"We go to bars to be seen. We want to be noticed. We meet a new friend or meet someone to take home.
The bar scene is more than just a long counter serving overpriced cocktails. The bar is one scene. And we the patrons are the players.
We the patrons are performing ourselves. At the gay bar, we play a character.
Finding Satan is the scene."
Gay bars are regarded as special places for the LGBTQ+ community who frequent them and have existed for many years to serve a multitude of purposes including places of celebration, refuge, health clinics, and venues for fundraisers. In this thesis project, I use autoethnographic methods and theatrical installation to explore my coming out story: from my exit from a religious cult to my acceptance into the gay community and culture. Working from personal reflection and research, the immersive installation Finding Satan reflects on gay bar culture from the 80’s to now, sharing examples of small-town bars, how people connect, and how the AIDS epidemic affected how gay bars were utilized. I share my story and journey with others within the installation, as my personal history often echoes and aligns with the experience of other gay people in the United States.
Design:Inspired by the documentary, Small Town Gay Bar, the space I created was scrappy and did not feel overdesigned. The small town bar is simple and the materials used are less expensive than what you might see in a metropolitan bar. The small town bar is focused on function and not style, but consistent with its charm. The lighting in the space was designed in the same nature with LED lighting and area lighting to light the dance floor space and highlight the various areas of the installation.
Timeline:As guests entered the space they were treated to a timeline which started in 1968 and moved all the way up to present day. The timeline spoke to the history of Sunday Tea Dances, Stonewall, and the AIDS epidemic. The timeline also included moments in my story that were important to telling my journey.
Hanky Wall: Before the use of the internet for cruising, gay men created “The Hanky Code,” a quiet way of expressing your sexual interests through a coded system. Men would wear in their jean’s back pockets different color handkerchiefs based on their sexual interest. In the installation, I produced a hanky wall where guests can pick a handkerchief and learn about its meaning. I gave this prompt to the audience, “Pick a color. Somewhere in the room is the code. Like it? Keep it. Don’t like it? Pick a different color. Once you pick a color, find someone in the room that you match with. Share a drink and get to know each other.” With the code hidden in the room, the audience had to hunt for the code without any guidance on where it might be. This prompted interaction with each other and community building.
The Dark Room: This area was a darkened corner sectioned off with scaffolding, black drapes, mylar curtain and chains. As audience members entered through the chains, they were greeted with a few televisions displaying white noise. Inviting the audience to share a message on the televisions in the space, I left dry erase markers in a glass on top of the televisions with the prompt, “What is your fantasy? Hopes and dreams? What is your pleasure? Use the dry erase markers and share anonymously with the next guests”
Looking Bulletin Board: Audience members were prompted to answer the question: What are you looking for? A bulletin board hung on the wall that allowed the audience to write down their responses and share anonymously with the other audience members in the space.