The following is a conversation between [de]centre creative director Luke Brown and theatre artist/advisory board member Thalia Gonzalez Kane. Thalia discusses her new play The ’94 Club and its upcoming premiere at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto. The entire interview will be included in our magazine, coming at you at the end of 2018.
Illustrations by Louis Sobol. Interview edited for clarity. Click the link for more info on the play, opening May 1:
Luke It’s been like, seven years since we’ve talked. Isn’t that wild?
Thalia Yeah! I mean, I remember you called me when you were applying to Bishop’s, actually.
L Oh is that when it was?
T Yeah, that would’ve been the last time I think we probably spoke directly.
L Wow! So you’re having a great time, I’m assuming, in Toronto?
L That’s so good.
T Yeah –
L Oh hello again
T That was my fault, I need to stop touching my phone with my face.
L [laughs] So this is going to be very casual, as you can probably tell. I have a couple things I’d like to ask you but really I just want to hear about your play, how it’s going, and your intentions behind it. And also just your general experience as a New Brunswicker in Toronto and how you feel about that.
Let’s start with the process behind writing The ‘94 Club.
T So basically the show actually came up while speaking to Phil Riccio, who’s the Artistic Director of The Company Theatre. We were just having a chat one day… I think we were extremely bored or something, and he asked me to tell him a story about New Brunswick and growing up there. And I asked him “Oh, have I ever told you about the ‘94 Whores?” And he was like “No, um, what?” I told him sort of the basic outline of the story of that and he thought it was absurd. And I said “Yeah, it’s pretty crazy.” It’s sort of a funny thing to look back on, but when I was a bit older and I told him that story, I realized how serious those implications are and how, pardon my French but how fucked up it all was, and how lightly it was all taken.
I always liked writing, but I never thought playwriting is something that I would do. That night I went home and I wrote a monologue as if I was one of the girls, sort of discussing what it was to figure out your sexuality and what it was to not understand your sexuality at that age. But the thing is you do, because we all sort of have that feeling when you’re a teenager that you know more than you actually know. After I wrote that monologue I sent him a message because we joked about it being a great premise for a play. I said “I wrote a monologue, I think I might write a play!” And then two weeks later I wrote the first draft of the script.
It was a very short script, ended quite terribly, with someone saying “Fuck”, and I thought “Oh it’s open to interpretation, it’s interesting!” until a couple friends of mine said “Well, you know, it needs an ending, Thalia… Um, it’s great where it is right now, but you should add an ending to it.”
I guess I wrote it initially without the intention of ever really doing it necessarily, it was just sort of the idea of “Why don’t you try doing something?” because I didn’t have any work at the time I think. And then as the writing came I started realizing this is something I really enjoy. I started realizing the importance as well of, you know, the ownership of my roots. So I mean the fact that I am a Maritimer is something I’ve always had a lot of pride in, but, and I’m sure you’ve had this experience as well, when you move to Ontario, and other parts of Canada, there is a bit of shame I’ve found attached to it. And then I decided to say “Fuck it” because it felt important to tell those stories. Oftentimes the Canadian stories that are coming out quite honestly are from Ontarian towns.
T And like, I mean yes, there are some from Quebec, but there aren’t actually many stories from the Maritimes, and there especially aren’t queer stories. So because the story happened and is quite honestly forgotten by everyone, it felt important to explore that: to explore young female women and their experiences, especially with the idea of queerness, self-discovery, and the harsh realities that come from growing up in a small town.
I think we kind of assume in our present climate that we’re all so over the idea of having to come out – because I mean we have so many other things now to discuss – but it does mean such a big thing in a lot of ways.
