California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB)’s Humanities and Communication Department (HCOM) held their 26th annual Writers from the Edge author series on Nov. 10. This year, it featured Bay Area theater company Queer Cat Productions, who led attendees through an interactive, virtual theater experience.
HCOM professor Daniel Summerhill and faculty lecturer Kristin LaFollette emceed the event, introducing the company as a spot to find “playful, curious and haunting” works of theater. Company co-founders Nicole Jost and Carson Beker led the audience through the production.
To begin, Jost and Beker established the three norms of Queer Cat Productions: consent is key, impact over intent and that all attendees are whole people. These expectations were created as a direct contrast to how interactive theater is usually run.
“[Beker and I] shared an opinion of a certain type of interactive theater, where what happens is you’re sitting comfortably in your seat, and an actor comes and takes your hand and drags you up on stage. And we were very clear that that was the opposite of what we wanted to happen,” Jost said.
Jost and Beker invited attendees to contribute their own norms, then asked what the audience was curious about in the current age of storytelling. Common contributions included explorations of style and genre, as well as a reimagining of theater safety in a post-pandemic world.
The theater began when the company introduced the character Jules to the group. Jost and Beker gave vague descriptions of the imagined friend, while audience members invented stories about her. After toying with Jules’s character, Jost revealed that Jules is a Martian who is trying to return to her home planet.
In order to do so, Jules needs all commercial transactions to stop for 26 minutes on Black Friday. The audience was tasked to create 60-second public service announcements to stop consumers from shopping that would appeal to their heads, hearts and laziness. Breakout groups were created for audience members to create their pitches.
After some time to mull the task over, each group presented their pitch. Solutions included convincing the public to participate in a world record, making shoppers too depressed to go out and several other creative ideas.
Jules, played by Jost, came online after groups shared, expressing her thanks for everyone’s help.
“Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys played as participants danced by themselves and with their pets on camera.
The event concluded with a Q&A session with Jost and Beker.
The two answered questions on virtual theater, collaboration in theater, creating accessible art and queer representation. For the co-founders, making queer theater means creating an extended definition of queerness that includes joy and liberation.
“We wanted to be queer, not just in terms in representation and people’s individual identities, but in term of our approach to art and our approach to community,” Jost said.
Jules’s story is not the first Queer Cat Productions science fiction piece. Beker spoke on their space-themed inspirations.
“I think that there’s something about the world that we’re trying to access, which is a kind of future where everyone’s nice to each other,” Beker said. “Where there’s a lot more imagination of liberation, so I think that that puts us naturally towards the future.”
Queer Cat Productions was created in 2019. The company has six members including Jost and Beker, and is looking for more through their Artist Offering program.
Though their first productions were in-person, the pandemic opened the company up to virtual theater. In making the transition, the company learned about inclusivity.
“What we discovered when we went virtual is that we got to have audiences that we didn’t get before,” Beker said. “Some people have actually told us that we were one of the first theater experiences they’ve had because the theater seat didn’t fit their body. So we’re still learning a lot about access.”
Queer Cat Production’s next theater event will be held in October 2022.