‘The Last Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor’ by Travelling Light at Tobacco Factory Theatres

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Originally written for Theatre Bristol Writers.

The mythical story of Sinbad and his adventures on the high seas is one that sits in the collective consciousness of many across continents, shaped not just by folklore and childhood fairytales but also perhaps, a trilogy of somewhat sexist fantastical stop-motion 1970s action films that are often repeated on  the telly.  It’s fair to say that my curiosities were peaked and my expectations high for this years flagship festive Tobacco Factory Theatres offering which is produced in partnership with the renowned Travelling Light Theatre Company (whose previous Tobacco Factory productions include Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and the Olivier Award-nominated Cinderella: A Fairytale) and features a stellar ensemble cast including Lucy Tuck, The Boy Who Cried Wolf! (Bristol Old Vic), Cinderella: A Fairytale (TFTs) and Saiket Ahamed Cinderella: A Fairytale (TFTs),  Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (TFTs). 

Travelling Light’s production aims to to provide a different telling of Sinbad. We are presented with the chequered story of a character who is both a hero and a villain, simultaneously the luckiest and unluckiest sailor alive and just as importantly, a story of the ships seafaring crew led by the plucky ‘Little Fish’. We journey with them on seven voyages encountering the monstrous Old Man of the Sea, turbulent tides, sandy shores and hot air balloon rescues.

The tale is not short of the anticipated adventure, peril, salvation and marriage and the show provides plenty of laughter, music and song along the way. The minimal design of the production made me question how I formed my own preconceptions of the story (think slightly shabby yet preppy Oregon seaside village rather than an ancient and crustily barnacled underworld) with the initial opening hammock scene a joy to watch as the team of salty sea dogs each slowly emerge from the pupae-like white canvas ready to face their journey together with their tools to hand.  The show’s highlights are often found through movement – with some memorable dance routines and clownish physical comedy as well as the occasional inclusion of the onstage musicians.

It’s theatre that certainly has magic although the current production on occasions (particularly in the first half) lacks atmosphere and in some moments is carried by an experienced and energetic ensemble cast rather than the writing or lyrics.

Overall though the production has much to offer and has repositioned my own thinking and assumptions around the story of Sinbad and how legends are created. It is a energising and entertaining show for all ages – an uplifting and revitalising production which will certainly put a bright smile on many faces across Bristol this Christmas.

The Last Voyage of Sinbad The Sailor until Sunday the 12th of January at Tobacco Factory Theatres   Bristol.

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‘Once Upon A Time in A Western’ by Le Navet Bete at Circomedia

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Originally written for Theatre Bristol Writers

‘A tumbleweed silently rolls across the dusty stage… The clink clink clink of spurs echoes throughout the theatre… The saloon door opens with a long, drawn-out creak… Welcome to Kidneystone’

Kidneystone is a place where the characters are many, the adventures are aplenty and where idiocy is an art form. From the moment you enter the building Le Navet Bete embroil you in their plot to save the town of Kidneystone from outlaws, a corrupt mayor, a likeable yet naive sheriff and fulfil their ultimate mission to find the true hero of this land.

The action is non-stop from start to finish, fast paced, high energy and demonstrates physical theatre and slapstick comedy at its best.  The audience is essential to the performance and we continually share the joy, jubilance, despair and confusion that the fools experience. Le Navet Bete are relentless in their enthusiasm and the performance is choke full of hilarious, ridiculous and occasionally squeamish fall-down-and-get-up-again moments, including the adventures of a guy with a beard in a tin bath, extreme line dancing, the three amigos, several deaths/near deaths/life after death experiences , something quite dramatic involving adverting a runaway train and a subsequent marriage proposal. Its fair to say ‘ Once Upon A Time In A Western’ doesn’t just take you to the saloon, -you’ll leave feeling that you’ve drunk the tequila and swallowed the worm as well.

A notable thing about Le Navet Bete is the genuine pleasure they take in performing for us and with each other. Underpinning their non-stop madcap routines and clowning calamities lies a precise sense of complicity and comedic timing that is perhaps demonstrative of a troupe who have been working together for years rather than months and who ‘like to perform as much as is humanly possible’.

