Director Stacy Holman Jones says Heavier Than Air resulted from interviews which playwright, performer and scholar Anne Harris did with queer teachers in Victoria.
“They were beautiful interviews and Anne’s background is as a playwright, so we decided to create a work based on those transcripts.
“One of the really interesting and also difficult things was the degree to which teachers felt they had to hide aspects of themselves in the classroom and from colleagues.”
Holman Jones says that while campaigns such as “It Gets Better” have sought to tackle the harassment of lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer (LGBTIQ) students, there has been little done to address the bullying of teachers.
Some of the teachers interviewed by Harris reported being the target of homophobic comments and bullying by students or parents, while others were simply too afraid to come out or talk about their home life with colleagues. In regional or rural areas, where communities are more tight-knit, bullying sometimes bled into the wider community.
Teachers who chose to be out in the classroom were often held up as a kind of example, becoming “hyper-visible”, yet at the same time they were unseen in education contexts.
“There’s the question of safety and feeling safe, but there’s also the question of legal protection that’s really lacking [for queer teachers in schools],” Holman Jones says.
“The play does a lot of work to bring those stories to audiences.”
Heavier Than Air features two actors, Anne Harris and Rachel Forgasz, each playing three different characters who represent the range of different experiences shared by the teachers interviewed.
Scenarios presented include the teachers’ encounters with students in the classroom and in public, teachers telling stories about being harassed at home, and transgender teachers talking about transitioning from male to female or female to male.
“There are also moments of light-heartedness and generosity,” says Holman Jones.
“The performers bring a lot of energy and fun to the performance … but there are moments in the show that are really heartbreaking.”
She says one of the things Heavier Than Air illustrates is that much work still needs to be done to ensure LGBTIQ teachers are properly protected and supported.
“We’re hoping the show’s going to be a great conversation starter and build some awareness of the need to include teachers in the conversation.”
Heavier Than Air will have its premiere at the Nexus Theatre, Lion Arts Centre, on November 27 and 28, as part of the Feast Festival. It will also be presented at the Gay Games Cultural Festival in New Zealand next year, and at the Singapore Fringe Festival in 2017.