Among the highlights of this year’s Galway Theatre Festival is Steven Sharpe’s new one-man musical, The Realness of Miss Representation, which he will present, for two performances only, at the Town Hall Theatre studio.
In the show, Sharpe takes an autobiographical look at being a 30-something gay man in a post ‘Yes’ vote, marriage-equality Ireland. With more freedoms, options, obstacles, and expectations for the LGBTQ+ community, how will Steven deal with the current social climate?
This will be Steven's first theatre show since Who's The Man? in 2013. Since then, he has toured Ireland and Europe, along with many musical collaborations (including Led Zeppelin tribute act No Stairway ) and, in 2017, released Shut Up Dylan, his debut album with his regular posse, The Broke Straight Boys. Last week Steven took some time out from his busy touring schedule to chat about The Realness of Miss Representation and what prompted him to do a new theatrical show.“Who’s The Man? was very much the story of where I was coming from up to the age of 25,” he begins. “Now I’ve moved into my thirties and it’s a case of ‘Oh, there is all this other weird shit that has happened’. You never really stop growing and trying to figure out what you are doing, and in the last six years I have compiled these songs that sum up what it is like for me to be a 30-something single gay dude in post-equality Ireland. The Galway Theatre Festival was coming up and this was sitting there ready to be done so there was the opportunity to do it and I jumped at it.”
The last six years have not only seen the passing of the same-sex marriage referendum, but the coming to power of a gay Taoiseach. Steven recalls his amazement at the latter event.
“I remember the day when it looked like Leo Varadkar was going to be elected Taoiseach," he says. "We were driving to a gig and my drummer was saying ‘They shouldn’t be bringing up his sexuality, it should just be about his politics’. I hadn’t really been paying attention to the leadership contest as I was concentrating on my own mental health at the time and I answered ‘Wait a minute! There’s a what??? There is going to be a gay Taoiseach?? Are you insane? This is major!!!’ When you are on the world stage and you have representation of that scale it is humongous.
"It does so much for LGBT people around the world. When I was in my teens I never thought that there would ever be anyone in power who was like me. My friend had no idea how much that meant to me and that is a story I want to share. I grew up in rural Ireland and felt absolutely alienated from everyone there. I’m 32 now; when I was 20 I was being called a faggot walking down the street, I didn’t feel safe in most bars – and I was living in Cork at the time, not rural Ireland. So that was just over a decade ago and now we have a gay Taoiseach. That is amazing for me.”
I ask Steven how he coped with those youthful experiences of prejudice and hostility. “Everyone that confronted me because they didn’t know any better,” he says, philosophically. “They didn’t know any gay people and grew up being told that gay people were disgusting, that they had AIDS, that they were paedophiles and all that horrible shit. My attitude was ‘You just have a bunch of questions that you want to get answered. You have all these preconceived notions that someone you trust and love told you, but I am here to tell you that we are all friends. I’m just doing me, you do you. You don’t have to be gay, it is not contagious!’
"It was always about just being polite and answering questions with an unbelievable amount of patience. I remember in college I was sharing a flat with five typical GAA lads and after I told one of them I was gay their attitudes to me completely changed and it became a very shitty living situation. Then, four years ago, I was in a bar in Cork and one of these lads came up to me and said ‘I am so sorry about the way we treated you. I was such an idiot. I didn’t know any better, I had never met a gay person before.’ I said ‘That’s cool and thanks for coming over to say sorry’. I got through those years and am out the other end of it now.”
'It is very freeing performing solo; to just have a guitar and an audience and a conversation. You can go wherever you want'
Steven reflects on the change in attitudes he has seen over the past few years; “We are going in the right direction. The thing I want to bring with this show, however, is not to forget where we came from. When my drummer said Varadkar was not a big deal I replied he didn’t know what it was like 10 years ago. Even now you see gay people trying to be hetero-normative, getting married and raising kids, which I find strange.
"That idea was so foreign to me when I was growing up. At 16 my mindset was ‘I just grew up with a secret and I hope nobody murders me or that my family disown me’. Now I am 32 there are all these options and people ask me ‘So when are you going to get married?’ which was never on the cards before – that’s only in the last three years. Do I want it? No! I don’t want a hetero-normative lifestyle because I am happy with my own. Defining your own norm is a lot healthier than trying to fit in.”
What can audiences expect from the new show? “It opens with a song called 'Miss Representation' which is about how, when you are LGBT, you seem to be a representative of every other gay person every time you walk into a room,” Steven replies. “Everyone has questions for you. You take on this role of being a spokesperson which is a weird situation to be in. I am not even the best person when it comes to things like transgender rights and what’s involved there, though I try to read up about it as much as I can and support my brothers and sisters.
"Anytime my mum has to interact with someone who is transgender she rings me up asks me to coach her through what she has to say and do which is so funny. Another song is about when I was depressed about three years ago and I’d watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race on a loop and listen to all the drag queens talk about their stories and struggles. They got through by just working hard and being themselves and coming through with the realness. So when I am feeling sad and anxious I try to remember to ‘come through with the realness’.”
Steven concludes our interview with his observations on performing solo in The Realness of Miss Representation: “It is very freeing performing solo; to just have a guitar and an audience and a conversation. You can go wherever you want. When I am with the band it is very much a show where everyone has to know what they are doing at all times, so I can’t just say ‘Here’s a song I wrote the other day’ and do it because Shane has never heard it before and Dylan doesn’t know what key it is in."When we do Broke Straight Boys shows we want them to be a big spectacle and I’ll wear a dress and throw confetti and do all kinds of mad stuff onstage to bring a ‘Beyoncé’ level to it. I love the intimacy of just me and a guitar and an audience and really having a connection with them. I’d lost that part of me for about three years because I was doing a lot of band stuff, but then one day I decided this is what I wanted to do next and I am looking forward to it.”
The Realness of Miss Representation is at the Town Hall Theatre studio on Tuesday May 7 and Thursday May 9 at 8.30pm. Tickets are €14/12 via 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie