I’ve honestly got mixed feelings abound Alien Sex, the Queer Arts Festival show I saw on Thursday. I’d tweeted previously that I didn’t really know what to expect—but it turns out that wasn’t true: I came in expecting weird queer/genderqueer sexy sci-fi, and I was naturally all over that. Also, I think I was expecting an overall narrative or at least overarching themes. Because I usually do, and I always look for it anyway even when it’s not there, because that’s how my brain works.
What I actually saw was a number of loosely connected vignettes, some dealing with the topics of alien life/love (but not so much with alien sex) and most dealing with human love and sexuality, with a strong focus on consent or dominance/submission play. Half the material was original, half consisted of readings from Linda Smukler / Samuel Ace, and bits of David Mamet’s play All Men Are Whores.
And I’ll be honest, I definitely enjoyed the original stuff more—the silly and playful sci-fi, in particularly the intriguing conversation with an alien who has no concept of “you” or “I”, only “we”, and what death means to people like that; the high-energy dancing and drumming, the spin-the-bottle game / consent workshop. I’m not comfortable with D/S in the first place, and in some of the bits it wasn’t clear that we were dealing with people playing out or negotiating a scene. Challenging stuff for sure, but isn’t that what the Queer Arts Festival is all about?
The problem is that Alien Sex doesn’t feel like one show, it feels like at least three: the Mamet, the poetry, and the sci-fi. I understand that it’s a work in progress, and it’s supposed to be non-narrative, but I didn’t see anything tying all these scenes together into a whole. And though I definitely respect the creators’ goal to incorporate a diversity of voices, it feels like these voices right now aren’t theirs, in the sense that they’re incorporated into the show’s overall vision.
Mind you: as frustrating as the show’s disconnectedness is, I did adore this look at the creative process, and I’m very grateful to the QAF for showcasing it. One of my favourite aspects of the East Side Culture Crawl is to see artists’ studios as places of active creation: the rags, the gloves, the half-finished pieces, the artist hirself interacting with customers and with their peers. Art doesn’t spring forth fully formed from the aether. Art evolves.
And I can’t wait to see what Alien Sex will evolve into.