‘Once Upon A Time In A Western’ is a rollercoaster ride of colourful characters, confusing situations, dramatic happenings, comedy moments, in jokes, out jokes and everything in between. With a shambolic finesse, sublime ridiculousness and through relentless laughter they reveal the humanity and flaws in us all.

Go and see it. You are sure to see somebody you know.

Le Navet Bete are an Exeter based collaborative clown troupe whose members are responsible for all aspects of the company and its work.

‘Once Upon A Time In A Western’ is Le Navet Bete’s flagship production and is showing at Circomedia until Friday the 25th October.

‘Up Down Boy’ by Myrtle Theatre Company at The Brewery Theatre

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Originally written for Theatre Bristol Writers

Matty is 19. He likes Michael Jackson, playing football, singing, dancing, wearing capes and Yoda.  Matty owns a lightsaber. His bedroom is both orderly and chaotic – a playful grotto brimming over with stuffed animals. Often projected on its walls are the animated thoughts, cartoon memories and fantastic imaginings of his mind.

But today, Matty is leaving for college.  His mum is helping him pack. It’s time for Matty to grow up and he can’t take everything with him. Matty’s mum wants more for him, a better future. Matty is going a to college to learn to be independent because his mum can’t always be there.  It’s just she’s not sure how she will cope without him.

Matty has Down Syndrome, and ‘Up Down Boy’ is a funny and moving story about two everyday superheroes, a mother and son at a crossroads and a suitcase full of stuffed toys.

Written by Sue Shields about her real life son performer Nathan Bessell (who plays Matty) with dramaturgical support from Catherine Johnson, ‘Up Down Boy’ combines drama, music, dance and animation to reveal the highs and lows of the shared parent/teenager experience of living with Down Syndrome. In addition to the complexities of Matty and his mothers relationship (a strong performance by Heather Williams) ‘Up Down Boy’ also touches on issues of social exclusion, inequality and experiences of social care, education and other challenges that the pair have had to navigate.

It’s this honouring of the shared experience where the work really shines. Whilst Matty figures predominantly in the production most of the dialogue is spoken by his mother and it’s the focus on her parental journey/struggle which makes this work so unique. We hear of their story from Matty’s birth, their joys and despairs and witness the truthful and colourful spectrum of emotions that the pair experience – ranging from quiet intimate moments tinged with joy, sadness and playfulness to resentment, raised voices and frustration. Beneath this the pair have both successfully created a convincing dynamic which continually suggests and communicates a foundation of sincere love.  Matty’s experience is more often communicated through some astoundingly good movement pieces, joyful comedic moments and animated journeys into imagined jungles.

Matty is not just someone with Downs Syndrome he is a brother and a son situated within a family context – whilst this did not feature heavily in the current script this is an interesting consideration and something of which I’ve seen little of in similar productions. However the significance and richness of the mothers story, her dichotomy between strength and vulnerability, hope and regret offers much to it’s audience and there were several nods of empathy and understanding amongst the crowd.  ‘Up Down Boy’ is a production that has something important to say and says it well. It reveals a rarely told story. It is a production that matters and a promising debut from writer Sue Shields.

‘Up Down Boy’ by Myrtle Theatre Company is showing at The Brewery Theatre until Saturday 26th October.

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‘Monkey Bars’ by Chris Goode and Company at The Tobacco Factory Theatre.

 

ecsImgMonkey-Bars-3-4446021Originally written for TheatreBristolWriters.net

‘Monkey Bars’ is the insightful, funny and often unexpected result of what happened when Chris Goode asked 70 children to talk about their lives. A verbatim piece spoken by adults ‘Monkey Bars’ offers a touching glimpse into young hearts and minds, and asks, how seriously do we listen to the words of children?

Cubes of white light create the stage and the scenarios we visit are familiar ones – a wine bar, a job interview, a political debate. The conversation touches on many a grown up theme – economics, religion, nationalism, identity and the future of how to make the world a better place is debated. It’s not all existential musings though and equally delightful are the joys of a jelly being serenaded and a job interview where the candidate is tested vigorously on their knowledge of sweets.

