Pride Arts is a new organisation in Bradford aiming to support LGBTQ themes, actors and subjects in theatre, including the upcoming monologue-based production Out, which arrives at the Playhouse studio in February. Telling five stories of coming out, the piece is directed and written by Joseph Burke, the Artistic Director of Pride Arts, and we spoke to him about the production, Pride Arts itself and the future for LGBTQ theatre in the city.
What is Out about?
It’s five stories about coming out as LGBTQ. Three of them are real stories submitted by people who have come out, which were turned into dramatic monologues. And there are two that I’ve created myself that are not real stories, but are still relevant and realistic. These five monologues all link and they’re set in a metaphorical prison, and each of the people is essentially trying to get out. Four of them are about themselves and one of them is about a family member, to try and get as wide a range as possible of viewpoints.
What we’re trying explain is that there isn’t a cookie-cutter method of coming out, both to people who have no relation to anyone who’s LGBTQ and might not understand the process, but also for people who are struggling to come out who might think there’s only one way you can do it and that therefore there are no other ways, and if they can’t do it that way they can’t do it at all.
We’ve got three female and two male actors. They’re all community actors – the point of it is that, though it’s of professional quality, it’s not a professional production with paid actors. It’s people who are passionate about the subject and what they do.
You’ve written part of Out and directed it – how has that journey been?
It’s been a really long journey but really fulfilling now it’s becoming an actual thing. One of the monologues is really personal to me. It’s not my story but it does have elements that have happened, so writing it was very cathartic. I was able to perform it in Sheffield at a Queer festival a couple of weeks ago, and the response was really, really good. It’s certainly the most emotional piece I’ve ever written and directing it has been a delight, as I’ve managed to get a fantastic cast and it makes my job a lot easier. It’s not just that they’re talented, it’s that they’re on the same page so you’re not fighting anyone, and we’re all going in the same direction. I’m able to get involved in things like the set design, which I don’t usually get involved in. We’ve got a set designer from Rose Bruford in London helping us with our set, which has been fantastic. We’ve done some tests of that already and it’s looking really good.
How interactive is the set?
It’s not interactive with the cast – it’s more to set the scene. But there are some very exciting things with LEDs and it’s definitely not just a set to give you an idea of where they are, but instead directly references the characters and their journey. It’s also the way we’re lighting it – it’s not just someone delivering a monologue and then walking off. Everything you see on stage has a reason for being there and is in direct relation to their characters and their stories.
Do you hope these stories will resonate with members of the audience and perhaps help them?
The point of it is that, just because we’re LGBTQ, doesn’t mean we’re not human. Everything that affects everyone affects us. It may be anxiety that they’re going through about being LGBTQ, but everyone understands what anxiety feels like.
Why is it important that Pride Arts is making theatre around LGBTQ?
It’s important because there isn’t a specific LGBTQ theatre company, certainly in Bradford, and I’ve not seen one in Yorkshire. Even though there’s LGBTQ theatre, it’s important to focus on it as we can help the LGBTQ community in Bradford, reaching out to those groups and getting them to join the cast of future productions, so they can work through their problems and their issues in a safe space, and give them an opportunity to express themselves. A lot of the time people don’t know how to express what they feel, or they need an outlet for it, so we’re providing that for people that want it.
You’ve appeared acting in recent productions like Spend, Spend, Spend and the Playhouse 24-hour show. Does your heart lie in acting, writing or direction or a bit of all three?
I’ve done quite a lot of acting but I was able to direct in University as well. At the moment I’m focussing more on directing as it takes a lot of time, and if I started an acting job at the same time as this I wouldn’t be able to fit everything in. My heart will always be in acting and I don’t think I’ll ever go full time into directing and never act again – it’s just where I need to focus my energies.
Bradford is known as the City of Film, but do you think in the future it could also be the City of Theatre?
The way Bradford is going at the minute that is certainly a possibility. We’ve got a resurgence, with funding and productions that aren’t just the pantomimes and musicals that come to Bradford every year. There’s a lot coming to the Theatre in the Mill and the Studio at the Playhouse, and events like the Bradford Festival do include theatrical pieces and this year was no exception. It was wonderful to see all that theatre in Bradford, hitting people who might not necessarily see or search it out. That encounter might see them search it out in the future. I definitely think City of Theatre is something we can strive towards.
What do you see in the future for Pride Arts?
We have further productions in the pipeline. I don’t want to give too much away but we’re looking at the future after this production. There’s an artistic director from London coming to see Out about putting it on their venue and we’re going to have professionals seeing it in terms of touring, funding-dependent. I’ve had a new production idea in my head which doesn’t want to leave. Out isn’t going to be a one-hit wonder.
How are rehearsals going for Out?
Really well! Because they’re monologues we tend to do it one-to-one because we don’t want four people waiting around doing nothing, so I’m really excited to see them all coming together and showing the cast what the others are working on. Every week they step it up a notch and it’s amazing to see their commitment. I’ve performed monologues in the past and it’s a lot more difficult than people think. There’s a lot to memorise and it’s tricky keeping the audience engaged. I know the monologues really well and they’re still keeping me engaged after hearing them so many times. I’m really excited for people to see it!
And are you looking for people to get involved with future productions?
Definitely! We’re certainly looking for actors and anyone to get involved with set design and music. We’ve got a sound designer for this show, and they’re designing music and soundscapes, which are going to be really interesting. I’m eager to read about anyone who has any stories that are part of our topic, and to incorporate as many people as we can.
Out is on at the Studio in Bradford Playhouse from 1- 4 February 2017. Tickets are available now to pre-order from www.bradfordplayhouse.org.uk/out/4591011471 and you can find out more about Pride Arts at www.facebook.com/Pride-Arts-688453034618528/