Article by Pamela Di Pinto, Calgary Journal, October 4, 2012
I am different.
Paul Welch has felt that way more than once in his life. He’s hard to miss standing at a staggering six-foot-six.
His height isn’t the reason why he feels “different” though. It isn’t the reason behind the constant slurs thrown from passing drivers, or the verbal and physical abuse he was subjected to twice in one night walking down Calgary’s 17th Avenue.
Welch is gay.
Welch, 31, along with business partner Jonathan Brower, 27, are hoping to address some of the negative social attitudes surrounding the queer community head-on with their new venture, Third Street Theatre – Calgary’s only queer theatre company.
“We’re not interested in creating queer theatre for queer people,” said Welch, the company’s artistic director. “We’re interested in creating authentic theatre for all people.”
We are all human
Third Street Theatre is the second queer theatre company to open in Calgary. The first was Teatro Berdache led by Steve Gin from 2000 to 2008.
Welch and Brower formed Third Street Theatre in June of 2012, followed by an official launch in August.
One of the overarching goals of Third Street Theatre is to explore what it means to be human.
Welch said some people still see the queer community as “disgusting” and “immoral.”
Sexual orientation remains one of three leading motivations behind hate crimes in Canada. Statistics Canada found nearly 16 per cent of all police-reported hate crimes in 2010 were motivated by sexual orientation, after race or ethnicity and religion.
Six hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation – about 10 per cent of all police-reported hate crimes – were investigated by Calgary Police in 2011, said officials with the hate crimes unit.
The Alberta Hate Crimes Committee estimates only one in 10 hate crimes are ever reported to law enforcement officials.
Hate crime statistics also don’t reflect hate incidents, such as bullying or homophobic slurs, that are motivated by hate or bias but aren’t criminal in nature.
Negative social attitudes towards the queer community can stem from the hetero-normative society we live in, where people tend to assume that everyone is and should be heterosexual, said Fiona Nelson, coordinator of the women’s studies program and sociology professor at the University of Calgary.
“It keeps their lives invisible,” said Nelson, adding queer individuals aren’t always “seen or appreciated for their full humanity.”
Third Street Theatre is named after the non-existent Third Street in Calgary’s Mission neighbourhood. It’s a metaphor for the queer community, which is an often-invisible minority group.
The non-profit theatre company is dedicated to representing the unrepresented – to telling real stories about real people under the “queer” umbrella that are both accurate and artful.
“Often times in the media – in television, commercials, things like that – we see queer characters presented as the stereotype: the excessively flamboyant gay guy whose done for comedic relief and laughs, or there’s the self-oppressed, self-hating character that needs to come out,” said Welch.
He added there has been progress in how LGBTQ individuals are represented in mainstream media.
Welch said he and Brower would like to further promote a more positive, well-rounded image of the queer community with Third Street Theatre, although he admitted company productions may be a hard sell for audiences critical of LGBTQ individuals.
“Ultimately, we can’t drag people into the theatre,” said Welch. “People have to want to see the story. We’re aware of that.”
Third Street Theatre is still being applauded for the forum it provides queer individuals, even if it doesn’t necessarily lead to a change in negative social attitudes towards the community.
“It is a place for people to be heard, for their stories to be told,” said Joshua Cadegan-Syms, a gay activist and student at Mount Royal University, who also has a background in theatre. “If certain people’s attitudes are changed, I think that’s an amazing byproduct, but something like this might just be a stop on a longer journey.”
High hopes for the future
It’s been quite the journey for the Third Street Theatre duo so far.
Welch said starting up a new theatre company has proven extremely time consuming. They have no physical space to call their own just yet and are constantly looking into ways to help fund the new, budding company.
Third Street Theatre recently received a $1,200 Grassroots Inspired Grant from Calgary 2012 for its “Queer Theatre Creation Ensemble.”
The ensemble will bring together three to five artists interested in exploring issues pertaining to queer individuals and/or the queer community.
The final product will be a theatrical piece for public performances in March 2013. The venue has yet to be determined.
Third Street Theatre is also accepting submissions for their New Queer Playwriting Competition until February 2013.
“It feels like a bit of a gamble,” said Welch. “We have no idea how it’s going to unfold.”
“Ultimately, we’d love to become a respected, alternative theatre company that is a viable contender in the professional community here.”