The work provides a powerful comment on time with the children often eagerly contemplating their future lives as ‘grown ups’. In contrast, the performers in business suits remind us how easy it is to forget the important art of being childlike as adults. It’s the simplicity of the children’s reasoning and more so their honesty that leave us with a sense of both the immediacy and fragility of childhood that is so fleeting.

The work doesn’t shy away from the darker side of the children’s truth. The original interviews (conducted by Karl James) were carried out in various socioeconomic groups in London and as well as revealing the reality of living in a multicultural society also demonstrate the role that the media and family can have in shaping our views and feelings about the world. Perhaps most poignantly is also how the children choose to cope and deal with them.

Whilst the challenge of adult life has yet to be encountered, the children are often quick to identify the cause and solution of potential problems:

Karl: Do you ever get a chance to talk to each other? When do you get to talk?

Hassan: No but we never get the chance.  That’s the thing. I never get to know Woody and Woody never gets to know me. And like.. And I want you to hear this loud, world! That is why we are not friends, because we never get a chance to know people. And I think.. And if you.. And if you can hear this, President, I want you to change the school time so that we can have play time even more so we can know people even more. OK?

‘Monkey Bars’ is a production where despite their absence, the children remain at the heart of the piece.  It provides a platform for them to voice their views consistently revealing the insight and wisdom that children have. It leaves the audience to ask the question: how often as adults, do we give children an opportunity to really take the stage and to value them in this way?

‘We’re not that different me and you’ – fulfilling potential and changing perceptions with The Misfits Theatre Company

Three months ago, if someone said to me the words ‘learning difficulty’ or ‘learning disability’ I probably would have thought of a host of descriptions or conditions that would define or describe that label.  I might have thought about limits. I probably would have looked away shyly if I noticed someone who looked a bit different on the bus.  Or maybe I would have been so well meaning in an attempt to be supportive of someone who was different, that I might have inadvertently been a bit patronizing.

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It’s unlikely I would have thought about the abilities and potential that the label could also bring, and I certainly wouldn’t think that I would be in a rehearsal room learning from professional actors who were independent, highly creative, enthusiastic, mutually supportive of each others efforts and fearless in their sharing of personal stories, their truthful representations of their everyday lives and their will to fight for their rights for social equality and inclusion.

The Misfits Theatre have been working collaboratively since 2005 to facilitate people with learning difficulties, making their voices and experiences heard.  Originating from the closure of a community day centre their pioneering work has taken them to venues and spaces across Bristol and beyond. The company of 35 members  (all whom have a learning difficulty) includes 7 paid actors as well as those who vote and lead as directors of the company, giving a valuable opportunity for the members to take shared ownership over their own futures.  The members also act as healthcare trainers and perform to NHS and social care professionals, reversing traditional power relationship as doctors and nurses learn first hand from those who may be their patients in the future.

By sharing with their audiences  the ‘real life’ experiences of learning difficulties and being  social excluded, The Misfits  challenge perceptions and assumptions  making work with themes including life skills, hate crime, dealing with challenging behaviour, relationships and sexuality. These are balanced with a wry humour and clownish comedy and the fun, playfulness and collaborative nature of the making process is embedded within all aspects of the organisation, and it is this that makes it so unique.

The companies work extends beyond more traditional performance spaces. The Misfits along with their friends and carers have the opportunity to get down and groovy at the flagship ‘Rhythm of the Night’ disco at The Trinity Centre.

The event is open to anyone who wants to meet up. There is talking, drinking, dancing, a couple of renditions of the conga, Elvis always makes an appearance and the DJ blasts out that old Tom Jones classic at the end of the night. It’s not much different from a Saturday in town. I’ve learnt that having a learning difficulty may mean that some of your needs are specific but enjoying social time, a laugh with your friends and the opportunity to meet new people is something that is universal and very much needed and appreciated amongst the local community. The night also offers an opportunity for performance and to encourage others to watch and engage in theatre.

