Following on from Camden People’s Theatre’s brilliant Come As You Are festival last year, the event is set to replicate its success with a UK tour this Autumn and will once again be headlined by Milk Presents’ Bullish, which tells of ancient mythology against modern gender navigation. The festival is a fantastic exploration of LGBTQIA+ theatre and the first tour of its kind, which begs the question: do we still need to educate people in what this actually means?
It has been just over 50 years ago since the partial decriminalising of homosexuality in England & Wales but many members of the LGTBQ+ community still struggle with acceptance and findings ways to express themselves. Even in London, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, you can still be a victim of ridicule and hatred if you are different.
A passionate advocator of LGBTQ+ theatre, Milk Presents co-founder, Lucy J Skilbeck doesn’t think that London is the only place for the community. “I don’t think it’s a case that London is a gender fluid capital and the rest of the country is barren, I don’t think that at all. It’s a myth that London is one thing and the rest of the country is different.” Skilbeck originates from Yorkshire and the rest of the Bullish crew come from various parts of the UK, bar London. The show and company are perfect examples of illustrating that you can find your tribe and do what you love regardless of where you are from.
Milk Presents previous work includes JOAN, loosely based on Joan of Arc and also, as Skilbeck explains, “the character of the Minotaur, which is part beast and part man. This really struck a chord with me. It allowed me to figure things out in a way that I wouldn’t be able to if the story wasn’t there. It lets you explore identity in a way that is a bit away from yourself.”
“You have to be wary of selling a show on identity. We are a non-binary, trans, queer theatre company but our show is about the story of the Minotaur and that is the selling point. There is however a responsibility to explore stories that are not just one narrative. We need to explore what is non-binary and transgender. They are not just one single story line, they are plural things and those experiences are varied and many.”
As well as performing at five venues for the Come As You Are festival, Bullish is performing 32 shows across 17 towns later in the year and Skilbeck is clearly anticipating great things once outside of the Capital. “I’m excited to meet with queer, trans and non-binary people who already exist and meet them in their town or city. It’s not like we are bringing something to them that is not there, queer people are all over the country.”
Tackling queer theatre from a different perspective and having to deal with the worries of not only how she is perceived but how this could impact her son’s life is Liz Clarke with I’m Bitter About Glitter. Remarkably, as well as starring nine-year-old, Felix the show has been created with him as an equal contributor. Clarke describes the show as, “The Wizard of Oz crossed with finding your bag and school shoes on a Monday morning.” As well as Skilbeck, the Artist also believes in the fundamental importance of making and bringing such work to varying parts of the country. “The (CAYA) festival is vitally important! We have a responsibility to work in this way and explore these themes. It is really important to bring these viewpoints to communities that don’t always have access to the arts or these types of work.”
Social Media and the internet have been a game changer for people who have felt different or ostracized. It provides a therapeutic outlet for people to research, connect with like-minded people and provides avenues to express how you feel but it has also become one of the main sources of bullying for children, a concern that is very close to Clarke’s heart. “It is something that as a parent is very frightening – it is a whole new world to navigate, we can educate and arm ourselves with the knowledge of this but still we have to have these frank conversations.”
The festival encourages all families, whether they are heterosexual or LGTBQ+ to attend and experience the festival, as well as to ask questions. Clarke further talks to me about how she sees her son’s experiences. “It’s amazing working with a young person who is experiencing being different from his peers and has different views and interests. I believe it is vitally important to nourish these questions as they are our future – they are getting it right, they are very open, non-judgemental and beautiful accepting of difference.”
The Camden People’s Theatre have been making theatre for 24 years and over that time frame have worked with an incredibly varied range of artists and creatives. Executive Director, Kaya Stanley-Money tells me that, “our mission statement is to support early-career artists making unconventional theatre – particularly those whose work explores issues that matter to people now.” Work such as that by Clarke? “To be included in this program is very important to us as having a young person’s voice who is at other end of the scale; new, fresh… I have great hopes for the younger generation,” She tells me.
Exciting and inspiring, lets hope that with festivals such as Come As You Are, which force those across the UK that perhaps have never met anyone LGBTQ+ to do so, there’ll be more ‘normalisation’ and acceptance of otherwise marginalised groups.
The Come As You Are Festival kicks off on September 27th at the Theatre Royal Wakefield and tours until December 1st ending at the Lighthouse in Pool.