My name is Tom Wright and I am a gay playwright. I feel incredibly fortunate and proud to have broken through this year with two debut plays in back-to-back productions; My Dad’s Gap Year at the Park Theatre and Undetectable about to open at the King’s Head Theatre. It's been a fascinating process discussing these plays with producers and programmers, whilst wrestling with my own complex feelings around the term ‘gay play’. What does this label mean for both my work and me?
Labels help us understand, identify and communicate what things are. They help to build communities and subcultures. They connect individuals with communalities, shared issues and interests. In theatre, they can help reach audiences who identify with certain perspectives and enthusiasms. But what seems like a short cut may also be a short road, limiting potential and leaving out room for complexity.
There are so many people that tell you being a gay playwright is limiting. That it will limit your audience and limit the scope of your career. But there’s extraordinary diversity in gayness and there are so many gay stories that haven’t been told yet. In an industry where audiences are crying out for new stories this can only be a good thing.
The familiar canon of ‘gay plays’ is seen as predominantly white, elitist and often somewhat self-deprecating. Over time, this can contaminate not only how we see ourselves, but also how straight audiences frame our experience. It’s concerning, that this body of work could also tell emerging gay writers how they should write and whom they should centre in their stories.
Is the label ‘queer plays’ a more apt rebrand? Currently, the queer label tends to be applied to work that is queer in form rather than content; queer theatre-makers, drag kings and drag queens, rather than the traditional writer-led theatre. Queer artists of all kinds are seeking and instigating new ways of being proudly different and subversive.
This is why we gave a platform to a diverse range of new queer plays during our run at the Park, presenting readings by emerging writers such as Temi Wilkey, Kamal Kaan and Benjamin Salmon. Each wrote proudly under both the queer and gay play banner, providing unique, ground breaking approaches to the genre and in turn, developing it to be more inclusive. Each play was met with enthusiastic praise, because what audiences are hungry for is flavour.
I’m keen to own all my flavours proudly and that’s why I’m proud to be called a gay playwright, just like I’m proud to be a young playwright or a working-class playwright or a playwright from the Midlands. I see endless possibilities in all of those labels and would encourage all artists to seek out ignored subsets of their own fascinating identities and have the bravery to acknowledge and represent them. By doing so, we can help each and every individual realise they can be proud of who they are, too.