On December 10, 1988, the body of Scott Johnson, an American-born gay migrant, was discovered at the base of the cliffs at North Head at Manly in Sydney. In an inquest into his death the following year, the deputy state coroner concluded his death was a suicide.
“The family is still fighting for justice”, Ben Noble tells Theatre People.
“They believe now that it was a potential gay-hate crime.”
A third inquest into Johnson’s death began last December, 18 years after his death. His story was integral to Noble’s creation of a one-man production entitled Member, which begins performances at Kings Cross’ Blood Moon Theatre on February 21.
Produced by Fairly Lucid Productions and directed by Casey Gould, Member focuses on the gay hate crime epidemic in Sydney during the 1980s and 1990s. Noble, an actor with several film, television and theatre credits to his name, has written and will perform the piece.
Noble talks about the period during which the crimes occurred – a time when young men were hunted down, brutally beaten, stabbed or thrown to their deaths by gangs of youths.
“[It’s] believed that many different groups of kids – both boys and girls, some as young as 12, some small groups of three and some [with] up to 30 people in a gang – would bash gay men or, sometimes, lure them to gay beats and push them off a cliff,” he explains.
Over this period, approximately 80 young homosexual men were murdered and 30 cases are unsolved.
Noble recalls the initial motivation that caused him to come across Johnson’s case – Russia’s federal law ‘for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values’, commonly referred to as the ‘gay propaganda law’. It’s a law that, since passing, has attracted a significant level of international condemnation.
“I wondered if this level of discrimination or hatred that was stemming out of Russia was in our history somewhere,” Noble says.
He describes the extensive process that’s been undertaken in order to create this new work.
“When I started doing the research, I got a small pack of information together and I put it out to about 10 playwrights from around the world … and their duty was to write a monologue or a scene to be played by one person,” he says.
The information pack, he says, included court transcripts, some articles and a few facts.
“I got a response back and, from then on, I’ve really delved into it a lot more … I’ve sat down with different people along the way to look at the cases and how everything connects and, because I think I’ve been living those characters and those stories for so long, the one thing that really affected me was [that] if someone was young – like 12 – and … they were in that [gang] environment, how do they live in this world now? Potentially, they could be a parent and if they do have a child, if they [turned out to be] gay, how are they going to deal with that? That’s the premise of the show where it is now.”
Member tells the story of Corey, a former gang member, whose son is lying in hospital.
“His son is gay and he has been beaten, and [Corey] is trying to deal with his past, and he’s basically going through his story to his son while he’s lying there in bed. He talks about the people that he’s been in cohorts with, and the people that have influenced him, and then drama ensues.”
Noble talks about the importance of bringing this work to the stage in 2017.
“It’s part of Sydney’s history and I don’t think a lot of people are aware of that history, unfortunately. And I think there is still so much hatred in Australia and the world, especially homophobia, that to move forward, we have to really address our past and where that stems from, and I think the message is to come and listen and to discuss. It’s to spark a conversation.”
MEMBER – SEASON DETAILS
Written and performed by: Ben Noble
Directed by: Casey Gould
Additional words by: Rochelle Bright, Meg Courtney, Bjorn Deigner, Emma Dockery, Dan Giovannoni, Elise Hearst and Finegan Kruckemeyer
Design by: Jacob Battista
Lighting design by: Lisa Mibus
Sound design by: Coleman Grehan
When: February 21 to March 4, 2017
Where: Blood Moon Theatre, located in The World Bar, 24 Bayswater Rd, Kings Cross
Tickets: Adult $29 | Concession and groups 6+ $24 | Preview $20
Duration: 60 minutes