I remember it was after our very first play reading, and one of the actors and I met up and had a coffee. She was asking “I just want to know, why is it so hard for her to come out?” – speaking about one of the characters. She said “I don’t understand why she’s denying it to herself. This happened in 2010, why was it so hard for her to come out?” It is based on some true events but it’s not, by any means, a character study on anyone. And the actor I met with grew up in Ontario, and having that discussion with her was really interesting. ‘Cause I said, “Well it’s not, it is still hard to come out. It’s the judgement thing – I mean I didn’t come out when I was in high school by any means.” My girlfriend just came out not too long ago. I think we kind of assume in our present climate that we’re all so over the idea of having to come out – because I mean we have so many other things now to discuss – but it does mean such a big thing in a lot of ways.
Something else that I found really important was exploring young female queers. Actually there are barely, I think only a couple that I’ve been able to find, plays in the world that are about young female queers, that are not about experimenting and joking but actually exploring these realities of someone who is bisexual or gay or queer coming out as a woman.
L And not somebody who is a secondary character who is probably going to be the butt of the jokes – someone who actually takes centre stage as the protagonist, and it’s about their queer experience.
T Yeah, exactly. And about the focus of actually coming out, as opposed to “Well they’ve already come out” and we don’t hear their story. Especially when you’re in a small town and figuring out a sex life. I’ll give you more of a breakdown of what happens in the show.
These girls start a sex club. The reason the queerness came up and was so vital in this was because they have to talk about “What if we do stuff with girls”?
They perform sexual acts for guys, and two of the girls are best friends, and one of them is very obviously in love with the other one, and the other you can kind of tell is also but she doesn’t understand queerness. I mean a lot of that comes from my own experience: from the fact that I didn’t know what gay was. I didn’t know bisexuality was a thing because I’d never been exposed to it. And I had feelings but I didn’t have a name for them. I was intimidated by the idea because you know, my interpretation of someone who’s gay was like the absolute worst stereotype. The worst. I was like “Well I’m not that! I have long curly hair. I like wearing lipstick.” There was a real lack of education personally so I think it’s important to acknowledge growing up with these sort of limited views. Maybe if you haven’t been exposed you can’t know what it is.
One of the things that comes up is the girls start having sex with each other because it “doesn’t count” if it’s with a girl. It’s “just practice”. You can count yourself as more daring, to get bonus points, but it doesn’t actually count. So that’s how one of the girls of the two best friends convinces her partner to start making out with her and doing different things. The reality is the girl wants it, but it’s masked with this veil of “this doesn’t actually count, it’s okay, so you’re not risking anything”. And then eventually one of them comes out and then they have the discussion of “what is our sexuality?” Why is it that young women going around and having sex with whoever they want, giving blowjobs in locker rooms, is completely fine, yet there’s a whole double standard of what’s okay, what counts, and what doesn’t count? It’s about the idea of sexuality and sex versus intimacy.
L That’s really interesting.
T Yeah, and I mean, there are no males in this show, but they talk a lot about the sex that happens and all of that is very much “This is sex, this is a blowjob, this is a handjob, blah blah blah.” Whereas the relationship between the two women that forms is a really beautiful, intimate portrayal of love.
It actually portrays what it means to be with each other for the first time, as opposed to the idea of “Oh look, there are two girls making out on stage”
One of the pieces of feedback I’ve received from people who have seen the show is that they really are interested in and appreciate the beautiful love story between two women, which does not feel sexualized at all and it doesn’t feel like a gimmicky “It’s two girls kissing on stage”. And, you know, obviously the show is about sex and love, so there is sex present, but the way we’re doing it is through theatrical physicality… the actual moment, the first time the two girls have sex, is with music. They actually don’t touch each other, they play each others’ instruments. One of them plays the cello, the other plays the violin, each of them have a bow, then they reach over and play each others’ and look at each other the entire time. And instead of touching each other physically they’re touching the others’ instruments. So it actually portrays what it means to be with each other for the first time, as opposed to the idea of “Oh look, there are two girls making out on stage”.
We need to stop oversexualizing teenagers and actually portray real teenage feelings.
Thalia Kane in front of a New Brunswick flag. Illustration by Louis Sobol.