A queer take on the end of the world

Tim McGarry (left) and Joshua Shediak star in "Tell Me Before the Sun Explodes", now playing at the Kings Cross Theatre. Photo: Phil Erbacher/supplied.

Queer editor Brandon Bear meets playwright Jacob Parker, whose intriguing new work – now showing at the Kings Cross Theatre – explores themes of sexuality and death through the prism of an apocalyptic event.

The return of live theatre is a welcome change for Sydney’s arts scene, with numerous new productions taking to the stage. Among them is the latest work from Jacob Parker, Tell Me Before the Sun Explodes, which is playing the Kings Cross Theatre until 14 May.

A collaboration between playwright Parker and director Hayden Tonazzi, the work explores intergenerational love, the emotion of saying goodbye and the relationship between queerness and death, within a story in which there are just eight minutes left until the end of the world.

The partnership between Parker and Tonazzi was celebrated in the queer theatre scene in 2020, with their play This Genuine Moment receiving stellar reviews during its run at the Old 505.

Both works focus on the interactions between two people with a limited time to explore myriad emotions; both ask questions about what we say to someone when we know might not speak to them again.

Speaking with The Sentinel, Parker discussed the importance of queer storytelling and the influence of his own life on his work.

“I’m the youngest of three gay sons, which is a bit of an anomaly, but I am very lucky and very privileged to have been loved and accepted. My body of work has really been inspired by my journey as a queer young person, and this latest work was complemented by my positive experiences with older gay male friends,” he says.

“I’ve been able to talk to them about death and ageing and the HIV epidemic – and these stories seemed so theatrical and important. They needed to be explored.”

The work of Jacob Parker, pictured, has been inspired by his journey as a young queer person. Photo: Melanie Prieskorn/supplied.

This latest work from Parker focuses heavily on death, an issue he feels compelled to investigate with a queer lens.

“Queer people have such a different experience of and relationship to death,” he says.

“When we consider HIV, gay bashings, the disappearance of so many gay men in the ’80s and ’90s, these issues can seem like they are part of our history – but it is all so recent.”

The self determination of queer storytelling is vital for Parker, who reflects on how queer stories have been handled in the past.

“We have seen straight people telling our stories, but these narratives are so personal to us. We will always tell our stories better and with more accuracy and more interestingly – not forgetting what is important about them.”

Parker is particularly interested in subverting the ‘bury your gays’ trope. This work, he says, “is a real examination of that idea. We see so many stories where death happens to gay people, but we so rarely see their perspective on it.

“I asked myself how we develop a story about death, and how queer men die, but in a way that might be funny and light-hearted.”

Bringing these discussions to life (or death) in Tell Me Before the Sun Explodes are actors Tim McGarry and Joshua Shediak.

McGarry is a well-known fixture in the theatre scene both onstage and backstage. Among his accomplishments, he recently adapted Australian contemporary classic Boy Swallows Universe for a successful run in Queensland and formerly held the role of creative director and producer for the Monkey Baa Theatre.

Actors Tim McGarry (left) and Joshua Shediak play the lead characters in Tell Me Before the Sun Explodes. Photo: Melissa Prieskorn/supplied.

Speaking about a creative work without giving too much away is a challenge for Parker, but he reflects that the play is about “how we say goodbye and how we cope”.

And while the frank and intimate discussions of “death in the shadow of something so immense” might seem intimidating, he is clear that “this is not a play that needs to be tragic”.

“Everyone will take away what they want from it.”

Tell Me Before the Sun Explodes plays the Kings Cross Theatre, Level 2, Kings Cross Hotel, 244-248 William Street, Kings Cross until Saturday, 14 May, 2022. For tickets and more information, visit www.kingsxtheatre.com/sun-explodes.

Brandon Bear is the queer editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

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