DANIEL LUBIN talks to the team behind The B in the Room coming to Edinburgh Fringe next week.
So, what’s the play about?
Joey Jepps (writer & co-director): The play’s about bisexuality and misconceptions of bisexuality in society, and the way we approached it is through a male and a female, a 16 year old, incredibly Christian male, Elliott and a 39 year old, bordering-on-midlife-crisis female, Dana.
Why did you pick these two characters?
Joey: Well bisexuality is about being essentially in the middle of two different identities that people understand, so I thought the best way of approaching it was with a man and a woman; because that’s what it’s about, it’s about being holistic, being able to love everybody, loving all genders, and that’s why I pushed it from a male and female [point of view]. So we had the gender difference but then we decided also to have the age difference, the generation gap to show how in this day and age even though the LGBT community has become more accepting, you’re accepted in different ways according to what generation you’re in.
What kind of misconceptions are you trying to tackle?
Joey: One of the first inspirations I had was… because I used to watch Glee a lot, and even though that was many years ago and our understanding of bisexuality has changed a lot since then, it was more or less treated as being someone who just couldn’t make up their mind, someone who was a ‘slut’, a ‘whore’. I remember in the show there was a character who was basically bisexual but they never named her sexuality, she just suddenly became a lesbian halfway through the show, with no explanation at all. Bisexuality was treated as a joke in a way. Even in the LGBT community nowadays, there’s a lot of misconceptions about bisexuals and significant bi-erasure – for example a lot of gay men feel bisexual men are also just gay men who haven’t come to terms with their homosexuality yet.
So you think there’s a space in LGBT art, or art in general, for discussion of bisexuality?
Joey: Definitely, bisexuality and pansexuality. Even in mainstream media nowadays, there’s a heavy focus on homosexuality, but bisexuality is… not ignored, but treaded over lightly, sidelined. People don’t really know how to approach it properly. And I’m not saying that this play does, it’s only showing two experiences and everyone has a different experience. But it’s essentially mine, my experience. I’m not saying that’s everybody’s.
The play was originally 25 minutes. What themes have the team drawn out while extending it?
Joey: There were already quite a lot of themes packed into the original version, where it felt like the audience were being attacked by a lot. So we drew out the characters a bit more and fleshed out the relationship they have with each other, and fleshed out the relationships they have with the people who aren’t in the room.
You were discussing how bisexuality is often sidelined in LGBT discussion, is there a reason why now is a good time for the play to be performed?
Joey: I don’t think there’s a specific reason why now, but there’s never been much focus on the bisexual identity, but I personally felt that it’s been sidelined for so long it wasn’t going to come into the open unless someone brought it out.
Yutong Zhang (co-director): Well there’s been a lot of stuff in the mainstream media with films romanticising like Call Me By Your Name that’s been huge, romanticising something that should be quite serious, and I think Joey’s done something really well, because it’s really serious but really funny and these are themes that haven’t been glossed over or made quite ‘pretty’.
Joey: But even in Call Me By Your Name – which is a wonderful film – they were bisexual. Or at least Oliver was, but it was never named, it was never specified, it was completely glossed over. And I’m reading the book as well at the moment it’s pretty similar; a bit better, but it also doesn’t name it. But before I watched Call Me By Your Name everyone was saying ‘it’s such a great gay film blah blah blah’ and I watched it and I was like ‘they’re not gay, they’re bisexuals’, nobody is calling it a bisexual film, everyone’s calling it a homosexual film.
DO you think someone who is bisexual is challenged by the contemporary need for labels or liberated by it?
Joey: I think they are challenged, because there’s the other misconception that bisexuals like men and women 50/50 and it’s not the case at all, it’s a spectrum. So there is a pressure to label yourself. Before I realised I was bisexual there was a lot of ‘Am i straight? Am i gay? I need to put a label on this so i can come to terms to it.’ I think society nowadays feels a need to put labels on things. But once they’ve put labels on it, society feels like ‘Ok, we’ve put a label on it, we can ignore it now. People have figured out what they are, we don’t have to talk about it.’ Which is not the case.
What sets this play aside from other plays and other more traditional coming out narratives?
Miranda (Dana): Most other coming out narratives are about younger characters, but Dana is pretty much middle aged, so there’s a bit of a conflict with her character that she feels because she’s lived for so long as a straight woman that maybe it’s not genuine to come to terms with this so late in life. She wonders has she been living a lie up until this point? Is it a phase? Is she just having her midlife crisis? I also guess this is different from other plays because it’s quite challenging as an actor because there’s just two people on stage the whole time (there’s so many lines oh my god…).
Miles (Elliot): It’s all very internal as well I found because we’re not interacting with other characters as much. I mean there’s a few brief moments when we have chats, but because it’s all running monologues you feel you have to dig a lot deeper into your emotion to find something that the audience can latch on to.
Miranda: It’s like a train of thought and because it’s just them uninterrupted and the characters aren’t in reality in the same room at the same time and interacting with each other, they are quite hypocritical. And they don’t realise it but the audience does.
Yutong: You can actually see a lot of parallels while watching it. They’re very different characters and they’re going through their own experiences, but from the way that they talk and the lines being interspersed, you can see that the issues and stories are quite similar. It’s a reflection on the idea that you’re not alone in the whole thing.
Miranda: Yeah and their vulnerabilities that they probably wouldn’t confess to their closest friends, actually if we spoke to each other about our shared experiences we’d be able to help each other out.
If Dana’s main conflict is addressing her sexuality when bordering on middle age, what’s elliott’s equivalent conflict?
Miles: I think Elliot’s main conflict is sexuality and what his world view tells him is ‘correct’. He comes from a very strict Christian background and so he’s ultimately worried about his parents’ opinions of him, but it’s wider than that because he often stresses that Christianity is his community, all his friends come from his church, all his family are highly religious, so if he runs with his heart, he’s going to have to lose or perhaps lose a lot of his friends and a lot of his family.
What would like audiences to take away from the play?
Joey: As I mentioned earlier, these are two different experiences. There are so many different other stories out there: some people have horrible coming out experiences, some people have wonderful coming out experiences.
Yutong: We were thinking about earlier how people have quite similar experiences and you should think about talking to other people, how you’re not alone and you should talk to other people to help go through things, and it’ll be maybe a lot easier for you.
Miranda: Hopefully the audience will see that they’re just two really relatable characters and be able to put themselves in their shoes whether they’re straight, gay, bisexual, or anything else.
Yutong: We’ve made it sound kind of serious but it’s actually really funny.
The B in the Room will run form 4th-11th August at Paradise in the Vaults. Find more information and tickets here.
Featured image designed by Joey Jepps.