Article Title:Groundbreaking theatre: Inside The "Glory Hole"
Category:Performance
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:7th February 2006 - 12:00 pm
Published by:GayNZ.com
Story ID:1106
Text:"People have asked me, do I have to stick my cock through a hole, or are people going to take all my clothes off," says performance artist and self-described "slag about town" Kneel Halt of his new show Glory Hole, for which he is one of the co-creators. "I love the idea that people think that it's a new sex on site venue." But it isn't, despite its publicity description as a "queer multimedia flesh circus". However, it is a show where co-director/designer Sean Coyle says anything could happen. "While the show isn't narrative, the journey that the audience go on is basically based on a cruise," he explains. "We have an enticement, or an urge – it starts with an urge, and then it moves to being enticed, and then familiarisation..." "...and then there's the fuck, ultimately," Halt finishes. "We do reward the audience with an act of sensuousness and sexuality – it's the money shot, I call it – and it's the one time out of that two years of cruising that it's really right up there! And we wanted to interpret that." And yet, this provocative-sounding theatre piece had more esoteric beginnings. "I'm a theatre designer by trade – sets and costumes and lights, and I was looking at the nature of collaboration as part of my thesis project at AUT," Coyle says. "I decided that, as a designer, it would be interesting to begin a work that started from a space. I was really interested in looking at that, and looking at how collaboration happens within those confines. I immediately thought of Kneel, whose work I've known for a number of years. I always really enjoyed his work, and thought he would be a perfect collaborator." So how did the leap from collaboration to cruising come about? "Sean had already come to the table with some papers he'd drawn up about the subject of cruising, and the spaces that gay men create to have sex – not just on-site, but also the spaces that already exist, like the parks, the bogs, the beaches, and all the various kind of beats," Halt explains. "I was really interested in how men perform when they're within these environments as well, and I was interested in looking at that theatrically," Coyle continues. "There is so much performance that takes place within these cruising environments. I started thinking about how gay men create hyper-masculine environments – they take what are essentially heterosexual domains like the mechanics, the workshed, the prison, interrogation cells, which are really sort of masculine spaces, and they recreate them in safe environments, like cruise clubs." Halt says that heterosexual men wouldn't be capable of such imagination, because they take these spaces for granted. "These spaces are dominated by heteros," he says, "but we masculinise our spaces, and sexualise them. It's like reclaiming them in a way." Coyle agrees: "If ever I drop off my car to the mechanics, which I had to last week, it's a really unwelcoming environment. I always feel slightly out of my depth there talking to mechanics who are really at home within that environment – I feel totally out of place. I started thinking, why do we then take those environments which create those feelings of inferiority and reclaim them, recreate them, and sexualise them?" The show doesn't provide the answer to this question, but it may be something you can think of while you're being made an active participant within it – this is not a conventional theatre piece where the performers put on a spectacle for you to view. This is three-dimensional theatre, where the audience doesn't even get to sit down. "I call it a theatre of unease, and I've always propagated that in all my work," says Halt, explaining how the audience will be controlled, herded and shepherded quite literally through the performance space for most of the show. "The audience can't assume that they're going to sit in rows, in the dark, watch the front and clap at the end, which is a huge assumption that people have – that that's almost their God-given right. We create unease all the way through, right from the word go, right to the very end." Perhaps we can now see where the rumours about Glory Hole have started. However, Halt assures, this unease is nothing bad – "it's just not the norm". His mother will even be in the audience. "She's going to be shocked by the material," he says. "She said, what's your next project? I said, I'm doing a theatre installation piece about the way men have casual sex with each other. Oh Kneel, she said, can't you do something commercial?" he laughs. Sex has always been a perennial seller of commodities, though, from the arts right on down to spray deodorant. "I think this show has huge commercial appeal," Coyle says. "Internationally, any city in the world, that has an audience of men who cruise, and people interested in finding out about how men cruise." How will they go about creating these very different cruising environments in a single space? "We're using multimedia, we're using projection to convey a park theme, we're