“What is This Feeling” Wicked’s Subtle Queer Reading

When a few of the people from Destination Theatre and I decided to watch the blockbuster musical Wicked, I was in for surprise. While I was awed by the spectacle and sheer talent on the stage, as a queer person I felt particularly drawn into the musical and how it used conventions I had seen in previous musicals to hint at a romantic relationship between Galinda and Elphaba.

Galinda and Elphaba

For those who have never seen the musical, Wicked is a retelling of the Wizard of Oz, a famous film in the queer canon, told through the perspective of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Galinda, the Good Witch, becomes her roommate at Shiz, a magical school, and although they start off rocky, their relationship slowly grows to friendship and is hinted to possibly be more.

One of the key moments that critic Stacy Wolf identifies as playing with classic musical love story conventions occurs early in the musical with the song “What Is This Feeling”, which mimics songs like “If I Loved You” (9). Both songs play with dramatic irony. In “If I Loved You” from Carousel, Billy and Julie sing about what their life would be if they loved each other while we, the audience, know the truth: that they are already in love. “What Is This Feeling” works similarly with both Elphaba and Galinda asking “What is this feeling / So sudden and new / I felt the moment I laid eyes on you … What is this feeling / Fervid as a flame / Does it have a name” before pausing and saying: “Loathing.” Many of the symptoms of this “loathing” Elphaba and Galinda describe are similar to how one would describe the feelings of falling in love. Additionally, the song’s placement at the beginning of the show calls back to the classical musical canon like Carousel and Oklahoma! which each have songs at the beginning of their narrative that have characters denying their feelings for each other.

This all implies that the ending will involve Elphaba and Galinda acknowledging their feelings for each other. But instead, the musical chooses to keep the subtext just that with the introduction of Fieryrio, the male love interest for both characters. As the curtain fell on Elphaba and Fieryrio leaving Oz as Galinda gazes mournfully off in the distance, I felt immense sorrow over the fact that although musicals are viewed as queer, often queer viewers can’t fully see our stories on stage in them. In “Defying Gravity,” Elphaba throws back the words that her oppressor, the Wizard, had previously said: “Everyone deserves the chance to fly.” I think we are overdue for a set of wings.

Works Cited:

Wolf, Stacy. “‘Defying Gravity’: Queer Conventions in the Musical ‘Wicked.’” Theatre Journal, vol. 60, no. 1, 2008, pp. 1–21.

Carling DeKay is a fourth year English language and literature student.  She lives and writes in a haunted farmhouse with three cats.

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Expectations, Hopes, and Fears – Carling

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Me now

My journey to Destination Theatre really began over a decade ago when I was seven years old. A close family friend bought tickets to see Annie at the Grand Theatre for me as a Christmas present. I remember being a little uncertain as I had never seen a play before and didn’t know what to expect.   As we sat in the plush velvet seats and I unwrapped a mint my mom had given me, I waited eagerly for the red curtain to rise.   From the moment the lights dimmed and the first note sounded, I was enthralled. I sat there breathless, and felt the rest of the performance pass in a blur. I knew in that moment that I was hooked. Theatre became a passion of mine as I began seeing plays on the regular, both amateur and professional.   I even took up acting and fell in love with being on stage as well as off. Although I semi-retired from acting after high school ended, I never lost my passion for theatre. I started spending any money I had left on shows in Stratford, London, and the surrounding area.   Although I was busy with university, I always kept my eyes open for new opportunities in theatre. Then, this summer I got an email from the English Department about the Destination Theatre program. I applied on a whim, never really expecting to get in. A few weeks later, I got an email congratulating me on my acceptance.   I was thrilled.

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Grandma and me in London in 2008

What drew me to Destination Theatre was the desire to revisit my love for theatre and to explore that love internationally. Although I have been to London, England before and experienced some of the city’s amazing theatre scene, I’m excited to go back it as someone older who has a new appreciation for the vast literary history contained within the city. During the last three years of university, while I have enjoyed watching theatre, I feel as though I have become somewhat distant from it. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I am no longer acting or performing various behind the scenes roles. Even though I still watch theatre and I study the text of famous playwrights like Shakespeare in my classes, something doesn’t feel quite right anymore.   My role in my love of theatre has changed from active participant and spectator to an observer and academic. It is one thing to read the text of a play and another to see it performed live, and unfortunately I have done more of the former in recent years. I have discovered that I’m not content to simply watch from the wings (if you’ll pardon my stage pun). I hope that by exploring both our local Southwestern Ontario theatre and the theatre in London in Destination Theatre may provide the new perspectives I crave, and may serve as a starting point to doing more Theatre Studies courses. I also hope that by participating in Destination Theatre that I may get back involved in theatre again either as an actor or as someone behind the scenes.

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Me at Traitor’s Gate in the Tower of London in 2008

Although the prospect of studying abroad has always appealed to me, I can’t help but feel some fear as well. I worry about traveling. I’m somewhat of a homebody who enjoys having her own space as a refuge from the world. While I have no doubt the people in this class are wonderful and like-minded individuals, I still worry that perhaps I might not fit in and that I may be wandering alone in a strange country. In some aspects, England is no stranger to me. I hear it in my grandmother’s voice, and picture it in the stories she and my great aunt tell me. I see it in the books I study. Sometimes when I picture my future, I can feel the tug of England on my heartstrings, the call of a motherland. I used to dream of getting an English passport, although Brexit may have slightly soured that dream. In some ways returning to England, years after my grandmother took me there to see where she came from, seems like it was made to be. Though leaving Canada may leave me slightly paralyzed with fear, the excitement I feel at the prospect of getting to create my own memories in a country that my family has lived and loved in overcomes any anxiety I may be have.   I can’t wait to see what Destination Theatre has to offer me and I hope that you come along with me for the ride.

Carling DeKay is a third year English student at Brescia University College.  She lives and writes in a haunted farmhouse with three cats.