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My time with the Misfits has truly transformed my understanding of  ‘learning difficulties’ and has revealed the many gifts and talents that individuals have when they are given the space, resources and support that they need to develop them.  The Misfits have taught me the importance of advocacy, standing as role models to many of their peers in the community both through their work in the arts and also their determination to make their voices heard about issues which affect them.  The sharing of their experiences has also given me an insight into the realities of living with a learning difficulty from negotiating everyday life to the struggle to find work, social and development opportunities and to realise  aspirations.

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The most significant thing that The Misfits have left me with is the role that the arts has in building and strengthening inclusive communities.  Many of the members have described their lives before they joined as ‘boring’ or they felt isolated with nothing to do. The Misfits offers friendship, structure, opportunities to grow and an accepting place where the members can share interests, stories and laughter. The bonds that are created between performers and group members are meaningful and lasting ones and the challenges of life are turned into a mission to raise awareness, change hearts and minds, have fun and get paid doing it. The companies base in Stokes Croft ( Co-exist at Hamilton House) enables the members to meet and mingle effortlessly with other arts practioners and enthusiasts – it’s a place where standing out often means fitting in.

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The achievements of The Misfits have recently been recognised by the National Lottery who have shortlisted them out of 900 other organisations for a  Good Causes award in the Arts category.  Competing against six others, if successful, the National Lottery Award could mean a chance for The Misfits to make a TV appearance on the BBC’s One Show as well as winning £2000 to help the company continue its work. The ethos of the company is that it is member led so even my blog post wouldn’t be complete without input from The Misfits themselves –  and the video above contains an extra special Misfits message for you. Supporting the campaign is free, so please visit:

http://www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/misfits-theatre-company

to find out more and just click on the box to cast your vote. It would mean so much.

(This article has also been published to the Theatre Bristol website)

Culmination – a Mayfest journey from audience to stage and how to fall off a precipice

‘you have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own and you know what you know, and you are the person who’ll decide where to go’ – Dr Suess.  

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Two years ago I experienced ‘Mayfest’ Bristol’s annual festival of contemporary performance for the first time. I’ve previously written about my experience of the participatory theatrical intervention called ‘Fortnight’ brought to Bristol by Proto-type Theatre which prompted me to think about both my life and the city of Bristol in a different way. As a result I set up this blog and continued my journey after the two-week ‘intervention’ was over.  At the time I was at a bit of a crossroads. I felt I had attained quite a lot over the years career wise but I still felt unsatisfied. Like there was something else I should be doing. Something more meaningful than I was currently doing. I felt like there was a hole somewhere. I hole that I liked to fill with food, mostly.  I felt disconnected from my local community, disenchanted with my job and was left wondering what my contribution to the world but also to myself, actually was.

To begin with I thought that at 33 I was too old to ever seriously consider being an artist. I figured it would be impossible to develop knowledge and experience without returning to formal and expensive study. I had read about the cuts to the arts and in the context of a declining economy I worried about the financially reality of making changes to the career path I had been treading for so long.  Few people I knew valued the arts themselves, at best tolerating my tales of the things I had seen, thought about or experienced. I also wanted to understand how something so subjective as performance/art (which could be as academic intangible or impenetrable as it could be accessible) could make an impact on communities and individuals and what difference this could make. Why did I feel, inside, it was so important? I doubted my own convictions in my ideas and ideals. I doubted if it was just too late to stop everything and start again.

These were the barriers to change that I had decided on.

However it seems overall the ‘why you should’ argument outweighed the ‘why you shouldn’t. I did my best to resist the little thought seeds that had been planted. The ones that were growing into ideas about what sort if things I could write about, what sort of theatre I could make, what could I do with the photos I take, what sort of community I really lived in, how I could contribute to that community, how could I be healthier and happier, but most importantly how I could I live my life and career in line with my true values and do something that I was passionate about?

I realised the barriers were not all as I presumed. So, just in case you do have a passing interest or fleeting thought…. here is (on a very broad brush basis) – is what I have discovered so far:

Overcoming barriers, seeking opportunities and building communities.

