Preview: To Be Straight With You

Hating rituals: The debate on homophobia moves us

TO BE STRAIGHT WITH YOU conceived and directed by Lloyd Newson. Presented by DV8 Physical Theatre as part of Harbourfront’s World Stage series at the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West), opens Wednesday (December 2) and runs to December 5, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Saturday 2 pm. $40. 416-973-4000. See listing.

A 15-year-old talks about being stabbed by his father and brother after coming out. A fundamentalist Muslim preacher living in Britain says gays should stop what they’re doing or move out of the country. The friends of a man imprisoned for gay-bashing confront him and say they know he’s gay himself.[rssbreak]

These are just a few of the real-life stories you’ll witness in To Be Straight With You, DV8 Physical Theatre’s hard-hitting examination of how homophobia is alive and well in England. The piece is based on 85 in-depth on-on-one interviews conducted in 2007 with people on all sides of the queer debate, as well as 200 street interviews.

“I wanted to have a whole range of people within the piece,” says director Lloyd Newson. “It was important to have a debate onstage, not a one-sided pro-gay piece. It seemed important to give everyone a voice.”

The genesis of the ironically named dance-theatre hybrid show goes back to the early 1990s, when Newson and his then-partner – a South Asian man – were verbally accosted during a Gay Pride march in the Brixton area of South London.

“That incident always stayed with me,” says Newson on the phone from Santa Barbara, in the midst of the troupe’s North American tour.

“I think as a non-white man he was shocked by the fact that other non-white men would be so homophobic.”

Then, in 2006, Newson was shocked by the fact that in a Channel 4 program featuring 200 gay or lesbian Muslims living in Britain, all but one declined to show their faces.

For such a diverse show, it was necessary to hire performers whose own backgrounds were reflected in the stories. Not much of a problem for DV8, who have always been sensitive to minority issues. One of their most striking pieces, The Cost Of Living, features a dancer with no legs.

“We needed to find performers to reflect the samples,” says Newson. “Some of the artists weren’t necessarily happy saying what the subjects said. They wanted to change things. But since we invited all the people we interviewed to shows, we needed to keep the quotes intact.”

The company even sent full transcripts of interviews and the edited versions to lawyers to make sure there was no bias.

In the end, some of the most harrowing stories came from black and Muslim communities.

“We couldn’t skew the results,” says Newson, “to appease certain political positions.”

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