Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
Light absurdity and heartfelt storytelling
It took Sunanda Sachatrakul 27 years to come out to herself as gay, but ever since she's worked it out there's been no looking back. Her debut solo show at Melbourne Fringe 2019, How Gay Am I, isn't a show about questioning her sexuality but declaring it. She's out, she's proud, she's real, and she's fierce. She's also on her way to becoming the South Asian lesbian role model that she herself longed for when she was younger, but never had.
Sunanda was born in Delhi, raised in Bangkok, lived in New York and has now moved to Melbourne. The unique perspectives she's gained from her identity and cultural experiences have led her to create a show that is engaging, authentic, and in some ways, quite niche. Her content draws from cultural references that would resonate strongly with the Indian community, such as the super hit 90s Bollywood song Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai, matrimonial services (websites and aunties), Southall, and the ghastly politics of cow vigilantism. However, she does more with these things than simply evoke nostalgia/empathy among her Indian audience - she provides humorous context for non-Indian audiences, and puts a queer spin on everything so that even what's familiar feels new.
How Gay Am I is a fun mix of stand up, sketch, music, and audiovisual presentations, with a bit of audience participation thrown in. The content is a blend of light absurdity and heartfelt storytelling, with a strong subtext of calling out bullshit. The tone of the show constantly travels between varying degrees of tender, fun, and intimidating as hell - Sunanda is paradoxically both disarming and skilled at keeping her audience in the edge of their seats.
Sunanda's style of humour is quirky, playful, and unpredictable. She's got character voices, dance moves, costumes, and even a TED Talk about why everyone should be a lesbian today. In one part of her show, she questions what her life might have been like if she'd grown up in a different context - she tries on different characters (which gets a bit trippy), and leaves you feeling thankful that she is exactly who she is, and not who she might have been in another universe (although no matter which universe she was in, she'd still be gay). Towards the end of her show, she gets bold and proves to her audience that it's not only her who is gay, but we're ALL gay. This segment is every bit as ridiculous as it sounds, and while it does produce an initial wtf reaction, it's actually a pretty solid analogy for how the LGBTQ community are often given trouble about their sexuality. Sunanda doesn't have to explain the analogy for her audience to understand that is ridiculous to make declarations about other people's sexuality, and that you can't change your own sexuality by simply swearing to conform.
All in all, How Gay Am I is a show that is quirky and fun while also making room for important conversations about authenticity and sexual identity (especially in the context of South Asian culture, but by no means restricted to it). Sunanda is a memorable performer, and hers is a unique and refreshing voice that I look forward to hearing a lot more of in the future.