I was pretty convinced that my age would be prevent me from changing fields or finding opportunities in an area I had little experience in. Its probably more common to access to opportunities if you are under 25, however many artists, theatres, and community groups are Opening Doors and working on a range of projects many of which encourage participation from anyone. Over the past two years I’ve been involved with both community and ‘professional’ projects, which are also designed to be accessible to anyone who wants to be involved, with some specifically targeted at non-professionals. No experience necessary. Likewise I’d convinced myself that I would need to return to formal study but this again wasn’t the case. Whilst most performance graduates I have spoken to enjoyed their degrees and built valuable networks, many have also told me that in most cases their courses did not prepare them for their launch into the ‘real world’ of theatre or art and that in most cases you just have to start from where you are with the life experiences that you already have. Bristol offers a wealth of arts opportunities from traditional choral groups, to circus, to African drumming and a wide variety of places to do it in. I’ve been a clown at Windmill Hill City Farm, Bristol Folk House, and Co -Exist, performed at The Trinity Centre and documented at the Station Arts Space.  I’ve seen work at most of the key theatres and arts venues across Bristol including Bristol Old Vic, The Tobacco Factory and the Arnolfini, however often the most memorable and perspective changing experiences are those that are conducted outside of the theatre or gallery. Some of the most special happenings and performances  around the city include those at Parlour Showrooms, St Johns Crypt, St Paul’s Crypt, Bristol Bierkeller, The Milk Bar and a captivating old Victorian public toilet. I’ve run around on several occasions, broken out of jail at the college project, been chased by hounds  around Old Market and fought to catch up with small people hanging precariously off of bus shelters and window ledges or wedged behind bins.

I’ve done my best to SAY YES to new experiences. It’s hard to pinpoint within this seemingly holistic city approach to arts and performance when the light switched on, or each time I saw things from a different perspective. Sometimes its not an overnight change but often a more subtle accumulation of experiences over a period of time.

Once I started to explore my local surroundings, rather than feeling alienated by my own starting point, I was actually overwhelmed with the possibilities. Whilst in the first instance opening a door, picking up a pen, walking on a stage, dancing to a beat, finding your voice or trying a musical instrument can seem daunting, there is always someone else around to share the experience, give advice or laugh at your comedy routine. The advantage of one of my preferred pursuits CLOWN – is that you can find joy in doing things badly, messing up and being real so as long as you are truthful in your work it will always be interesting and gain a response.  It’s a different philosophy but very enabling if you can learn to step outside yourself and start where you are. This also means that anyone can be a clown as you already have everything you need to begin your journey.

A key thing that has come from my experiences and exploring’s so far is the impact that the arts can have in building and strengthening communities and benefiting individuals.  This has been revealed in every group, performance or project I have been involved with.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a project working with older people, children, or your average office worker, it may be work which explores self identity, biography, community, encourage health and fitness, explore life, death, politics or religion, either way – I believe the arts play a fundamental role in creating meaning, connection and in sustaining communities.  For the economists among you, stand by for my highly sophisticated and complex equation: People who are supported or connected to their communities through activities which create a sense of meaning and identity, ritual, connection, a sense of a ‘bigger’ picture, which celebrate and recognise life, death, equality, and the natural world – will – in most cases, ultimately cost less to social support systems as they progress through life than those who do not have such opportunities. Rather than thinking about the cost of arts funding and grants, how about thinking about the savings that can be made elsewhere and the benefits to society overall?

You can’t stop the passion

Cuts to arts funding and economic recession is the reality in which the arts operates today. There is always a wealth of debate around this and many philosophical and pragmatic discussions to be had about the constraints and opportunities of the current economic climate.  I started my journey modestly, without expectations and my perspective as a ‘newbie’ is likely to differ to those who have been plugging faithfully away for years, living with a good measure of uncertainity  in dedication to the work they love. At this stage I do know this – that Bristol is a unique place where, in spite of difficult funding circumstances, the dialogue, passion, creativity and impetus for social change, critique, protest and celebration will always exist. On a personal note, if your measure of success is to ‘love what you do’ this often enables other aspects of your life to work in different ways to how you may first expect. Solutions can be found, resources can be shared, communities will open up, problems will be solved.

