‘People are much more likely to listen to you if you make them laugh’ – Sasha Chong on not Burying Your Gays
What’s better than star-crossed lovers? Star-crossed lesbian lovers, obviously. Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit takes your rom-com tropes and raises them to the point of satire as a Dead Lesbian chorus fight and sing their hardest to save the doomed lovers.
With a love of musical theatre and a strong desire to see more works for and by queer women of colour, Sasha Chong founded production company DisColourNation and developed the hilarious and biting musical comedy that is Romeo along with writer and director Jean Tong. After an initial run at the University of Melbourne, Romeo is now being produced at the fabulous Butterfly Club as part of the Poppy Seed Theatre Festival, a diverse exhibition of Melbourne’s emerging theatre makers. Sasha was kind enough to answer some questions about love, tropes and comedy for Popculture-y.
What’s the most exciting part of Romeo Is Not the Only Fruit?
Definitely being able to be involved in a fun, campy musical that not only includes queer women of colour, but actively celebrates and centres us while remaining very politically on point. It’s a super fun show to be a part of, but it’s also a very important one.
What was the most influential piece of queer literature/theatre/film/television for you?
Honestly it took me a really long time to actually see queer media that wasn’t just fan fiction. I just wasn’t exposed to it, and it just wasn’t being talked about. The first actively queer movie I watched was But I’m A Cheerleader, and I’ve been in love with it ever since.
This musical addresses the issue of the Dead Lesbian/Bury Your Gays trope. When did you first come across this trope? How did that effect you?
I first came across the term in an Autostraddle article I read about a couple of years ago, but it really blew up in popular culture after Lexa’s death on The 100. The fact that she died so quickly after forming what looked like a promising relationship just goes to show how easily queer characters and storylines are sacrificed for dramatic effect. The history of the trope is a lot more dangerous as previously the only way queer characters could be shown in media was if they were punished in some way through the narrative (as if queer people are dangerous and needed to be put in their place). I often talk about the importance of representation, both in terms of race and queerness. When you hardly see yourself in media, the few times you do see people who look, or act, or sound like you suddenly become all you have. When this so often ends in death or unhappiness it becomes very difficult to see yourself as someone deserving of love or respect.
This trope points to another issue with a lot of queer media – it’s often quite depressing. What power do you think lies in comedy and satire?
I think comedy is an incredibly important tool to get people thinking. People are generally much more likely to listen to you if you make them laugh in some way, and I think (when done well) it can really bring a lot of important points to the fore. Seeing queer, interracial relationships in a comedy that doesn’t demean the characters is actually incredibly rare. Being able to see it and have fun with it (as opposed to making fun of it) is so heartwarming. I think Jean Tong (writer/director/lyricist) did a great job with the script, balancing the political and the comedic aspects perfectly.
The show opens on the same day that the results of the Same Sex Marriage Survey are announced. Any supports or celebrations planned? (Alternatively, if you’re answering this after opening night – what was that like? How was the atmosphere post-survey? How are you feeling?)
No matter the result, we were always going to put on the best show we can. We planned on being here for the queer community and we still are. Now we know that we got a YES result, we can dance and party the season away with joy, rather than anger. We knew we’d get support from our community, but the yes result made me so relieved to realised that the majority of the country supports us too.
What’s it like performing at the Butterfly Club?
It’s great, but also challenging. I love the venue, and it’s been a dream of mine to be able to perform a show there as soon as I first stepped through the doors back when it was in South Melbourne. The stage is set up for one person cabarets though, so it is definitely super interesting to navigate putting 5 people on a stage that’s barely 4m wide! That said, I think we manage it well. Once the piano is taken out, we actually have a lot more space to play with.
If you could perform in any Shakespearean play, what would it be, and in what role? Why?
The bear, as in “exit, pursued by a bear”.
Romeo aside, what’s the best queer representation you’ve seen in the media lately?
Honestly it would have to be Steven Universe, which is surprising for a show that’s on Cartoon Network. It just unapologetically celebrates queerness and queer relationships in such a wholesome yet completely complex way. I’ve yet to see anything like it that doesn’t feel pandering, and the fact that it’s made for children gives me so much joy.
Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit is on at the Butterfly Club from 14 – 26 November. Tickets range between $22 – $35 and are available from the Poppy Seed Theatre Festival Website. There is also a relaxed performance on 22 November with less stimulus, quieter sound and the house lights on.