In an accidental viral tweet, and some angry thoughts about P.E after finally getting over a fear of exercise classes in lockdown (in my own room) I wrote a piece for Medium that tried to explain all that.
Today the lovely Pen and Paper Theatre Co have featured me in their ‘Creative Conversations’ which you can hear here.
We chatted about the play previously included in their podcast ‘Flipcarts and Phillip Schofield’
As a lot of the conversation revolved around the piece, it seemed a good opportunity to talk a bit more about it…
Why did I write this piece?
Well it started off as a fun idea. And I’ll admit a blatant attempt to get into a scratch night. But also what are scratch nights for if not to motivate you to write?
I’ll open this on a serious note and say this piece is the first time I’ve got active hate for something I’ve written. Not via either the performance at The Other Room. Or the podcast version. But as I had shared the script (in good faith and a tiny bit of self promotion). I got an email, detailing in no uncertain terms that I was a terrible human for writing it. That I was offensive to both lesbians and bisexuals, and bizarrely given its one of the few things I’ve written not about HIV/AIDS to everyone who had died of AIDS too. Interestingly. Bizarrely I wasn’t offensive to Phillip Scofield, which I guess is something. Obviously if I actually do accidentally offend with some clumsy wording, let’s talk. But for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was being told I was wrong for just…existing in the world. Which long story short, it part of the reason for this existing.
It fused together a few ideas that had been kicking about; a ‘TED Talk’ style of performance which integrated audience address, with some life story. A joke about bisexuals fancying all women and 5 men/the idea of Ross and Rachel’s ‘list’ from Friends. And then…Phillip Scofield came out.
Had you asked me in January 2020 if I had strong feelings about Phillip Scofield’s coming out I would have said no. I was wrong. While we’re at if you’d asked me in January 2020 about a lot of things I would have been wrong. But that’s another story. Really all I thought I felt about Phillip Scofield were the following:
- He was a better Joseph than Jason Donovan (I will die on this hill)
- He was a better Saturday morning TV presenter than Ant and Dec (I will also die on this hill).
- He once (allegedly) snogged a (female) acquaintance of mine in a nightclub in the late 90s.
Also my dyslexic brain REALLY struggles with his surname so we’re just going to call him Phillip from now on. Phil if we get really friendly.
I was in work when I found out the news. You know back when we went to the office every day or had those job-things. And it was oddly emotional. I didn’t cry, but I felt something. Then I felt something familiar, that nervousness. My colleagues would be back soon and talking about it. Would they be happy and supportive, or would they be judgemental? I’d only been at this job about 8 months at this point, it could go either way…they were supportive, happy for him. And it was a personal relief too. That all to familiar sigh of relief moment that you wont have to defend someone’s right to exist.
So, it seemed I had thoughts about Phil, if not feelings.
The other strand of the play is this idea of not fitting in. Being out of step with how you should be, even within a community that you’re supposed to belong to.
One example for me came not long before writing this piece. I went to a comedy night run by and for Queer women comedians. And I have never felt less like I belonged. Partly being the provincial hick in a room of Shoreditch Lesbians. Partly being 35 in a room full of 25-year-old Shoreditch Lesbians. Partly that my ‘Queer Culture’ doesn’t align with theirs, and neither does my dress sense. I much like Captain America did not get their references. And I felt silently judged for it. Like they could sense I didn’t belong. And that actually…I didn’t want to belong. We talk a lot about a spectrum of Queer identities. But that’s only ok you’re on the right part of the spectrum, right?
That’s a far more complex and nuanced element to get into in this blog- and perhaps something the longer version of this play might explore better- but essentially, the way we dress, how we choose to live our lives…makes us excluded from the very community we’re in. My love of dressing ‘girly’ (and I’m not even that girly) means I don’t fit in often at best. At worst I’m confirming to the patriarchy. Well maybe I am, but also I just look better in a dress…
But there’s another element of course. Those Shoreditch lesbians? The undercurrent of a lot of the community…you’ve got to be a ‘proper’ lesbian to fit in. Bisexuals/Pansexual have heard it a million times. From the microaggression jokes, to the outright ‘you don’t belong’. To having your identity erased by who you’re dating. To not seeing yourself represented in the community you allegedly belong to.
