From August 9th to 12th, McGill Arts alumnus Dane Stewart (BA 2013) will present his original play, The History of Sexuality, as part of the vibrant Montréal Pride celebration. Built on a rigorous research process combined with a series of interviews with LGBTQ+ Montreal residents, the final piece explores the complexities of power and sexual dynamics through a queer lens. After a successful two-week run at the famed MainLine Theatre on St-Laurent Boulevard, the work was selected to be included in the official Pride programming this summer. The play will be presented by Talking Dog Productions, a Montreal company that champions queer arts. With performances at Place des Arts scheduled to begin next week, playwright and director Stewart reflected upon the academic and extracurricular influences that inspired him to create his two-act ode to the nuances of sexuality.
As a student in the English Department at McGill, Stewart channeled his passion for theatre into his pursuits within the classroom, on campus, and throughout Montreal. "One of the incredible things about McGill is the independent student theatre scene," he enthused, reminiscing about his active involvement in campus groups such as the Players' Theatre, Tuesday Night Café Theatre, and the Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society. He produced for the annual McGill Drama Festival in his second year of university, exposing him to the brilliant artistic talents of fellow McGill students who were able to create and present works of their own. As he forged connections and ventured into the larger Montreal theatre community, he was able to work on independent shows at the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival, where he found employment running media relations after graduating.
Not only did his work with campus theatre groups introduce him to the expansive, diverse theatre community in Montreal, but it also instilled within him the skills necessary to write, direct, and manage his forthcoming production of The History of Sexuality. "Within these groups, like Players', TNC, and AUTS, everything is organized by students," he said. "We handled the artistic side, the technical side, and even the production side, marketing and financing shows ourselves. This independence was crucial to my development as a theatre artist." The versatility Stewart practiced through his work at McGill allowed him to seamlessly adopt several important roles in the production of The History of Sexuality, which, through his efforts, received a $20,000 grant from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Quebec (CALQ) this year.
Opportunities within the classroom at McGill also catalyzed the development of Stewart's theatrical work, providing him with important insights from professors working in a variety of fields. He took several acting and directing courses led by Professor Myrna Wyatt Selkirk, who he continues to hold in high esteem. At the end of his undergraduate program, Stewart wrote the play "How Exile Melts" as a final project for a course taught by Professor Patrick Neilson. The production's set was designed by McGill Arts graduate Holly Hilts, whose work amazed Stewart and led him to collaborate with her in the creation of the set for The History of Sexuality. In his final year at McGill, he took a course on queer theatre with Professor Erin Hurley that delved into the boundless subjective experiences of sexuality. The works he read in the class taught him a range of techniques for writing queerness, in his words; his classroom study of the verbatim theatre piece The Laramie Project by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project stimulated his own research and writing process.
Developing the innovative method of fictionalized verbatim theatre was a project that Stewart elaborated through writing The History of Sexuality, which incorporates research, knowledge, and testimonials from real people in the formation of the narratives seen on stage. In essence, all of the people involved in the creation of Stewart's characters and script have been equally adaptable, bringing separate yet interweaving experiences of queerness into the piece. Based on Stewart's own revelatory encounter with the work of Michel Foucault, the play centers on students debating issues of sexuality, gender, oppression, and free will. Through the discussion, three pairs of students find that structures of power at the crux of Foucault's analysis of sexuality impinge on their own lives as people affected by anxiety and depression, as people who experience sex work, as people delving into the realms of kink and BDSM, and as people living in a world built on uneven systems of race, ability, gender, and power.
Addressing these systems in his own research, Stewart developed his methodology with the question of how to ethically create characters outside of his own experience in mind. He engaged with queer Montreal dwellers who were willing to participate in an interview process, allowing them to review the ways in which their words were represented in order to honor the lives and stories they had shared. The process involved a constant dialogue between writer and community, strengthening the fictional play as a conglomeration of efforts to depict real people as they wish to be seen.
“We’ve crafted a piece of theatre which presents queerness and sexuality as honest and intrinsically human,” said Stewart. “I wrote this piece by interviewing real people about their real experiences. It’s not about sensationalizing; it’s presenting queer intimacy as something real and radical."
Tickets to The History of Sexuality can be purchased at rates of $20 to $25 at placedesarts.com or 514-842-2112. The show will be presented in the Cinquieme Salle of Place des Arts.