I’ve had all sorts of stories performed at Queerstories but when it comes to those that resonate, the stories people keep mentioning to me long after an event, there are a few ‘rules’ that often apply.
- First thing is to make it personal and narrative. Make it a story! I get a lot of pitches that are more like opinion pieces or educational speeches. The writer tells me the lesson they want the audience to learn or the issue they want to raise awareness about, rather than the narrative journey, the people / characters in the story, the feeling behind it. I want to program really intimate, specific and personal stories at Queerstories, so this is the first thing I look for in a pitch – the story.
- Make sure you include a bit of detail that’ll make the story stand out and surprise me. Instead of thinking ‘what is the most important thing I can say’, think ‘what is the most interesting thing that has happened to me’. Think about a story that you might tell your friends at the pub, or if you wanted to impress someone on a first date, or a story you’d share if you wanted someone to really understand you. What story do you regularly tell that is engaging and entertaining, and can you make it 15 minutes long with a little creativity?
- Try to avoid the story being about your gender or sexuality. I’m not after coming out stories or lectures about identity. There are platforms for these stories and they are incredibly important, but Queerstories is personal stories written by and for the community, so let your identity be a part of the story rather than the moral of the story.
- Finally, don’t try to tell your whole life story. You won’t fit it into 15 minutes and in the end you’ll have to sacrifice specificity and intimacy. Choose an experience, relationship or theme to focus on instead.
The most common ‘mistake’ I get in pitches is people pitching opinion pieces or educational / political speeches instead of a story, so these examples are designed to show the difference:
If I am pitching an opinion piece, I might offer to write about how funding cuts at my university led to students being put in danger.
If I were pitching those same ideas to Queerstories, I would offer to write about the time a group of theatre students, myself included, were taken on an abseiling trip by three under-qualified university tutors, ultimately getting stuck on a cliff in the Blue Mountains for two nights, before being airlifted out by helicopter. In 48 hours, there were injuries, love affairs, hunger, fear, hilarity. We wrote a song while we were out there and sang it to the SES. They weren’t impressed.
If I am pitching an opinion piece, I might offer to write about what it was like to grow up with queer parents and why the rights of queer families are important.
If I were pitching those same ideas to Queerstories, I would offer to write about a story about the first Mardi Gras float I organised in 2001, Censored in High School, the way my queer aunt Jane helped me wrangle media, how mothers balanced their support for my youthful activism (I was 17) with their concerns about my schooling, my favourite memories from pride celebrations throughout my childhood, and what it meant to me emotionally to claim that space as my own as I reached adulthood, the very late 90s / early 00s songs we played as we marched up Oxford St, making t-shirts at the old Erko workshop, my devastation that I still didn’t get a pash from my crush.
If I am pitching an opinion piece, I might offer to write about why queers often stay friends with their exes.
If I were pitching that same idea to Queerstories, I would offer to write a series of vignettes about my funniest or most devastating break ups, what made each person I loved so wonderful, what I learnt from each, how I went on to be a godparent of sorts (or ‘fairly oddmother’) to my first girlfriend’s children, and how many of exes have lived at my mum’s house…too many, the answer is too many.
Some of my fave Queerstories episodes that nail the brief
Some of the best stories are slice-of-life narratives about particularly interesting experiences the storyteller has had. When these short windows into a life are told with consideration and a focus on detail, they draw the listener in beautifully.
This is such an incredible piece of writing, performed at Mudgee Readers Festival, then in Sydney by Cadance Bell. It’s surprising, beautifully descriptive, reflective, at times very funny, and it leaves the listener wanting to know more.
I still cry whenever I listen to or read Emma Valente‘s story and it’s not that it’s a tragedy just that it’s so elegantly written so as to make you feel feelings. This is a classic example of something thematically linked to the present moment although it’s about a different time. It’s gentle and well written and just lovely.
A gorgeous story from childhood that really gently explores gender, while being nostalgic, playful and heartbreaking. Jen Cloher‘s story was performed at one of the earlier Queerstories events and remains a fave. It’s also in the Queerstories book!
Surprising, funny, political without being didactic, beautifully written and so, so memorable. Bobuq Sayed‘s The Pipe Masters was performed in Sydney and Melbourne and you must listen to it. This is a classic example of sharing a super interesting experience you’ve had and executing the delivery perfectly.
Claire Coleman is a novelist so it’s no wonder this is excellent. This lesbian love story is about ducks. That’s what I mean when I say ‘make it surprising’.
I often discourage trying to fit too much in, trying to tell your life story, but there are ways to include both distant memories and the present that don’t feel like the 10-15 minutes is too jam packed.
Alison Whittaker‘s story weaves politics seamlessly into narrative, while being funny and clever, and covering a lot of ground in terms of her life history. By using the device of dipping into her story each time she encounters a certain senator, she manages to create a really brilliant cohesive piece.
Another great story about childhood, Steven Lindsay Ross‘ story is another early performance that’s stayed with me, evocative, engaging, warm and a lovely melding together of his childhood and adult life. The extended version of this story, published in the Queerstories book, draws in even more of his history.
Teddy Dunn‘s A History of Suits is another story that uses a linking device – the suit – to move through the storyteller’s life history. God, I love this piece so much. That’s the extent of my creative critique, I just bloody love it.
The choice to focus outwards on another person or relationship often leads to a more engaging piece. The stories written to honour a loved one are really beautiful because we learn about the writer through the way that they love others instead of the things they say about themselves.
Nic Holas‘ story is devastating and beautiful, focusing on his relationship with his father but really about so much more. I love the way this piece is so clearly written for a queer audience, his references and politics aren’t explained or clarified, he just expects the listener to understand. Another piece that I can listen to again and again, and always end up crying.
Steven Oliver‘s story is political but in an incredibly personal, creative way. Poets often ask whether they can perform poetry at Queerstories and mostly I insist on a narrative piece – this is a great example of how to include poetry in your piece.
David Abello has performed at Queerstories twice (both times in excellent outfits) and both stories paint such beautiful pictures of his relationships and love for the people in his life.
And that’s that, my best effort to help potential storytellers understand what I’m looking for. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch or comment here. Thanks to everyone who supports Queerstories, and to the City of Sydney and my Patreon supporters, who’ve made the Queerstories in Lockdown project possible.