Changing direction and starting again

There have been many changes for me since Mayfest 2011 including lots of theatre-going as well as performing and training, and two years later I am preparing for a showing of my first solo piece ‘If thing’s don’t change’ as part of  ‘Mayfest at the Wardrobe’  new writing collaboration. Whilst I don’t know where the work is heading, and I still feel like there is a long journey ahead, it’s an exciting opportunity to be given the chance to perform work that I’ve written myself as part of the festival I participated in as an audience member two years ago.  Whilst to some it seemed like a risky decision to change direction, I realised I have nothing to lose, and when looking around at the world and seeing it in a different way – much to appreciate.

Sometimes ‘modern’ or ‘avant garde’ art and performance is hard to explain. Sometimes it will have no obvious story or make any immediate sense. It will often challenge you to think in a different way explore themes which you may not be comfortable with or couldn’t see before, beneath it all I’ve learnt that if you look hard enough to see it, there is a story and it’s yours.

The show

The show is biographical, and started out as a volunteer community storytelling piece developed with the support of Windmill Hill City Farm. Through drawing on my own memories of my grandmother, growing up and growing older I first developed the original story for performance at two community farm events. I was also influenced by the older people I had met who talked to me about their lives and the process of ageing, something which none of us really can fully appreciate until we experience it ourselves. It was this and losing my nan last year which prompted me to develop the work which as well as being personal to me, I felt could also resonate with many people.   Ultimately it aims to draw attention to the fragility and possibility of life and the extraordinariness of the seemingly everyday experience, which we can so easily take for granted in an often busy, frequently consumerist and sometimes spiritless world.

I hope you can come to see it.

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‘If thing’s don’t change’ is being performed as part of a double bill with Chris Dugrenier’s   ‘Wealth’s last caprice’ a sensitive and funny reflection on what we value. Showing at the Wardrobe Theatre on Thursday May 23rd 6pm/£5 email tickets@thewardrobetheatre.com to reserve your seats.

The Wardrobe Theatre is ‘a place where anything can happen. Where fresh nutritious performance is premier, where arts cuts don’t stop the passion, and where the people of Bristol can experience the thrill of live performance’ and is located above The White Bear Pub, St Michael’s Hill, Bristol. You’ll have a nice time.

Out of the tick box and into the grey…move over darlings we’re 50 shades of gay – celebrating LGBT month, diversity, sexuality and pondering the consequences of silence.

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Lucy Meadows a primary school teacher from Lancashire underwent gender transition in the latter half of last year. Regardless of the fact that she was supported by her employer, she was the subject of vigorous press interest after a letter written by the headteacher of St Mary Magdalen’s C of E primary school in Accrington just before Christmas was leaked to the media. Her case had been the subject of great press attention most notably from Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn who authored the since been edited  but none the less still vile article which personally attacks Ms Meadows citing ‘’He’s not only in the wrong body … he’s in the wrong job” in an attempt to suggest that LGBT are a poor example to children.

On the 19th of March Lucy Meadows was found dead after an apparent suicide, three months after starting to live and work as a woman. Lucy was 32 years old when she died.

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I really don’t enjoy having to define my sexuality to other people.  Why?  because I’ve often found it hard to define myself. I hated having to tick a box, to say I was definitely this or that when I had an idea that sexuality like many other things in life could fluctuate. That it changed over the life course.  I could never find the manual that would specifically tell me what was exactly heterosexual or bi-sexual or lesbian. If I kissed a girl or was intimate did it mean I was a lesbian? Or bi-sexual? or experimental? or drunk? How many would it take to fulfil any of these categories? How recent would they need to be? Would it make a difference if it was love or just sex? And why the need for definitions anyway – isn’t being happy in your relationship the measure? Then I got to thinking about male partners. If I went out with a guy who wore eyeliner, nail varnish and tights would I be fooling myself because he was actually gay? Or maybe he was just experimental? Or simply had a deep appreciation for quality cosmetics and hosiery? Was there something wrong with me if I decided I was not uncomfortable with this anyhow? Surely a lot of our underlying views on sexuality and gender are every much socially constructed anyway? Right?

