A new play celebrates the sensational trial of an unsung hero of Victoria’s gay history—on the very site where the event took place.
A Queer Trial, written by University of Victoria professor Dr. Jennifer Wise, tells the real-life story of John Butt, an openly gay man who in 1860 was acquitted of sodomy charges by two successive juries—the first preferred to spend a night in jail rather than convict him.
After learning about the historic event, Wise immersed herself in the archival documents and police-court transcripts. “While researching, I realized that this story would serve as an ideal project for students to learn about site-specific theatre,” says Wise. The Theatre students enrolled in her class have taken on key roles, from acting and singing to dramaturgy and historical research, from musical direction and choreography to costume design. The play also incorporates the research and knowledge of members of BC’s Indigenous, LGBTQ2, Jewish, Black, and legal communities.
“We’re going to be taking this beautiful message of tolerance and humanity right into the heart of the community.” says Wise, recognizing that recent political events have emboldened attacks on these communities at home and abroad.
“As we celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary this year, this play highlights an important part of our history and reminds us about how essential this message of tolerance is in our world today.”
The play will be performed Friday, April 14 at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in Bastion Square, where it uses the local alleys, doorways, wrought-iron features to maximum effect to celebrate this historic event.