Identities celebrated

khattieQ, Alexandra Lainfiesta, Jackson Wai Chung Tse, and Baraka Rahmani. | Photo by Kaayla Whachell

The frank theatre and The Cultch present Be-Longing, a production that blends film, theatre, and new media to explore themes ranging from queer identity to immigration and diaspora, as well as the complicated feelings, places, and experiences underlying them.

According to co-creator Fay Nass, exploring the lives of four queer immigrants is meant to embrace the complexity of identities that are often considered ‘outside’ or ‘in-between’. Themes of the piece include childhood, gender/body, first love, immigration/diaspora and acceptance/belonging.

“The whole piece is about moving between… two worlds: home and a place that one lives in. Home also in terms of queerness and feeling settled in one’s body or gender,” she says.

“The story moves through each scene through some autobiographical, some fictional and some musical acts… Moving from isolation of self, exile, to acceptance, celebration and connection.”

“I think for me, the goal was to celebrate,” says Nass. “I do think it’s really about embracing individuality and diversity both, you know. A sense of autonomy and difference.”

Identity and experience

Fay Nass. | Photo by Diana García Hernandez

Nass’s experience with creative direction, interdisciplinary arts, theatre, and film studies contributes to a wide-ranging understanding of what it takes to put on a show.

But her identities an Iranian Canadian immigrant and queer artist have been just as important (or perhaps even more important) to her craft and approach. And while those experiences have greatly informed the themes she explores in her work, it has also affected her opportunities and how others have reacted.

“Having the experience of many of those intersections, I always felt that I’m either given opportunities in a way that felt tokenizing, or not given opportunities because of those identity intersections,” she says.

But it is in part because of those experiences, and a resulting desire to challenge norms, that has made her time with The frank theatre as artistic and executive director so valuable in being able to forge a path for her artistic vision and for others.

“I had the tools and the expertise to really highlight those stories and kind of like bring them up. Having that power has helped me to create spaces for the vision that I had,” says Nass.

Liminal spaces and queer storytelling

Much of the creative work that Nass has done involves discussions about ‘liminal (in between) spaces’: identities, places, and experiences that don’t necessarily fit into one category or another. Nass says that despite the occasional negative connotations of that term, exploring liminal spaces in media can have a great deal of potential.

“Sometimes when people talk about liminal [spaces], there is a kind of like a negative sense or connotation around it as a space that is like, ‘inactive’ and ‘in limbo’,” says Nass. “With both queerness or being a first-generation immigrant, there are many times that I find myself in the liminal space. But that liminal space is charged with my history and with where I am looking forward to going.”

In her work, Nass finds that her goal of queer storytelling also has a big overlap with tackling conversations about ‘liminal spaces’. For her, ‘queer storytelling’ means more than simply telling stories through LGBTQ+ issues, although there is much of that as well. How those stories are told can be just as important as the stories themselves.

“When I learned about the word queer, it was not only about my identity, but it was about a way of living, a lifestyle, a way of thinking, which was subverting cultural norms,” says Nass.

In this way, ‘queer’ storytelling means questioning the typical structure and conventions of how a media production is conceived and assembled. In the case of Be-Longing, it means embracing non-linear storytelling, blurring the boundaries between film and theatre, and bringing individuals with little story-telling experience, but who have their own experience with immigration and queer identity, directly into the fold of production.

“I work in a collaborative way, with people being able to feel like they’re the drivers of their own scenes, rather than being tokenized or telling them what to write,” she says..

The result is mutually created story that explore queerness and the diaspora, marrying the expertise of film and theatre professionals with the experiences of everyday people, and celebrating it in all its complexity.

“Even how to write it phonetically, “Be-Longing”, was this kind of activating of the “be” since it is a present moment, and “longing” for something, but also wanting to “belong” to where you are standing. Even its title was celebrating all of those complexities. And there’s truth in all of them, for sure,” says Nass.

The production runs March 8–13.

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