Breaking Gender Stereotypes with Jessica McKerlie
Katherine Sullivan | On 06, Feb 2016
Armed with a ukulele, spinning plates and an array of costumes that traverse gender stereotypes, Crowtownâ€™s Jessica McKerlie presents a smorgasboard of original music, burlesque and poetry. Gender Spanner is part of Brisbane Powerhouseâ€™s 2016 Melt Festival and we spoke to Jessica about the creation of this bold and original show.
Gender Spanner is the product of Melbourne artist Jessica McKerlieâ€™s own experiences and understandings of gender. She asks the question â€“ are you a man? Are you a woman? Are you sure? The hour long show starts a positive conversation that incorporates humour in order to educate people on a topic that they might not otherwise seek out. Jessica assures us that her show is aimed at anyone who wants to listen.â€œThis isnâ€™t just a show for the queer community. Everyone can enjoy Gender Spanner no matter how they identify.â€
Jessica reveals that the idea for the daring show came about during her time overseas in London where she began to delve into the world of drag and cabaret. She also began to write every day and was part of the development of an LGBTQ circus project called â€œPuffballâ€. She admits to us that she never set out to write a show about gender.â€œIt was just the world I was immersed in at the time, after a while I noticed a theme and strung it all togetherâ€.
Gender Spanner marks the first time that Jessica has ever written a theatre show and she admits that the nerves were strong. “This is the first time I’m fully responsible for what is happening on stage.Â It’s a lot different performing something you made as opposed to words someone else wrote.”Â As it turns out, Jessica had nothing to worry about. Since its debut last yearÂ at The Butterfly Club as part of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival, the show has been praised for its raw and honest material. It was important to Jessica that Gender Spanner was a show that people could connect with.
“Even though itâ€™s my story about coming out and falling in love, everyone has done stupid things to impress someone they like. I canâ€™t take out bits that are scary or embarrassing to perform because thatâ€™s what makes people go, â€œyep, Iâ€™ve done that too.â€
After talking to Jessica it was clear that she doesnâ€™t take the issue of gender and sexuality lightly.â€œI had an email from a father who ended up seeing my show by accident with his teenage son. He said it started a very important conversation between them and to be the catalyst for that is such a privilege. By talking about these issues more there is less shame surrounding the subject.â€
The costumes in the show definitely assist in defying gender stereotypes. “I wear super feminine and super masculine clothing. I’m going from one end of the spectrum to the other but I do that in regular life as well. I like mixing masculine with feminine in an awesomely jarring way.”
Jessica loves to raise awareness about difficult subjects.Â She is the co-founder of theÂ theatre company Crowtown, which focuses on creating inclusive and thought provoking work. Jessica started the company with friend Isobel Marmion and together the two create theatreÂ that focuses on tough issues such as sexuality, gender and mental illness.
“Last year we did a comedy set in a toilet about mental illness. Isobel is currently working on a solo project under the working title ‘It’s My Funeral and I’ll Throw Glitter if I Want To’. It’s about mental illness and the very real possibly people face of dying alone.Â We love scary topics that are hard to talk about.”
Jessica aims to push the boundaries andÂ produce theatre that is brave and real. She believes that it is very important to remain true to herself if she wants to succeed in the performing arts industry.
“If you can’t be honest with yourself,Â how can you be honest with others?Â How can you sustain a healthy relationship with anyone without honesty? I just don’t see the point in living your life lying about anything. Love what you love,Â no apologies.”
What Gender Spanner
Where Brisbane Powerhouse
When 11 â€“ 13thÂ February, 2016
How Much $24 â€“ $29
For more information or to book tickets, head toÂ Brisbane PowerhouseÂ website here.
Image Credit: Jessica McKerlie