And that’s why I wanted to write this piece. So people like me could see themselves in something. We’re getting better don’t get me wrong. TV in particular is streets ahead of theatre even in bi/pansexual representation. Just this week a long-loved character on my favourite trash-for-it tv show of 15 years, Greys Anatomy was revealed, almost inconsequentially as bisexual. Anyone who follows me on twitter or has had a conversation with me in the last two months, knows I am obsessed with Schitt’s Creek, and the pansexual representation there is the stuff of actual dreams. And there’s lots of other little examples popping up in tv that aren’t’ little to us, they’re huge. But weirdly theatre, where Queer stories actually have always been ahead of the curve, feels like it’s stuck in a binary. Gays and not gays. And bisexuals/Pansexual are some weird-shall-not-be-mentioned or side characters, or worse just don’t exist.
I also wanted to put a character in their 30s at the centre of a story. Particularly in fringe theatre, once you hit 30 you kind of fall off the radar, because apparently, you’re then either dead or a mountain troll? Or maybe young people’s stories are the only stories?
Basically, what I’m saying is I want to write pansexual romcoms, with women at the centre and won’t someone please commission this?
Finally, back to Phillip. Why was Phillip so important if I really hadn’t thought much about him before? Really, it’s just having those people in your life. Maybe it’s a bisexual thing, that it doesn’t matter to me whether a Queer person is male or female, if they’re someone I looked up to, or thought fondly of in some way, then it helps. And I think back to childhood and wonder, if the kids TV presenter had just been gay all along, how much easier it might have been for all of us to just accept who were as well.
Also I hear Phil’s got a book coming out. If he needs someone to write the stage version…I’m ready. Gopher and all.
Following the death of activist Larry Kramer, I was asked to write for The Queer Review about his theatre work as activism and its enduring importance.
Larry Kramer will be remembered for many things, and by many people in the Queer community. As an activist, journalist, and community leader. For his many friendships, and his many disagreements with the community. For mobilizing and uniting, for taking on the political establishment. Nobody channelled rage into action quite like Larry Kramer he was a true activist. It was in everything he did. And he weaponised the theatre for activism in a way that took an artform that has always been political and used it in a way that was as unapologetic as he was. Kramer’s was not the first play on AIDS, but its combination of searing political rage and a heart-wrenching emotional core ensured its impact was felt.
Read the full article at The Queer Review here.
I was asked to be a guest on BBC Radio Wales’ The Review Show for July. Always a delight of a show- who doesn’t like to chat about all things culture for a while? and I always discover some delights I wouldn’t normally when doing my research for them.
This time it was Velvet Underground covers and Perry Mason…
Listen here for 29 days
Sadly we didn’t manage to descend on Leicester OR Wolverhampton this year for 14/48, that magic, manic festival where we make 14 new plays in 48 hours.
However not to be defeated, team 14/48 kept the magic going with a WEEKLY mini 14/48 ’14/48 working from home’ where we got to experience the fun of creating new work, overnight…from our own home.
For those not familiar, the writers were drawn at random from a hat, given a theme to write about overnight. Then directors and actors were drawn and given about 8 hours to create a play…this is my suitably stagey contribution this year.
And for anyone who would like to read along ….
Mama Rose and Me.
Singing, ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’ from Gypsy, with commitment. It doesn’t matter how well.
I had a dream, a dream about you, baby.
It’s gonna come true, baby.
They think that we’re through, but baby,
You’ll be swell! You’ll be great!
Gonna have the whole world on the plate!
Starting here, starting now,
honey, everything’s coming up roses!
