“this history is not handed down generationally and, historically, LGBT people have often avoided traditional archival materials such letters and diaries which could fall into the wrong hands. As a result, these lives have often been lived in the moment, in spaces that seemed safe in which to perform theses identities”
Alan Butler, founder of the LGBT Archive
Vital Sparks, which provides financial support to arts and culture-based creative projects across Plymouth, is helping to share stories from the city’s LGBT community by funding five Plymouth-based writers to produce new short plays in response to Pride in Plymouth’s award-winning LGBT Archive and to work with a community in the city.
In Other Words – which was performed for the first time at Barbican Theatre on 22 January as part of the From Devon With Love theatre festival – showcases six original plays by LGBT writers. It takes its name from Plymouth’s longstanding independent and radical bookstore, which was a safe space for LGBT individuals over the many years it was open in Mutley Plain.
Five of the In Other Words writers are from Plymouth – Alan Butler, Jo Lewis, Paul Cooke, Jennifer McDerra and Jon Nash – with the sixth piece by Exeter-based playwright Natalie McGrath, who is also leading on the partnership project We’ll Meet in Moscow.
‘In Other Words’ an LGBTQ friendly space in the 1980s located on Mutley Plain
As well as being one of the commissioned writers, Alan Butler is also responsible for establishing the archive, and supported the other contributors to access the material.
“LGBT history is not handed down in the usual ways,” says Alan. “The next generation of LGBT children are not necessarily born of LGBT parents, so this history is not handed down generationally and, historically, LGBT people have often avoided traditional archival materials such letters and diaries which could fall into the wrong hands. As a result, these lives have often been lived in the moment, in spaces that seemed safe in which to perform theses identities. The In Other Words project is a fascinating way of sharing these stories with new audiences.”
Natalie McGrath, who is the lead artist on We’ll Meet in Moscow – the wider project of which In Other Words is a part – is equally excited about sharing stories from the archive.
“It has been wonderful seeing the writers develop these new plays in response to the archive,” says Natalie. “The hope is to bring these thoughtful and poignant stories to a new audience, and hear LGBTQ voices represented onstage.”
In Other Words is directed by Josie Sutcliffe, who has also supported each of the writers dramaturgically.
“Working with these writers, some of whom have never written for the stage before, has been an exciting challenge,” says Josie. “This may feel like a baptism of fire for some, but I know they are already eager to get to the next stage after the scratch readings. Look out in the South West and the UK, there are more LGBTQ playwrights emerging!”
In addition to the bursary from Vital Sparks, In Other Words has been made possible through support from Plymouth City Council, Crowdfunding and Arts Council England, and is part of We’ll Meet In Moscow, which is in partnership with Pride In Plymouth, Plymouth’s LGBT Archive, Barbican Theatre, Plymouth and Dreadnought South West.
There will be a final celebratory event of the plays, the LGBT Archive and We’ll Meet in Moscow on 28 February 2016 at the Barbican Theatre to mark LGBT History Month