Marginalisation and Joy

Everyone has a slightly different idea of what drama is but for me I think of it as: the effort exerted by a character(s) to resolve tension. You can replace “tension” with “conflict” or “resolve” with “overcome” if you want, however it makes more sense to you.

I also think there’s 3 kinds of tension / conflict. A character can be in conflict with themself, in conflict with someone else, or in conflict with the world / a big structure.

The more effort a character needs to exert to resolve the tension, the more impact the drama has (generally speaking).

So, for example, two people have an argument so they’re in conflict with each other. The argument isn’t always that interesting, the scene is them trying to resolve that conflict. The two characters might decide to agree (relatively little effort exerted) or they might argue themselves into agreement (a lot of effort exerted). You get the idea.

When you put a marginalised person in drama, especially when you’re drawing on biography the natural tendency is nearly always to put them in conflict with the world / society, this is because marginalised people live their real lives in conflict with society. It really ramps up the drama because it takes so much effort to resolve such a big tension.

The thing about this though, is that the characters are basically living constantly as a product of their oppression. So, for example, when queer people are put in conflict with the world and a queer person is watching it, we spend the entire time being confronted with the structures that oppress us. Yes, it has impact. Yes, we sometimes cry when it gets a lot. Yes, it’s good drama. But, it’s also not enjoyable when that’s the only thing available to us.

It’s very difficult to find joy in watching someone like you struggle to justify their existence, sometimes queer people are happy too, sometimes we manage to create these bubbles where we can temporarily ignore the forces outside of that bubble.

There’s this huge potential to create drama in putting characters in conflict with the world so it’s the direction we often go. One of the reasons I love POSE so much is because the characters are allowed to experience joy. They sometimes create those bubbles where, temporarily, their life isn’t defined in existence to the world.

It’s difficult to create them, it takes privilege to create those bubbles, and it’s not something which is afforded to all people all the time. In biographical stories, it’s even harder to create those pockets because marginalised history is often recorded in terms of a struggle for freedom so that’s the only material you have to draw on.

There are lots of ways we can allow marginalised voices to not simply be a product of oppression. Sometimes you can do that by putting them in opposition to the world in complex ways / for certain audiences and we could try creating impact through other kinds of tension. Sometimes we have to consider as well, putting people in conflict with bodies like themselves. Queer people, when in conflict with straight people, are nearly always others in a way they aren’t always with other queer people.

What all of these require is lived experience, a way to find and understand those nuanced situations where we can experience marginalised joy.

I’m not saying I don’t want the sad stories, I’m just saying I’d love a bit more variety.

Writer / Theatre Maker in the UK. You can find me at @BoyAndPen elsewhere.