The documentation of, and reflection on, practice contained within this website contributes to a corpus of applied practice where gender diversity and ‘alternative’ sexualities are critical to the work, because the processes of creating drama, theatre and performance in applied contexts are also processes of always-creating gendered identities.
In drawing together an account of the project and by sharing writing about the practice, I contribute to the archiving of these kinds of performance practices that tend to be relatively undocumented. I recognise that although all performance-related work is in some ways gendered, there is a particular under-representation of work that engages with and reflects critically on applied practices in and with trans, queer and LGB communities.
Context: other examples of practice
Other examples of my practice
Key to my own related work as an Applied Theatre practitioner-researcher is the notion that by creating opportunities for young people who have a complex relationship to gender and are identifying as transgender, transsexual, queer, or are questioning the way the world is failing to accommodate them as gendered beings, these forms of individual-gendered subjectivity are able to flourish. The place of the arts in relation to that recognition of the importance of opportunity for young trans people and, moreover, the function of community and collaboration are significant to identity formation because the arts provide a vehicle and a platform for exploration and articulation within a structured process. Young people meet other young people who have similar and different experiences of gender and through the creative process of writing a play or devising monologues for performance they make themselves the subject of their own story, rather than being the subject of others’ stories, or feeling entirely invisible as a subject.
The Sci:dentity project took place from March 2006 to March 2007. It focused on the issues raised by the personal and collective journeys taken in the process of engaging with the science of sex and gender within the project. As the project co-ordinator of this project, part of my role as practitioner-researcher was to ask why and how personal stories are told as part of a journey in which young people develop their understandings of their own identity as trans people.
Brief Encounters Project
This project was a collaborative Theatre for Social Justice project that took place in London, United Kingdom in 2008 and involved fifty LGBTQA participants where the ‘A’ stands for allies of LGBTQ people’. I was the project co-ordinator. The collaboration was between Gendered Intelligence, Central School of Speech & Drama and Fringe Benefits Theatre Company. The project is written about in Creating Social Justice: Collaborating to Create Activist Theater (eds. Norma Bowles and Daniel Nadon), Southern Illinois University Press, 2013. Articles on this project include Carly Halse’s ‘Brief Encounters between Disciplines and Cultures: an Analysis of the Dramaturgical Quilting Bee’, Rebecca Root’s ‘Voicing your Gender, Gendering your Voice’, Catherine McNamara & Selina Busby’s ‘Creativity or Carnage: an International Theatre for Social Justice Project’ and Erasmo Tacconelli’s ‘Psychological Reflections on an LGBTQI Theatre for Social Justice Project’.
During the project, over a period of eleven days, a forty-minute script was created. The group was together for twenty hours, over five four-hour workshops. Between sessions, improvisations were transcribed to form drafts of dialogue, and out of it, Brief Encounters was created. The script was put into production and rehearsal. An accompanying workshop exploring issues of gender diversity and sexual orientation was planned, and the package was initially delivered to seven secondary schools across the United Kingdom, as well as in a variety of other settings. The play and workshop have been toured twice in subsequent years, thus reaching a total of twenty-two schools and approximately 2,000 young people
Fringe Benefits Theatre Company are based in Los Angeles in the United States. They seek to affect social justice and are funded by the Queer Youth Fund. Three of its theatre practitioners who regularly deliver theatre-making projects with young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people led the writing phase of this project in London (http://www.cootieshots.org).
The young participants’ own understandings of the complexity of gender and non-normative gender identities challenges popular conceptions, such as those found in television documentaries and the ‘freak show’ presentations popular in the contemporary talk-show genre I have referred to in previous chapters. Instead, this group of young people, and ultimately the play that they devised, aimed to portray the consequences of living in relation to the stigma that young trans people encounter due to those popular misconceptions. By entering into mainstream settings to challenge this populist view, there is an insistence on demonstrating the right-to-be as a gendered being.
