What’s in a name? The words we use to refer to a person or thing reflect our attitude towards them or it. The words someone chooses to call themselves reflects how they wish to be seen, thought of, felt about etc. I met a guy last night on a job who was clearly from a distant land where English was foreign but he transplanted himself here and adopted the name ‘John’. Why he would choose such a basic and plain name when his birth name in his mother language was quite rich, was beyond me. And I was not in a position to ask more questions.
Around the time I was bidding ’John’ goodnight in a close-to-empty parking lot in Richmond, there was a group celebrating opening night of a new play in a theatre deep in the west end of Vancouver. And along with opening night, there was an unveiling of the new ‘moniker’ of the theatre company. They went from calling themselves Screaming Weenie Productions to The Frank Theatre Company. This is the same company that I ran for four years as it’s Artistic Managing Director, and up until a few months ago when I brought my tenure to a close, was the lead architect of every tool in use to sell the name, brand, and works of the combined efforts of all the artists involved. Many hours of blood, sweat, and tears from myself and others went into getting people to associate the name with live theatre and queer culture. And we had made in roads on a very limited budget.
In 2008, when I was first approached about taking over the company, I had my doubts about the name. It seemed kinda silly. The company’s mandate was to produce queer performance. Theatre focused on Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender stories under a silly name seemed to be taking the issues less than seriously. And, well, I was a ‘serious’ artist. My plays I had been working on were on topics like homosexuals in the holocaust, and the AIDS epidemic.
But the company already had an audience and the beginnings of a public image within the gay and theatre communities. And it was soon thereafter that I had an actor tell me that he would never work for a company with such a ridiculous name. It was then that my love for the name began. Not only did I gain insight into the kinda repressed artist that I should probably not worry about working with, but the meaning and the power behind the name started to coalesce.
“It’s not about the name”, I said, “it’s about the work.” I reasoned that the name just served to say how confident we are about the work we are doing. And as a BGLT/Queer-focused arts organization, we are defining ourselves as queer, loud and proud. The name served to do one of two things that I loved.
1. It made you smile or , 2. It made you uncomfortable.
Or both, but rarely did it invoke an indifferent response.
The best thing about Screaming Weenie was it was QUEER . Very queer. It made people feel the way queerness does. The BGLTQ experience is exactly that it makes many others either laugh at you or be uncomfortable with you. And they both lead to hurdles being created that need to be explored.
Now, it must be said that I support my former company. It is not an easy thing to do to run an arts organization in this day and age. We are under funded and under valued. But it is also a noble thing to pursue the arts … to be truly engaged in giving your community beautiful and thought provoking works. I wish them the best and will continue to support my former company in any way that I am able.
And … I say ‘former’ company because while even though I am still a member of the governing society and I still work with them from time to time, and I consider them all my friends and comrades, it’s just different now.
Two months after I left the company in the hands of my successor, Screaming Weenie informed me of the name change. It wasn’t a “Hey, we are thinking about this … what do you think?” It was, “Head’s up. This decision has been made and I am giving you advanced notice.”
The experience was on a level that was unfamiliar to me. My former job had been extraordinarily hard to leave after taking on ownership of so many aspects of the success of the company. After riding the storm of funding cuts. After donating so much of my own time and resources over four years to grow the operating budget ten fold. After a year-long self-reflexive process, before my tenure ended, about how important it was to be open with each other and the company about the direction we were going and to be inclusive with the membership. To be not even be consulted on such a huge aspect of the company that I played a large part in building was almost too much to bear. All this in two short months.
To recover from the blow, I made fun of myself for taking it all too seriously. I should be appreciative of the work everyone is doing, I told myself. Instead of getting mad, I did an inventory of all that I accomplished with Screaming Weenie. The work I was able to do as a playwright, a director, a producer, a designer, and as an Artistic Director. It worked. It allowed me to refocus on what matters …. the work. And the work is actually what connects to people. The company is merely the delivery tool. All true.
I do not think The Frank Theatre Company is a bad name. It just has no meaning for me. And meaning provides context. And context matters.
Screaming Weenie is a good name. It is a queer name for a queer company. It has meaning. It has context. And it matters to me.
Which is probably why no one asked my opinion.