It was a religious experience the first time I heard that song. Ms Patti LuPone belting that song out. It was from the back of the balcony, but she could have been right there in my face. Admittedly that’s a slightly terrifying prospect. If I believed in God I would have been converted. Of course, I was converted long before that. Because if there is a heaven it’s filled with musical theatre, I’m convinced of it. God would not allow any different. Pretty sure God loves some Jazz Hands, right?
Impersonates Mama Rose
Sing out Louise!
When I was a teenager, I would wake up early to find out the winners of the Tony Awards. It was like my Christmas. Or I guess like some…big sporting event. Um, the FA Cup? Look, I might not have known who was top of the charts, but I could list off Sondheim’s musical repertoire by the time I was 12.
Actually, did you know, Gypsy rarely gets included in summaries of Stephen Sondheim’s work because he only wrote the lyrics. The other shows he did that for were Anyone Can Whistle and of course West Side Story. 7 of his musicals have been made into films. He has 8 Tony Awards. Um. I know a lot about Stephen Sondheim. And musical theatre. It’s not the coolest is it? I’ve always struggled with facts. But this I can do. Other things always seem to fall out of my head. I knew every word of Les Mis but I couldn’t conjugate a French verb for a loaf of bread.
‘What use is musical theatre nonsense? What’s that going to get you in life?’
Sings again sadly
Now’s your inning. Stand the world on it’s ear!
Set it spinning! That’ll be just the beginning!
Curtain up! Light the lights!
No Mama Rose in my life. Not that I’m suggesting she’s a model for parenting. She makes ‘Dance Moms’ look reserved after all. Eventually though, I was allowed to see a show. All the way to the bright lights of London. Like a really low budget backstage film. If backstage films included the 7am slow train from Birmingham New Street and a mad dash across Kings Cross clutching a Burger King for the last train home.
Curtain up! Light the lights!
You’re allowed to cry in the theatre too. In the dark. Where nobody can see you. You can sit there, all alone, but not alone. And cry. Have you ever done that? Just been carried away in the darkness by music, by a story…That’s what I remember about those years. That moment of…release, when you get carried away by people telling you their stories. Giving you their heart. And you can give them yours in return. Just by sitting there. It sounds silly when you say it out loud. It wouldn’t sound silly in a song.
Back then my only real friends lived on stage. On CDs. On YouTube. But somewhere between the Birmingham New Street-Burger King dash, I found my people.
Curtain up! Light the lights!
We got nothing to hit but the heights!
I met my best friends in those darkened rooms. We find each other. Somehow, in the darkness. In the way we only know how to talk in theatre. You wouldn’t think it, but we can feel the same as a stadium of football fans, cheering on what we love, united in that moment…watching a perfect moment on stage, in a packed theatre…it’s like scoring the winning goal, or some sports metaphor. It’s a cliché to talk about shared experience…but it feels like breathing with one breath, beating with one heart. Or just bragging rights that you were at the closing night of Company and clearly the coolest of nerds.
I’m back to doing it in my bedroom now. Singing I mean. We all are, I guess. Some days, well, some days, it’s all that keeps me sane. Belting out showtunes. I can be Barbara. Or Imelda. Or I could be Lin Manuel Miranda or Hugh Jackman…or I can be me. More me in a showtune than anywhere else. For now, it’s a bedroom concert. The stage is in my head.
Pretending I’m in a room, waiting for the curtain to come up. I worry we’ll never find our way back. I worry …I worry it’s all gone.
But then I think of that time. The next time. When you hear the start of an overture. I think of the room filling with music. I think of turning to my friends I found in the darkness, sitting there with me. Holding hands tightly to fight back the tears. And the music fills the theatre, and the applause rises, and rises and rises…
Everything’s coming up sunshine and Santa Claus!
Everything’s gonna be bright lights and lollipops!
Everything’s coming up roses for me and for you!
The great team at Pen and Paper Theatre Co. recorded my short play ‘Flipcharts and Phillip Schoefield for their podcast.
You can listen to the play, beautifully performed by Phillipa Howe here: