Actors performing alone. A director editing in solitude. And audiences listening at home. Is Alison Wong’s visceral audio production of Cloudless the definitive play of the pandemic era?
Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago - when I wasn’t studying for my next exam, doing homework or doing extra lessons - I found joy in play. Back then, play was about escaping the constructs of my colonial education system and having an aspect of my life be unorganized, unplanned and ungraded. The freedom to play football (not soccer) with the neighbourhood kids meant learning about everyone’s different cultural backgrounds, family structures, getting to hear new music, developing my own personality outside of home and school, but most notably - yet unfortunately - it also meant finding creative ways to hide my queerness. Everyone knew I was a bit different no matter how hard I tried, but it never stopped me from playing, because, to me, it felt essential. I believed it was my human right as a kid to run, scream and shout, and to feel a bit unhinged. I was entitled to it until the older neighbourhood boys started an investigation into my sexuality -- and I didn’t want to know what they would do if I was found out.
Fast forward to 2016 - I am living in Toronto. I am a self-identifying black queer studying at York University, fresh out of a hurtful breakup with half of my family over my undying need to accept myself and who I was attracted to. Not gonna lie, it left a hole in my heart and a gap in my life, but the Sagittarius moon in me was ready to fill it till my cup runneth over.
This was when I discovered the queer nightlife scene - it started at midnight and ended when your drug of choice finally wore off. It was sexy, flirty, and filled with music and DJ beats that were reminiscent of tasting a new food that your taste buds couldn’t explain but knew they liked. Everyone had a look, a style, a vibe, and an aura that said, “I came with my ex, but I am meeting my boyfriend!” The creativity exploded from all corners of the usually DIY space, past the beautifully lit makeshift bar, the official and unofficial dark room, and most definitely on the sweaty dance floor. The bass so loud it replaced your heartbeat, the heat between you and the hotties whose eyes met from time to time and then the feeling of passion between my thighs building as I grind on the guy who just shared his joint with me.
I didn’t realize it then, but I quickly grew to understand what I was being allowed to experience: play. Just like in Trinidad and Tobago, it offered an escape, this time, from the boring, white, heteronormative, capitalist cookie-cutter life that not only didn’t interest me but innately wasn’t created for me - the black, queer, immigrant me. It gave me a place to redefine and re-imagine what my queer, black, kinky sexuality could be and how I would explore it. It gave me the opportunity to meet friends who struggled to fit in - unsuccessfully trying to whitewash ourselves to find connection and community - and allowed us to find each other and reclaim the parts of ourselves that homonormativity shamed yet wanted to embody. This was Toronto’s queer nightlife scene in all of its messy, uncontrollable, beautiful glory. This was my new playground, and the more I delved into it I realized it was me and my chosen family’s opportunity to experience the privilege of play and the joy that comes from fun on your own terms. To us, it was safety, love, cardio, and a chance to let joy and warmth be the overwhelming emotion in our lives, instead of fear and tokenism. I don’t know who I would be or what I would have accomplished if I was never exposed to the queer black and POC nightlife scene, but I know that I would never have had the opportunity to allow play to teach me a lesson.
I didn’t want to just survive; I, along with my chosen family, deserved to thrive.
Mark-Che Devonish is the Manager, Special Events at Canadian Stage and founder of The Rude Collective.
Photos: Brianna Roye.