The year 2015-2016 was a big year for me, coming to Edinburgh after working in the Middle East for several years. One of the first things I did was visit the Festival Theatre, where I fell in love with modern dance (I hate dancing, so don’t switch off if you are also not a dancer). Although I intend to continue visiting the Festival, I will also be trying out other venues, for modern dance, drama, ballet and opera.
LGBT Theatre: AS IS
About a month ago, a friend and I responded to a casting call for an LGBTI+ play looking for LGBTI+ actors in an eleven-person cast. We auditioned and got the parts. In a whirlwind of activity, there followed some two weeks of rehearsals (two full rehearsals then a dress rehearsal on the day of the show). Then last night in front of a full house of sixty at the Scottish Youth Theatre in Glasgow, we performed the play. Here are my reflections on the morning after, as I think this is the kind of positive theatre project that needs to be shared, discussed and disseminated, not least in relation to DIY/punk art among marginalized identities.
First of all, we’re not talking fully DIY as I'd earlier intimated: there was a budget involved, as the play was based on the funded research of the production’s organizer Dr Harvey Humphrey of Strathclyde University. This does make a difference for a show dealing with complex and sensitive issues, and through a potentially very technical medium. The funding enabled the recruitment of a director (Mia Slater), an assistant director (Jordy Deelite), and a stage manager (Finlay Dickens), and they brought a professional expertise, as well as confident self-assurance and an unwavering passion, all good things for a production like this. Some of the actors too had acting experience, including in professional roles. In the post-show Q&A, Harvey also alluded to the involvement of experienced LGBT+ writers to help finesse the writing. So clearly, while the acting cast was a mix of the experienced and inexperience, no room for error existed behind the scenes.
Given the short time frame, the biggest challenge for probably most of the actors – and certainly me – was learning the lines. Each of us appeared in two scenes, with policy-related and activist-related dialogue that did not always easily roll off the tongue. In the show itself, I forgot one line – note to self: learning lines isn’t just about memorizing your lines but also, and I know this sounds obvious, the dialogue order and cues of the other person in relation to them – which wasn’t a disaster, but overall, the tension of not knowing if I’d go blank on the night in front of an audience did certainly put me on edge. In this respect, the dress rehearsal we did a few hours in advance really helped, it was tense but it also made the show itself less nerve-wracking. As I paced back and forth in our waiting area before the show, I was more excited than fearful.
Highlights of the show? For me personally, the rapport between my character and those with whom I shared scenes, namely Sandra (Jacqueline Wilde) and Stephen (Len Lukowski). Also, just watching others turning their lines into gold, especially during the dress rehearsal when the thing really became alive. Back-stage, practising 'voice' with Matt and Odhran, sharing moments of post-show joy with Hev and Leni, and spending Saturday afternoon with Hev in McDonalds, surrounded by Orange-Day-Parade Rangers fans, and realizing this fast food experience was going to go very very slowly.
More generally, several other positive outcomes emerged: first of all, the cast and crew I worked with were a joy, all either LGBT+ or allies, often with an involvement in LGBT+ arts. I’d love to do something again with these very cool people and develop that bond. Secondly: the post-show Q&A was fascinating, with the audience able to engage with the ideas of the play about the sometimes quarrelsome nature of activism and policy-making. As was discussed in the Q&A, community-of-the-oppressed theatre like this doesn't (or shouldn't) end at the close of the play but can continue with the vital dialogues that happen afterwards, and watching this interaction from the side, I can absolutely see why. And finally? We put on a show in front of a live audience! Fucking cool, no?