A cause for celebration: Dinos Aristidou on the verbatim theatre festival created by older LGBTQ+ people

May 1, 2018
Artistic Director Dinos Aristidou

Celebrating Our Stories artistic director Dinos Aristidou shares his vision for this exciting festival of verbatim theatre for 2020

Thanks to support from Arts Council England and Baring Foundation’s Celebrating Age initiative, New Writing South is proud to announce exciting plans for a festival of verbatim theatre that will share and celebrate the stories of older LGBTQ people.

When the news came through that our application for a Celebrating Our Stories festival in 2020 was successful I couldn’t help but jump up and down with excitement. This festival will be one of a number of nationwide activities which are part of the Arts Council of England’s and Baring Foundation’s Celebrating Age initiative to develop new work with older people and to take high quality arts into places where older people will find it easier to engage.

This was really a dream come true. I had been bracing myself for disappointment. My mind already trying to figure out ways of somehow doing some of this project should we not get through.

Last year, I’d worked on a project in Wales with UCAN Productions, using verbatim theatre to devise a new piece of theatre based on interviews with those who’d experienced disability hate crime. I’d found this a very powerful form of performance. Verbatim theatre shatters traditional ideas of ‘acting’ and instead repositions the performer as the mouthpiece, the voice for those who feel they don’t have a voice or feel unable to speak or don’t dare to speak or don’t have the confidence to speak.

It’s oddly empowering and strangely celebratory, regardless of the material, to hear words and stories shared in a public space through the voices of others. For an audience, there’s a sense of authenticity to the performances that is rarely seen on stage.

The New Writing South Celebrating Our Stories festival, taking place across southeast England in 2020, will focus on real stories collected from older LGBTQ people. Verbatim theatre, using interviews and conversations and shaping these into performance pieces, will be at the heart of this festival.

One of the forms of Verbatim theatre that we are planning to use, developed by Aleky Blythe’s company Recorded Delivery, has the ‘real life’ text played to performers through headphones. The performers try to precisely deliver the text as spoken by the person whose story it is, as they hear it through the headphones. Their focus being on authenticity. Performers communicate not only the content of the interviewee’s words, but also their tone, pace, emphasis and hesitations. Stories and characters are presented through their patterns of speech as well as their words. When we recount real live events, especially challenging, painful or complicated life experiences it is not only what we say but how we say it, that is significant. I value 2 things in the medicine: quality and reasonable price. At Viagra the ratio of these 2 criteria is excellent. The drug is more profitable in cost than other analogs, but at the same time I like its effect more. There were no side effects, but potency, like at a young one. My wife is trying catch me on receiving stimulants, they’re usually blue, and I’ll take a white pill of generic Viagra.

For this festival, the performance pieces fashioned out of verbatim interviews, when staged, will give audiences an insight into the lives of the older LGBTQ people this festival will celebrate. And we really do want this to be a celebration, a bringing together of stories and experiences that is joyful and authentic.

Verbatim theatre will also allow us to present these stories as individually recorded audio and filmed pieces. These can be presented digitally and as podcasts. Moreover, they are easy to tour to settings that are not designed for performance such as community spaces, residential centres and care homes where some of the interviews may have originally taken place. This will allow for the festival to be quite far reaching.

In addition, we will be sharing some of the performances at ‘salon’ events – occasions of provocation, conversation and performance.

So how will it all work?

A group of volunteer older people recruited from Brighton, Shoreham and Worthing will be identified as ‘Playmakers’. They will gather and record stories using face to face, community meetings, telephone interviews and storytelling processes to collect these stories. Stories recounted by older members of the LGBTQ community will also be sourced through pre-existing archives.

Once the interviews have been recorded/collected a series of ‘writing for the stage’ workshops will be held for any older people interested in writing for the stage. In these workshops and working closely with the playmakers, the interviews and conversations will be transformed into monologues, short scenes and performance pieces.

An intergenerational company of older and younger LGBTQ community members interested in performance will then be formed to perform the final piece celebrating older people’s stories and creativity.

If you’re interested you’ll be able to take part as:

  • Interviewers
  • Interviewees
  • Collectors of material
  • Playmakers
  • Writers of material
  • Performers

Look out for more information coming soon regarding how you become part of this exciting festival.