APHRODITUS: A MUSICAL is a genderqueer one-act rock opera by Stephanie M Bennion, to be performed by a single narrator/singer backed by a rock band live on stage. The play takes a darkly humorous look at the fight for transgender liberation in western society and how gender-variant people struggle to find a place in the world. The musical centres around the narrator’s black-comedy retelling of their personal journey, how they have dealt with the challenges of life and the tragedy of the one they loved. The show looks at transgender rights through a feminist lens and examines the impact of the vilification of trans people by the media, evangelical organisations and right-wing politicians.
Demo recordings for most of the songs are available on Soundcloud (private link). Apologies for my attempt at singing! Steph.
The setting is an LGBT cabaret bar in England. The non-binary narrator Quill and their band the Sisters of Enarei are penniless musicians, living on the road and constantly on the move. They are transgender liberation activists, inspired by 20th-century suffragettes in their fight against evangelist opponents ("Build It And They Will Come”). Quill and their band have not long returned from an international trans rights rally on the island of Cyprus. Now back in England, a political stunt has come back to haunt them and the band are on the run from the police.
The story is about grief and loss. Quill found meaning with the group but is in denial over the loss of Selene, their former charismatic leader (“Look At Me Now”). The band is gigging to spread the word of their struggling liberation movement (“Face The Truth”). The Cyprus gathering is still fresh in their minds: an international transgender rights festival in the ruins of ancient Amathus, near the crumbling temple of Aphroditus: a dual-gendered version of the Greek Goddess Aphrodite. Quill reflects on pre-Christian beliefs, trans liberation and feminism (“When The World Belonged To All”). Thinking of Selene (“Ghost In The Darkness”), Quill relates how they fell in love (“It Might Be You”).
Faced with constant abuse and taunts for being trans, Quill reminisces on Selene’s gift for shrugging off adversary with witty retorts (“I Am Rubber, You Are Glue”). Quill nevertheless nurtured a growing rage about society’s expectations about how to live their life (“No More Lies”). This anger spills into their campaigns. Quill relates how during a protest against a right-wing newspaper, their group was attacked by police and thugs leading a counter demonstration. It turns out the editor of the newspaper is Selene’s father, who once tried to send her to conversion therapy to 'cure’ her of being trans. During the resulting riot, they burn the newspaper offices to the ground (“Read All About It”).
The authorities declare the arson to be a strike against democracy. Trans rights protesters are branded terrorists. The Cyprus festival gave them an excuse to flee the country, but organisers deemed Quill’s band to be too radical, forcing them to set up their own stage on the festival fringe. Quill is increasingly obsessed with Aphroditus (“Song Of Salmakis”) and bargains for guidance from the old gods (“Bended Knees”) and the goddess Aphroditus herself (“King Of Queens”).
Quill sinks into depression. The transgender community have become scapegoats, unfairly blamed for society’s ills (“Lament Of The Locrians”). Campaigning has backfired and innocent people are being abused and attacked in the street (“Forgotten Yesterdays”). Quill has lost everything, not least their soulmate Selene (“Gendernaut Amour”).
Quill relates their final protest ‘zap’, an attack on the toilets inside the Houses of Parliament (“Necessarium Segregation”). Afterwards, in police custody, Quill sees Selene forcibly taken away by her father, never to be seen again. By playing gigs, the band is breaking bail conditions (“Dancing At The Gates Of Hell”). Quill pleas for acceptance (“This Is My World”). The spirit of Aphroditus lives on in each of them; trans and non-binary people are here to stay (“Look At Me Now (Reprise)”). The play ends to the sound of police sirens…
* * *
“There’s also a statue of Venus on Cyprus, that’s bearded, shaped and dressed like a woman, with sceptre and male genitals, and they conceive her as both male and female. Aristophanes calls her Aphroditus, and Laevius says: ‘Worshiping then the nurturing god Venus, whether she is male or female, just as the Moon is a nurturing goddess.’ In his ‘Atthis’, Philochorus too states that she is the Moon and that men sacrifice to her in women’s dress, women in men’s, because she is held to be both male and female.”
[Macrobius (c. 400s CE), Saturnalia 3.8.2]
* * *
APHRODITUS has been written with fringe performances in mind. The current version of the script has songs and dialogue for a show of around 60 minutes running time.
A single stage setting is used throughout, representing an LGBT cabaret bar, with framed photos of queer icons and Pride flags on the walls. The band’s equipment is battered and spray-painted with the transgender liberation logo. The kick drum displays the band name, “Sisters of Enarei”. Quill is the only performer singing and speaking. The band will be on stage to perform the numbers: minimum requirements are electric guitar, keyboards or piano, bass guitar and drums. Song demos (did I mention iffy singing?) are available on Soundcloud (private link).
Thanks for reading! If you're interested in knowing more, contact me! Steph.
* * *