SPICEBAG co-creator Stefan Fae, together with a fabulous cast of queer performers, present SHAME // LESS: A “dark and sparkling” performance event streaming live from Dublin’s Boilerhouse sauna.
The show responds to the findings of ‘Culture and Sexual Risk: An Ethnographic Analysis of Gay Male ‘Sexual Worlds’ in Ireland Today;’ a social research project led by Thomas Strong (Maynooth University), assisted by Andrew Leavitt and Diego Caixeta.
“Is gay male sexual culture becoming more experimental, more risky, more intense not in spite of, but because of, the fact that gay men are also now often embraced as model citizen-consumers? Have years of official caution in relation to responsible ‘safe’ sex ignited interest in the pleasures and dangers of risk?”
SHAME // LESS takes these questions and spins them into a live visual feast, transporting the viewer on a “kaleidoscopic cruise of Dublin’s queer underbelly.” With sweat-inducing performances from the outstanding talents of Lady K, Karl Hayden, Luis Noguera, Pradeep Mahadeshwar, Goblins Goblins Goblins, Vickey Curtis, Day Magee, Attracta Tension, Osaro and Meg Woods.
We spoke with the producer and creative director of the show, Stefan Fae, to learn more about the inspiration behind the show, the challenges the cast came across while shooting and his hopes for queer performance in Ireland in the future.
Hey Stefan! Thank you for joining us for a lil’ Q&A.
Thanks for having me, love.
Let’s get into it. So as mentioned in the show’s description, SHAME // LESS reflects on a post-Marriage Equality, post-Repeal, post-Twink answering machine message world; What made you feel that time was now to bring this show to life?
So the origin story of SHAME // LESS begins with my friend Dr Thomas Strong. Tom is a lecturer with the anthropology department at NUI Maynooth who, assisted by his husband Andrew Leavitt and Diego Caixeta, has been working on an Irish Research Council-funded ethnographic project entitled ‘Culture and Sexual Risk: An Ethnographic Analysis of Gay Male Sexual Worlds in Ireland Today.’ The project was to conclude with a community-facing public conference: an event which, owing to COVID-19 restrictions, was looking like it would have to happen on Zoom.
According to Tom, this prospect didn’t seem so attractive during the first lockdown: yet another “social” event that involved staring at your computer screen, looking at a grid of faces. It was at this point that he contacted me with a proposal to create a “happening” that would draw attention to the research project, in lieu of the dreaded Zoom.
Tom showed me summaries of the findings of his research, assembled in a forthcoming report entitled ‘Shame/less: A Report on Sex Between Men in Ireland Today’ and what I proposed was a queer variety show, which I would program and perform in, a show that creatively interpreted specific findings from his research. And thus, SHAME // LESS was born.
What can we expect from the show?
Tom’s desire with the research project was to bring a “critically queer” perspective to the LGBTQ+, and especially gay-male, conversation in Ireland, a desire that we have kept very much at the forefront of our minds while making this show. What SHAME // LESS is attempting to do, therefore, is to bridge arts and academia in an hour-long, digital spectacle that is, by turns, engaging; entertaining; educational; titillating; unsettling and definitely a bit gas.
The show is set in Dublin’s most famous Boilerhouse. What was it that drew you to this space?
There’s an amazing, grainy video on YouTube from the early 70s of a young Bette Midler (accompanied by a then-unknown Barry Manilow) performing at the infamous Continental Bathhouse: a gay sauna that operated out of the basement of New York’s Ansonia Hotel from 1968-75.
Bette’s performance is fabulously raw and takes the towel-clad audience, of predominantly gay men, on a pretty wild ride. Like, does it get much better than Bette belting her lungs out at the sex party? Not in my books. This is partially where the idea for our show came from. The Boilerhouse is also a space with a certain amount of shame associated with it, which we’re hoping SHAME // LESS will go some way towards opening up the conversation about.
Sauna culture is an important part of queer culture, the less “presentable” aspects of which get flattened out when certain parts of our community move towards mainstream respectability. There are things that happen in these spaces that are, in a way, sacred and that’s what drew me to the Boilerhouse, as a location. Why go to mass when you can experience divine ecstasy at a glory hole? (G)Amen.
What challenges did you come across while shooting?
Obviously, the lockdown restrictions have made trying to get anything done a bit of a pain, but the staff at the Boilerhouse couldn’t have been more accommodating and the whole cast and crew were so enthusiastic about the project that the challenges we faced were more so things like the chain breaking around my neck, mid-shot, under the weight of a massive dildo I was wearing; silicone is much heavier than it looks.
The show has an amazing variety of super talented artists and performers featured, how did the cast come together?
As the main objective of SHAME // LESS was to creatively interpret Tom’s research project, my job in programming the acts was to assemble a diverse cast of performers that spoke to the diversity of perspectives contained within the report.
I also felt like there was an opportunity here to surprise audiences by including certain bodies, and types of performances, you might not expect to see in a show shot in the Boilerhouse; yiz are in for a treat, that’s all I’m saying.
With spaces slowly opening back up again, what are your hopes regarding queer arts and performance in Ireland in the future?
Throughout the last year, I think the important part that music, film, television, literature and the arts, in general, had to play in reminding people of their humanity became very much apparent; those Netflix shows that have been keeping you sane had to come from somewhere, chicken. And many of the people who make them were already in a precarious situation, to begin with, even before the industry ground to a halt.
My hope is that people will come to value the arts, and arts workers in particular, as necessary and holistic contributors to our society, as opposed to the creators of luxury items. I’m also gagging for a sweaty drag show, live and kicking, and to see Dolly Grip jump off that box in the George to The Greatest Showman, of a Tuesday: now that is art!
Shame // Less will be streamed live on YouTube from Thursday, June 24 at 9:00 pm through to June 30 – book your FREE tickets on Eventbrite here.
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