality on the Stage

A cold rain had settled over the city, nevertheless, patrons bundled up and made their way through The Chapel’s door. The Chapel, a converted neogothic not-for-profit venue behind the Memorial Presbyterian Church (6238 Alexander Dr. St Louis, MO 63105), hosts musicians, performance art, and artists in its own gallery. Once inside the quaint and cozy venue on this chilly Saturday, The Q Collective performed their five-play series entitled, Transluminate. As a relatively new St. Louis theatre company, The Q Collective focuses its productions around “exploring the spectrum of gender, sexuality, and romantic orientation.” Transluminate presented an assortment of scenarios with which an audience could connect, bridging the gap between experiences lived and the desire for a deeper understanding.

Ashley Netzhammer and Samantha Auch in Miss Arkansas by JD Charles / photo by Holly Barber

The opening play, “Miss Arkansas,” asks audiences to sit with the main character, Stella Jane, and witness her enduring, and yet obligatory, strength in the face of adversity during a beauty pageant. Stella Jane presents a struggle with acceptance that not only extends to strangers but also includes close familial relationships, none of which are resolved by the play’s end, leaving audiences to process that continuous loss. “Miss Arkansas” offers a stark reminder of the limitations placed on transgender inclusion, and a small glimpse into the emotional toll of never quite knowing where and how you fit into a space.

Elon Ptah and Jaclyn Amber in Two Sugars by Charlie Lisa Meyers / photo by Holly Barber

After a brief intermission for the stage set to be changed, the following play, “Two Sugars,” examined the fear of potentially lost relationships when transitioning, the challenge of maintaining connections throughout a transition, and the sudden questioning of trust where a question had never been before. Max’s confession of being transgender to his childhood friend, Rose, also becomes the perfect time to work out their previous mutual attraction. This production ends with perhaps one of my favorite quotes from an ancient Greek philosopher. Heraclitus stated that “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Karen Pierce and Kasey Kopp in Breanna by Charlie Lisa Meyers / photo by Holly Barber

The color-filtered stage lights go cross and create difficulty in viewing the stage clearly. The palate-cleansing effect of this lighting technique, as the crew members change each play’s setting, creates a necessary break and reset from the emotion of each play. As “Breanna” begins, two individuals are waiting, some more patiently than others, in a doctor’s office waiting room. The audience soon clues into the fact that this play is set in a future where human bodies are a novelty. The exploration of love and creation, while almost wholly devoid of a corporeal context, is intriguing, to say the least.

Elon Ptah and Thomas Canaby in Homebody by Elon Ptah / photo by Holly Barber

The favorite of the series for me would be “Homebody.” By including his subconscious as a tangible character in this play, it invited audiences into Malcolm’s most private spaces. The audience experiences, together with Malcolm, very intimate moments of self-reflection, frustration, and ultimately acceptance. Malcolm’s struggle with self is juxtaposed against the loving support given by his groups of close friends, and the comedy of a twentysomethings’ dating scene.

 

Flynn Hayes, Anna Drehmer, and Samantha Auch in Now Boarding by Charlie Lisa Meyers / photo by Holly Barber

“Now Boarding” wraps up the collection with the purgatory of a delayed flight. This, however, is no ordinary flight. It seems that the airport is some sort of liminal space forcing the ones who enter to finally make a choice. Until the indecision is resolved, the plane will not arrive. Whether the airport is physically real, or the imaginings of a troubled person’s mind, the paralysis of uncertainty is concrete. Thankfully, a weighted topic is once again lightened with humor. Jo and Tina might be stuck in the airport for an indeterminate amount of time, but at least Roger always has donut vouchers and once your decision is made, you’re allowed to leave your worries in the overhead compartment!

 

With Transluminate, The Q Collective provided a wonderfully intimate and thought-provoking collection of plays that fostered connections and understanding for queer experiences. In addition to their theatre productions, The Q Collective also hosts a few select queer artists at their shows. So, with every show, you also get an art gallery! As they proceed through their second year of production, they promise to be a St. Louis touchstone for queer theatre and queer artists alike. Upcoming shows will both be performed at The Monocle (4510 Manchester Rd. St. Louis, MO 63110), a speakeasy located in the Grove that regularly hosts bands, burlesque and cabaret shows, comedians, and aerial artists, as well as special performances like The Q Collective plays: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” June 20-29, and “The Coming Out Play Festival,” October 17-19.

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