Interview - Maeve Marsden, Mother Of Queerstories
The LGBTQI community has been sharing stories for centuries, creating their own histories, disrupting and reinventing conventional ideas about narrative, family and community.
Queerstories is a highly anticipated monthly storytelling event. It's been selling out regularly for over a year, and provides a platform for the LGBTQI community so share and connect. We chat to Maeve Marsden, mother of Queerstories.
Since it’s conception, Queerstories has gone from strength to strength. What is it about the concept that makes it so wildly popular?
I think the community really loves listening to each other's stories, but more than that I think we like hearing unexpected stories. At Queerstories, I encourage storytellers to tell the stories they want to tell, rather than the ones LGBTQIA people are so often invited to tell in the media. In the mainstream media we are always framed as 'other' so we are expected to tell coming out stories over and over again, to talk about the law and equal marriage, to answer invasive questions about how we make family; trans people are asked to talk about their bodies in really personal ways, and are expected to tell over and over when and how 'they knew'. There's so much more to us than these narratives. At Queerstories, I ask storytellers, what's your hobby or passion, who is someone who had a major impact on you, what are your personal politics, how do you do relationships, what's the funniest thing that's happened to you? The stories are framed for a queer gaze. It's not a platform for campaigning or 'inspirational speeches' or proving our worth. It's about celebrating our community through narrative storytelling, and I think that's refreshing for people. I am sure the popularity also has to do with what a fun, welcoming space it is - the monthly event has really become a social occasion as much as a performance. And people tell me they like the fact I program both well-known and unknown performers, so you have comedians and writers alongside those without a public platform.
There must be an aspect of responsibility involved, being the curator of such a valuable platform. How do you manage that?
I think about it lot? I think about what kind of show I want to see, I care a lot about my programming and I Iisten to the audience, both online when they suggest storytellers or comment on my choices, then at the event I listen to them respond to the performances. I'm a pretty bossy curator, I really care about quality and I make sure the people I program are going to be able to deliver. As long as people love coming I'll put it on and if the audience stops being keen I'll either have to adapt or step aside for someone else's project.
Any performers or moments you’ll never forget (for better or worse?)
Every performer has delivered something unforgettable, there isn't a 'dud' among them. I mean that, I have enjoyed everyone's contribution. I've wept with laughter and I've wept during the more somber pieces too. Some of the really memorable stories for me are the ones that truly play to a queer audience, that don't seek to explain all the community references, that share a queer sensibility.
Queerstories aside, you’re involved in a bunch of different projects and productions, with a pretty heavy focus on feminism and LGBTQI representation. Do you feel like you’re making a difference?
I don't set out to make a difference, that's not really my goal. Once I said to a friend that I felt guilty for not putting my efforts towards changing the world and she pointed out that the people who are working hard to create major political change need to relax and be entertained too - and that she always knew that she could come to my shows after a hard day at work and enjoy herself. So I've kept that in mind - that I can provide relief and joy for people working hard to change the world.
I aim to entertain people and engage them, and I don't know any other way to do that than through a feminist and queer lens. I wouldn't know how to make a room full of straight cis-dudes laugh, to be honest. It'd be a disaster. So I make the kind of work I want to see and I try to convince other people that they want to see it too. One thing I am glad about is that since Queerstories has had Auslan interpreters every month, a lot of people have contacted me asking for their details. So I hope in a small way the event encourages more people to hire Auslan interpreters!
Is there anything extra special in store for the Mardi Gras’ 40th Anniversary Edition coming up?
I have sort of split my Mardi Gras programming over two months - February 9 is at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, with all storytellers from Western Sydney. I think it's really important we disrupt the idea that queer community and culture is always in the centre of a city. There's loads of amazing queer art and culture in Western Sydney and my line up for Queerstories is incredibly good. Then on March 16, back at Giant Dwarf in Redfern, I am hosting a 78ers Queerstories with speakers who marched in the first Mardi Gras. I've also spent the summer working on a magazine for the ABC commemorating the 40th anniversary of Mardi Gras. The magazine is a gorgeous glossy thing and features some amazing writers and subjects, such as Benjamin Law, David Marr, Julie McCrossin, Penny Wong, Pauline Pantsdown, Ellen van Neerven, Allan Clarke, Ian Roberts, Paul Mac, so many more, all exploring these past 4 decades of activism and progress.
The magazine is available here: https://shop.abc.net.au/mardi-gras-40th-anniversary-edition-magazine
You won Best Spoken Word at Sydney Fringe 2016, that must have felt amazing. Do you have a specific trajectory in mind for Queerstories moving forward?
Yes, Queerstories is going interstate, with shows on sale in Melbourne (February 22) and Brisbane (March 17). I hope to grow the audience for the podcast and I have signed on with a publisher to edit a book featuring 24 of the best stories from the past year. I'm also hoping to start filming some of the events. My goal is to keep producing Queerstories as long as audiences want it.
Feb 9: Queerstories at Riverside Theatre (Parramatta)
March 16: Queerstories at Giant Dwarf (Redfern)
April 6: Queerstories at Giant Dward (Redfern)