I thought I was alone with this and didn’t really make any efforts to define myself or think about it until recently a few things made me change my mind.  I watched this brilliant video by artist and photographer Tillett Wright whose work to photograph the gay community in New York ran into problems when she found that many others like herself found it hard to define precisely her changing sexual and gender identity, as she experienced tendencies for girls and boys and has lived as both a girl and a boy. Her TED talk sets out some great evidence as to why many of us are actually ‘50 shades of gay’ or situated somewhere on this huge spectrum which is complex and changing.

Soon after, during February it was LGBT month in Bristol and being a person who loves to hear stories I toddled along to Mshed – who were presenting a ‘groundbreaking exhibition by Outstories Bristol, revealing the hidden histories of Bristol’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities through images, artworks, oral history and memorabilia’ from this I learnt the terrific struggle that those in the LGBT community in Bristol had previously had, the stories were warm and human but also illustrated the persecution and exclusion that many people had to face even as recently as 15-20 years ago. Ujima radio also had a feature during the run up to the LGBT month where I met prolific Bristolian transgender sci-fi writer Cheryl Morgan who discussed her experiences as well as her favourite books.

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However the most affecting experience and the one that will stay in my mind was in fact a theatrical one. Except that the stories being performed were real stories. Not fictional.  Tom Marshman is an artist based in Bristol. He actively encourages a dialogue with audiences and participants aiming to create a safe space to share their thoughts and experiences. The results give very evocative authentic glimpses into everyday things. His recently performed work ‘Move over darling’ was made ‘through a process of engagement with participants from Bristol and the surrounding area. The performance had a direct relationship to participants’ personal accounts. The project allows an under-represented community to tell their social history which is often ignored due to political or social constraints and legislation. This enables this community to tell their story that has been previously unavailable to them and explore the diversity of their community The project aims to locate this work within the Bristol area’s familiar and everyday locations helps to transform and create multi-layered signifiers [emotional and historic] of building and places to the participants. For example bars where liaisons took place. Courts cases for acts of ‘indecency’ and pilgrimages to Greenham Common’

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The experience started with a gesture and a selection of small objects  on the staircase at Bristol Old Vic then took us on a journey around the streets breathing life back into the old city as  buildings seem to once again glow with the vibrancy and richness of human experience from days gone by. The storytelling was  warm, engaging, full of strength, vulnerability, sincerity and sherry infused elegance whilst revealing how the social context has changed for the older LGBT community, how prejudice and ignorance was experienced and also the impact of HIV and the sadness of loss.

At the final location The Milk Bar we were transported through time and space through a number of now seemingly blurred stories, music from different eras, a song, as we heard tales of love, laughter, sexual experiences, secrets and confessions. Previously invisible triumphs, struggles and experiences of the older LGBT community were made visible through the performance. A lampshade stands at the end of a bar, tables that seemed to float, the sound of a hammer struck 5 times, a flying brick, a song, a face turned away from a wall. Denim.

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The stories certainly opened my eyes and mind to the experiences of the older LGBT community. It also illustrated how art and performance is a great medium for overcoming preconceptions and general lack of awareness about certain social issues. Given all of these experiences collectively I felt that I was perhaps less afraid than I was to approach the issue of LGBT culture and identity or even to think about the context.  To give consideration to different or new experiences and gain an appreciation of multiplicities and complexities. To honour the bravery of those who had shared such experiences and were often subject to negative treatment throughout their lives. To gain an understanding, or as Tillet Wright suggests to ‘spark empathy’.

So I could have skipped over the whole sexuality issue. Just ignored it on principle, but seeing such articles in the press from journalists such as those involved in the tragic case of Lucy Meadows and thinking about the evidence I’ve heard through the performance I changed my mind. I now think that anyone, no matter how ‘grey’ they think they may be – if they could they should say so.  Only by broadening out the tick boxes, abolishing the categories and revealing the true honesty and depth of human experience we will be able to begin to make moves towards a truly equal society. By taking away the certainty and letting go of definitions and preconceptions we will be able to make sexuality and gender a place for play, discovery, union, celebration and ultimately a better understanding of ourselves and others regardless of pursuit or persuasion.  With the case of Lucy Meadows in mind, it becomes essential we ask the question – who is responsible for equality? But the implications of the answer is even greater – because we all are.