Dakota Jamal Wellman and Natalie Liconti. Photo by Victoria Kelly
The creators of a new web series called The Walk-in Closet have chosen this Valentine’s Day to launch their unconventional “romantic” comedy. Montreal-based 22-year-olds Katharine King and Natalie Liconti conceived the series and recruited a cast of local comedians and actors who are all part of the LGBTQIA+ community (including familiar faces Tranna Wintour, Rachel Gendron, Kit McKeown, Trevor Barrette and Dane Stewart, as well as King and, in the lead roles, Liconti and Dakota Jamal Wellman). Who better to develop and depict a story about young gay and lesbian friends playing straight (and getting married) in a quest for Canadian citizenship?
Nico Ogilvy: What inspired this narrative?
Katharine King: At the time when we started brainstorming for this show, we had grown increasingly fed up with the amount of straight or cis performers in Hollywood who, in recent years, have found it profitable to “play gay” so to speak. There are more stories about gay and trans characters being produced now than ever before, but often it seems like the person winning the Oscar at the end of the day is someone who can return to a comfortable, hetero life. They get the paycheque and the accolades but they don’t necessarily have the lived experience. So a lot of queer and trans people are watching these stories, often about important figures from our history, and yet there still seems to be a disparity in terms of representation and whose careers get to be furthered in the process. It got to a point where it was like, “Katharine stop complaining about this constantly and do something tangible!” Even if it’s on a small scale, we feel like The Walk-in Closet is kind of an absurdist disruption of this mainstream trend in Hollywood. It’s rare to see comedies about gay people “playing straight” and that’s what we wanted to explore with having our two main characters being a lesbian and a gay man getting engaged and trying to pass for straight.
NO: There’s a history of comedic approaches to the closet — how is yours different?
Natalie Liconti: Most “closet” narratives are generally coming of age stories, or they are positioned in a way that places heterosexual or straight culture at the forefront and the queer narrative as disrupting that course in some way — and that’s the main conflict of the work (think literally any queer film that is directed and written by a dude). Our narrative normalizes queer culture in a way where we’re making the references to the popular cultural moments and figures that we love, and that unite us as a community. This series is about celebrating how far we’ve come in a time when sometimes it feels like progress is impossible. We want a female, queer gaze represented as a driving creative force. A lot of popular femme-created/feminist work in mainstream entertainment is still very heteronormative and so we do not necessarily relate to it and find it as engaging.
NO: Was it a tricky idea write about? Were you ever worried about offending anyone?
NL: We are aware that it will likely not be perfect because it was created from our standpoints and our own lived experience of being Canadian lesbians.
KK: I mean, everyone gets offended in 2018! I probably get offended way too much! We made this project on zilch budget through connections we had forged by going to university and going to comedy shows so definitely one does not have 100 per cent creative control like on a large budget production. We will not claim it is perfect by any means, but we hope it’s enjoyable and may open a discussion in the process. I think as an artist, you have to be open to constantly checking yourself and accepting that you always have room for improvement. That being said, I’ve also been learning that although I felt like there was no weight to my voice as a director in the film industry, I am learning — or unlearning, so to speak — that being an Asian woman and being gay does actually provide a specific voice that has not been utilized very much in Canadian film, or elsewhere. Also, collaborating with individuals that come from different intersections than myself is important in continuing to develop more complete representation.
NO: Who is your intended audience?
NL: We’re making content for our generation, for a visual culture that consumes entertainment instantaneously and online. It combines the comfort of a ’90s sitcom with the digital relevancy of our world today. Basically our intended audience is people who grew up watching Will & Grace, but find it falls short now.
KK: We 100 per cent wrote it for other members of our LGBTQIA+ family, but if others enjoy it or get the humour then that’s great. A number of the crew were friends I made while going to school at Concordia, and they are straight and have been laughing while watching our rough cuts and that’s amazing! It’s very encouraging to see it reach a broader audience. Natalie and I are both 22 and the majority of the cast and crew is in their early 30s or younger, so it will probably appeal to the millennial generation more than anything, but I guess we’ll see. I also remember when I was teenager, before I had come out of the closet or taken years of queer-centered university film classes, that watching YouTube and gay content created for web was one of the only ways I could feel connected to other gay people and think that the future would be more hopeful. If we can connect to our younger queer audiences and make them feel like there’s fun to be had as a gay person, then that’s incredibly exciting as well.
NO: Your press release mentions the goal of furthering the careers of the cast and crew — in an ideal world, where would you and the rest of your team be in five years, career-wise?
NL: In an ideal world we’d like to be creating work and not having to market it as being diverse, because that will be the norm. Our hope is that by normalizing inclusive and representative work, better conversations will be had through entertainment. I felt represented and learned about lesbian culture in two places: the Gay Village and TV. Queer culture is often forgotten, and it is through participation that queer people get to know their culture, and which of their histories are remembered and memorialized. It seems that very few queer people are raised in places where gay or queer culture and history is taught in the same way that dominant cultural histories and narratives are taught, so entertainment and pop culture become crucial. For me that’s the most important thing: creating a landmark for future generations of where we are today — even if it falls short in five years.
KK: Going back to my first response, it is frustrating to have white, straight, cis artists feel like they have an inherent right to tell queer stories for profit but not necessarily include queer people in their creative process. My hope is that in five years, the LGBTQIA+ members of our project are still making their art — whether that be film, theatre or comedy — and that they’re able to support themselves and are properly credited for the work they’re doing. I hope that they feel safe and supported to continue being the brave, talented individuals that they are because it’s a hard industry. If this project helps to further anyone’s career or give them more visibility in doing what they love, then that is reward enough in itself. ■
Watch episode 01 and see more about The Walk-in Closet here. View the trailer below: