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Thursday 10 November 2016

Victor Rodger - on writing Black Faggot

Posted in: Hall of Fame
By Jacqui Stanford - 26th June 2014

Black Faggot was inspired when Victor Rodger was watching Destiny Church’s Enough is Enough march and thought "well at least one of those sons will be gay and will feel stink ..."

A few years on and the lauded play is about to be dished out to the masses at Edinburgh Fringe, after selling out theatres in New Zealand and Australia, and winning over audiences and critics with its no-holds-barred monologues about being young, gay and Samoan.

It has rich characters, from an “undercover brother” desperate to prove he’s straight, to a pious teen trying to “pray the gay away”, an island mama whose beloved son turns out to be gay, and a staunch Samoan gay man who’s out, proud and in your face.

Its writer Victor Rodger, a gay afakasi Samoan man, pays some tribute for Black Faggot at the feet of Toa Fraser’s stripped-back series of monologues - Bare.

“At the time I [said to Toa] ‘gosh, what about a gay version of that, why don’t you do that?’ And he was like ‘well why don’t you do it?’

“And about ten years later while living in Amsterdam, and on the net seeing the marches against the Civil Union Bill, I was just really struck by the whole father-son dynamic, and I thought well at least one of those sons will be gay and will feel stink about themselves because of what they’re marching about. And that’s where the idea started.”

Rodger says the way his script has been brought alive on the stage is more than he could ever have dreamed of. He oozes praise for its director Roy Ward and original actors Beulah Koale and Iaheto Ah Hi.

“I have to tip my hat to them,” Rodger says. “The script that we started with is a lot different from the script we ended up with. And it’s largely thanks to the actors, but largely to Roy, because he really gave it a structure that it didn’t have before we started.”

The playwright believes Black Faggot is not necessarily a play where people would say ‘the writing’s amazing’ (though many might disagree!) “For me it’s a play where you go ‘God what a tour de force by the actors and what amazing direction. And that’s not me being ‘so humble’ either.”

Among his reasons for writing Black Faggot was getting a myriad of brown gay characters out there. “Because more often than not … the brown gay characters will skew towards the ‘ribald fafa’ which is ok, but there’s much more complexity. There’s much more on the spectrum of characters that I was hoping to portray. I guess that’s something I hope that some people who aren’t au fait with this world take from it – there is a much broader spectrum.”

Rodger is interested in how it translates to audiences in Edinburgh, but is hopeful it will be well-received. He points at the response from middle-class white audiences both in New Zealand and Australia, where the play has garnered both sold out houses and critical acclaim.

“I just hope that actual ‘black faggots’ do get to see it,” he laughs, “because they’re probably in the minority, but they’re the ones obviously that I wrote it for.”

The unflinching title is based on what close friends at work used to jokingly call him, in a context he says was not homophobic at all. “Having read a lot of, particularly American, gay press ‘faggot’ and ‘tranny’ are such hot potato words these days with the word police. But ‘black faggot’ was always a term of endearment for me. And of course I’ve been called a ‘faggot’ nastily as well so there’s that kind of duality of title. And those are the first words of the play, ‘black faggot’, when someone ridicules the first character."

Based on the title alone, he says people who know nothing about the play expect a hard-hitting, in-your-face drama. “But really it’s quite an accessible comedy. It was always going to be a comedy, but with a little bit of heart that comes through.”

It’s no after school special. Rodger makes it clear he never wanted to be ‘in your face’ telling people ‘you should do this’ with the play.

“I’ve seen enough of that kind of theatre that it turns me off. I really didn’t want that to happen with the audience. Roy through his judicious editing got rid of quite a few of the monologues that were a bit like that – so again, hats off to him.”

As for the characters, they are a mixture of make believe and inspiration from real people. “There’s a hustler character who hustles this old white guy, he’s based on someone I know, definitely,” Rodger laughs. “And the mama character is actually inspired by my mate Letti Chadwick whose part of Pani and Pani on Fresh TV, she sort of inspired that with some of her comedy.”

The writer has the softest spot for the sweet but troubled young gay guy he penned, Christian, who is probably the closest to reflecting Rodger himself – he also had a born again Christian upbringing and conflicted feelings about his sexuality growing up. “There’s a lot of me in him,” he says. “Christian goes through the trouble that I went through, thinking ‘gosh, I mean I am gay, but God if you don’t like gays, why did you make me gay?’”

These days, what gives Rodger heart are the likes of Pasifika gay and fa’afafine troupe the Kelston Kweens, the young performers who created Teen Faggots Come to Life and the ‘out and proud’ posse led by young gay artist Tanu Gago – along with their families.

“Their grandparents, their parents, their brothers, their sisters of all ages were there to support them,” he says of a Kelston Kweens show he attended. “And that just blew me away because I thought this never would have happened ten years ago, maybe not even five years ago - that here are families really supporting their kids who are being themselves and given permission to be themselves.”

He says it’s great that there are young people who are out there and visible. “Obviously there are people who are going to struggle and stay in the shadows, but I think it’s a little bit easier. But some will still struggle. I know people that are more my age that are still in the closet. And I think that’s such a waste of a life. A very sad waste of a life.”

Black Faggot is currently showing at The Basement in Auckland to raise funds for its trip to Edinburgh - but has sold out.

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Jacqui Stanford - 26th June 2014