At a recent performance at the Laugh Factory, stand-up Carly Ballerini got onstage and yelled out, "Is anybody here gay?" No one in the crowded room responded. But Ballerini persevered, and she put on a set filled with jokes about her bisexuality. Often audiences think she's straight, she says, so she needs to pronounce her queerness right away. As an alternative, she wanted to create a safe and celebratory space where performers are assumed to be queer.
That's just what she and comic Shannon Noll have in mind for Space, a new monthly variety show at the Revival created by and for the LGBTQ community. The opening lineup includes stand-up by Peter Kim, Cody Melcher, and Melody Kamali, storytelling by Erin Diamond, drag by Kimothy, and music by Serjeeoh. While the focus is on stand-up, in the future Space will feature an array of performance and multimedia art—all without "the straight-male shorthand," as Ballerini refers to it, getting in the way.
"It is really nice to let that go for a second and speak the way that is native and natural to you that you didn't have to learn over a period of time just to fit in and do your art," she says. "The audience doesn't need explanations, you don't need to explain yourself as a performer, and it starts to feel like a really amazing space. At first I was like, I'm not going to talk about bisexuality because I don't want people to think whatever gross and stigmatized things they think about bisexuals, and then I just started talking about it, and because it's so personal to me it was liberating."
Space certainly isn't the first queer-focused comedy show in the city, but it's one of the only stages on the south side offering such an experience. Ballerini and Noll want their lineups to include as many performers from the south and west sides as possible—for them, inclusion onstage is important because of the impact it can have on those watching.
"I had no intention of coming out as genderqueer, but then I saw another comic talk about being genderqueer on stage and I was like, 'Oh, I can do it,'" Noll says. "It's part of the reason I seek out queer performance and art and literature—it's very important to recognize your own story in other things. It's very empowering."
In the future performances may also include dance parties and other celebratory events, all supporting Ballerini and Noll's goal of creating a gathering place to nurture and encourage queer artistic voices.
"It's odd when you feel odd, and it's really odd when you're trying to do a creative thing and you feel odd within the creative thing you're doing," Ballerini says. "It's just nice to sometimes have a space where people get it a little bit more." v