Salon on Orbiter 3’s New Play Raises Questions and Conversation About Queerness Around the Globe

From Sunday's Orbiter 3 salon.

From Sunday’s Orbiter 3 salon.

This past Sunday, I attended my first salon, a sneak peek of Emma Goidel’s A Knee That Can Bend, a play that explores some complex themes of queerness, otherness, and privilege outside of our American ideals.

It was quite an eclectic mix of individuals who attended the festivities: There were members of both the local artistic and LGBTQ communities, including representatives from the William Way Community Center and The Attic, plus individuals from the Kimmel Center, the Arden Theater Company, and the Bearded Ladies Cabaret. In short, it was a crossroads between two communities that I am deeply invested in, and I found the discussion of Goidel’s work to be not only super interesting, but essential for just about everyone in the room.

In short, Goidel’s play is a work of semi-autobiographic fiction about a young American lesbian student  studying abroad in Sénégal, where gay women are essentially all but invisible. When I interviewed Goidel last week about her experience writing the play, she made some very interesting observations about her own emotional catharsis after she encountered this lesbian community herself as a student.

“What does it mean as a white American from an elite university to enter a group of people who haven’t been to school since third grade?,” she said. “I had many, many questions, so I came home and I had to write. It was transformative. It was how I came to playwriting. It was a necessity to make sense of what I had seen, heard, and done.”

Indeed, these questions were on display this past Sunday during a mini-reading of three scenes from A Knee That Can Bend, which featured lovely performances from Danielle Leneé, Candace Moore, and Anna Szapiro. In one of the scenes, Kate, the young American sociology student, is baffled by two concurrent quandaries: One is over her seeming disbelief that it was acceptable in Sénégal to engage in sexual behavior in the same room as a lover’s siblings, and the other is over the intense need for these lesbian women to quite literally remain invisible in their culture.

The second concept may seem especially foreign to us as Americans involved in LGBT advocacy: We have pride parades and the Human Rights Campaign and social groups that demand justice. However, can we really apply these theories and beliefs to a culture that has willingly developed a system of their own? In talking with Goidel last week, she had mentioned that during her own time in Sénégal that she herself felt “invisible,” and that this invisibility was a real quandary for her to deal with during her visit and upon her return.

These questions were debated at length on Sunday, and that was only from seeing a few moments of the play! Several individuals asked if Goidel had consulted members of the Sénégal queer community about the work and the authenticity of it. Discussion was also raised about the authoring of history, and what exactly does it mean if non-natives write or document what happens in another culture. Is it really an accurate assessment of history?

Tough questions, indeed, but I’d argue that is what good art does: It engages and brings matters of our humanity to the surface. If Sunday’s conversation was any indication, the full staging of A Knee That Can Bend will surely be cause for quite a community-wide discourse.

Interested in the play? You can catch it at Studio X starting on November 28. For tickets and more information, click here.