In the face of increasingly fewer lesbian and dyke bars in Boston, the show recreates the rare space with the help of community elders
First in New Orleans, Last Call’s Alleged Lesbian Activities comes to Boston to examine the closing of lesbian bars through theater. DigBoston spoke with the co-directors of the show, Indee Mitchell and Bonnie Gabel, and Evelyn Francis, the artistic director of the Theater Offensive, the organization that commissioned the work in Boston.
How would you describe Alleged Lesbian Activities?
BG: We call it a cabaret musical for disappearing dyke bars. The show has three parts. One is this modern-day storyline about Frankie’s—the fictionalized last dyke bar in New Orleans that also is a traveling bar, so it’ll be in Boston. The bar is about to shut down, so we’re in the bar on what may be one of its last nights. And there are cabaret acts that happen and act as portals that bring us backward in time to the ’70s and ’80s. That’s when we see stories from that time reenacted in order to look at the parallels between that time and now.
What does Alleged Lesbian Activities accomplish as a show?
IM: It does a lot. It creates a bar. So part of the work is helping to provide that space. The show also feels important in that we’re giving to our community, starting these conversations or continuing these conversations around spaces disappearing and what kind of spaces we need. And what does it mean to hold space and have spaces for queer women, lesbians, dykes, fems, trans women, and trans people? I think that this work also feels like a service to the folks that we interview. So we are also part oral history project. So we do interviews with different elders and communities which started in New Orleans. And we interviewed a bunch of lesbians, the older dykes who went to bars, and then that’s been part of our research in Boston as well, as we’re bringing the show there and to other places, to do interviews with these different folks in those communities. I think there’s a lot of power and value in holding and collecting these stories and then being able to translate them onto the stage.
EF: So I think, for the lesbian community and folks who love women in the queer community, that this is such a powerful piece of work. It shows how there’s a lot of ways in which these queer-owned and -operated spaces for lesbians, for people who love women, how those spaces in the queer community are disappearing. You can’t find the space where you can share these stories. And so I think that it is an amazing moment to come back to be in a room with elders is such a beautiful thing. But then for them to be able to share their stories on stage will be a beautiful moment for this community to come together and realize how important these spaces are, and hopefully will motivate folks to create these spaces more often.
Why are the lesbian bars in Boston closing?
IM: Well, I think there’s a lot of different theories around this like, you know, “Oh, queer people are more accepted in the world, so we don’t need safe spaces like that,” which I would say is not true. But also economics, money. Women don’t make as much money as men, generally speaking. So having to sustain a women’s-only space or fem’s-only space in this economy is hard. And I think also there’s something about the way the language and identity has shifted to change over time as well.
Is there anything you’d like to tell the audience?
EF: If you are an ally to the women-identified community, if you want to be an ally to women of color, if you want to be an ally to queer and trans women of color, and to those stories and that history, this is the show you need to come see.
BG: Revel in it. Have fun being in a lesbian bar, just for a night.
IM: Realize how rare it is, for a lot of people, to be in a lesbian bar for a night.
ALLEGED LESBIAN ACTIVITIES. 4.4 THROUGH 4.7 AT JACQUES CABERET, 79 BROADWAY., BOSTON. JACQUES-CABERET.COM.