There was a clash during this particular project which is emblematic of the wider context of participatory arts work with young people. The clash was between the desire to create ‘good art’ and the desire to educate, or for the theatre piece to have a pedagogic drive, and it existed for those participants who were also students of applied theatre. These students had opted to participate in the project as part of a module on their Masters programme. They were among the group of 50 who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender (LGBT), queer or as straight allies that formed to create a play based on queer identities. On one hand the students had anxieties about this being a weak play that would bang people over the head with overly moralistic messages and cause audiences to switch off and disengage. On the other hand, they (along with the non-student participants) felt that it was important and productive to use theatre to talk about gender and marginal identities in school settings. The point of tension was about how to accomplish the latter, without somehow accidentally doing the former.
GI’s Anatomy project
The project includes:
- A series of life drawing workshops drawing trans and intersex life models
- Presentations from professionals on medical practice around sex and gender, including Mr Nim Christopher (phalloplasty surgeon) and Dr Polly Carmichael (specialist in gender identity development and disorders of sex development (DSD))
- Group discussions around the science of non-normative sexed and gendered bodies
- Visits to galleries / art exhibitions to inspire our work
The work produced during the project is being shared at a number of showcase events and at an exhibition at the Frameless Gallery, Clerkenwell as well as online via social media.
Two groups of people participated:
- 15 young trans and/or intersex people aged between 16-25
- 15 trans and/or intersex people aged 26 and over
Sessions ran on 9th February, 16th February, 2nd March and 16th March 2013 in London.
Examples of others’ practice: LGBTQ arts-based projects
Participatory arts projects
In 2012, Rose Walker (a Development worker with the Transition Support Service in Edinburgh) provided a “Finding your walk” workshop, which was facilitated by a qualified dance and movement therapist. The objective was to support trans people to feel more physically confident with their body, how they walk and move in social environments. This Support Service is part of the LGBT Centre of Health and Wellbeing in the city (www.lgbthealth.org.uk).
In October 2008, the Scottish Transgender Alliance started running a transgender creative expression group called TRANSforming Arts. They have offered Visual Arts workshops in partnership with Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art and a residential writing retreat among other projects. The group’s principal facilitator is playwright, Jo Clifford. Participants’ work has been performed in various public spaces and as part of Transgender Day of Rememberance in 2008 and LGBT History Month in 2009 (http://www.scottishtrans.org/Page/STA_TRANSforming_Arts_Group.aspx accessed 15/02/13).
LGBTQ-focused theatre projects
FIT is the feature film adaptation of Stonewall’s play for schools aimed at tackling homophobic bullying. Stonewall report that the play and the film have been seen by more than 20,000 students around the country. Interactive DVDs of FIT were sent out to every secondary school in Britain in February 2010.
TYPT devise and produce a piece of theatre each summer as part of a 4week summer school. TYPT:13 was called Sweet Taboo, was directed by Mojisola Adebayo and had a theme relating to sex, sexuality, gender and race.
Sweet Taboo – a fast and playful, rude and irreverent show that re-writes the old sex, gender and race rules direct from the bodies, minds and souls of some of London’s freshest new performers. The show is freshly squeezed from forbidden fruits, giving you a taste of the sweetness in the taboo. On at the Embassy Theatre 15- 17th August.
Intergenerational LGBT projects
Magic Me are an organisation who do intergenerational work. Young people aged 8+ and adults aged 60+ team up through shared, creative activity. Intergenerational groups meet on a weekly basis in schools, museums, older peoples clubs, care homes, community and cultural organisations. Magin Me had not carried out an intergenerational project with a specific LGBTQ focus until a collaboration with Gendered Intelligence began in 2012.
Led by practitioners Kieran Sheehan, Douglas Nicolson and Jake Kelly, the Digital Intimacies project. A group of older and younger gay men explored their experiences of digital social media, and how presenting themselves in gay online forums affects their sense of identity in the non-virtual world. Over a series of eight Saturdays, they created a performance using movement, photography and video based on their discussions.