using cages for various other looks, cubicles... the audience is allowed to participate in that space as we instruct," says Halt. Having been put on-edge for most of the performance, the audience gets to relax a little at the end when the show takes a turn toward the burlesque, and they can sit down and watch. "There are songs in the show," Halt says. "They're not dispersed through the show, they happen in this cabaret section at the end. There's several genres being played with: magic, burlesque, cabaret, early avant-garde theatre, multimedia, and different kinds of multimedia as well, with the use of the set." "The show is a series of vignettes and scenarios," he continues, "and the last part's a social parody of some of the characters that we meet in this place. But there's no judgment, though, and no preaching. That was the brief we gave ourselves. It was up to the audience to make the judgments about these characters. Some of the characters aren't very nice, and some are lovely." It seems fitting that a show that aims to lift the lid on cruising should put faces and names to an activity that has traditionally been associated with facelessness and anonymity. Also appropriate is the diverse array of performers that have been assembled to put these characters together – various ages, races and body types can be seen, along with performers who are by turns fresh-faced and very well-known within their fields. "We've had amazing people express interest early on, which I think helped me and Kneel realise that we were onto something here," Coyle says. "We had people like Jon Brazier and Tai Royal saying – yeah, we're keen. Such experienced theatre royalty really, which was fantastic. They understood the concept straightaway." "They just jumped at it too, which was really an honour," Halt continues. "They knew it was something different as well." The Hero season of Glory Hole runs only for a week, but there are already plans to take the show further afield. Wellington is on the cards, as well as the possibility of international queer arts festivals. "There's been too much long hard work for it to be over in a week," says Halt. However, the show is quintessentially a New Zealand one. "It's indigenous queer theatre, and that's quite an important thing to look at," Halt says. "We had Boys in the Band, and in the way this show is a response to that, which is a historical piece – an American historical piece. Brilliant show, but I feel like we're responding to that with our own indigenous work, which reflects our community in Auckland, New Zealand." The community feel has been an integral part of the show's creation. "It's the first time I've ever just worked solely with a bunch of gay men," Coyle says. "I've been involved in theatre as a designer for the last fifteen years, designed over fifty shows, and I've never quite done anything like this. And I've never instigated anything myself, I've always been responsive to other people's briefs. So this has been really fantastic, working with Kneel and just creating what we want to see." Does he think interactive pieces like this are the future of theatre? "Yeah absolutely. I think so," he says. "It's what excites me." I can't quite shake the idea of this 'theatre of unease', though. Is Glory Hole one of those shows where audience members are singled out for potential humiliation, while quivering in their boots thinking 'please don't pick me'? "That's a myth," Halt says emphatically. "I think secretly most people want to be picked. The ones who say it out loud are the ones who actually really want to get involved." What about those who just quietly cringe? "We don't at any time individualise or pick out, the audience as a whole has to move through the space," Coyle assures. "We don't pick on people or anything like that, the whole audience is the protagonist," Halt continues. "They're the ones who go through this journey, and happen to run into all these different characters who inhabit these spaces – the park, the bogs, the sauna, the fuck club...it's about finding sex, it's about cruising, and cruising is an interactive thing. You can't cruise without participating." Those who might still be feeling unsure about the idea of participating might want to consider that they're actually being let off lightly. "There's a Spanish troupe – the Sewer Rats, from Barcelona – they do the most outrageous things," Halt says. "Charging through the audience with chainsaws, throwing offal at the audience. Kidnapping audience members, then filming their kidnap and projecting it around the room to the audience. We're not even ready for that in this country." They won't be kidnapping any audience members, though? "No, no singling out of anybody. They are one beast." So no-one ends up in the cage? "No. We do," Halt laughs. Some people might want to join them, I suggest. "You might, if you really want to," jokes Coyle. "That's for after the show. The late night version." WHAT: Glory Hole WHERE: TAPAC, 100 Motions Rd, Western Springs, Auckland (opposite the zoo) WHEN: 11 - 18 Feb, 9pm, bookings through Ticketek Chris Banks - 7th February 2006    
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