Sophia Greppi is an emerging theatre maker working in Dorset, who runs Theatre and Drag nights across the South with her company, Pests Production.
She is also part of the Early Careers programme run by Culture+, as well as working for The Arts Development Company as their Culture+ Events and Projects assistant. Sophia is passionate about bringing new and diverse theatre to Dorset and is currently working with a number of local business to bring theatre and drag into non-traditional spaces.
Here, Sophia talks about the lack of representation of queer women in theatre about and how we should encourage more diverse programming if we want diverse audiences.
‘Let me just put it this way: there are a lot more plays about straight men trying to figure out how to be happy than there are plays about queer women trying to do anything’ Jen Silverman Collective Rage
What’s off about ‘What’s on’?
The past few years, I’ve been fortunate enough travel across the UK to watch new and emerging theatre shows. These come from a variety of backgrounds, budgets, and companies. I’ll sit in 1000 seat theatres, or cram into the backrooms of pubs; if there’s a show on, I’m there.
There’s so much to learn about yourself when watching theatre. There is a reflection of self in many of the shows you choose to see. But the problem I face with this is that often, I’m not reflected. I’m barely even mentioned during an entire season of shows.
As Lyn Gardner says, ‘Why keep going to the theatre if you seldom see yourself reflected there?’
Male dominance in the arts
The LGBT+ shows celebrated for their diversity and positive queer messages are, more often than not, male centric.
It’s nothing new, talking about male dominance in the arts. But when we talk about a minority group creating exclusion within itself, it becomes even more of an issue.
Hannah Hauer-King notes that,
‘the presence of gay men in theatre is so routine that we barely register it. It’s a part of the industry that is fluid and celebrated, and yet for some reason that inclusivity hasn’t extended to women.’
The spirit of the LGBT+ community is about creating equality and allowing everyone to have a voice. So why is it that the majority of LGBT+ programming in Theatre carves out a space for queer men, and leaves, not just queer women, but the rest of the community off-stage?
‘If you’re dealing with a group that’s been marginalised, it feels inappropriate not to allow members of that community to be the ones telling the story’ Stephanie Martin
The missing voices of LGBT+ theatre
Jennifer Cerys was kind enough to share her thoughts with me via email on the matter of queer female representation. Jennifer notes that part of the problem is that
‘straight men (whether that’s those commissioning theatre or those as audience members) don’t quite know how to view the queer female experience still’.
This issue means that programming of queer female theatre is limited. With this limited programming, people aren’t exposed to realistic queer females, and so understand them even less. And so the cycle continues.
It’s not just queer women who are underrepresented in Theatre. Trans, Ace, non-binary, and many other members of the LGBT+ community are often forgotten. New, young playwrights such as Jennifer Cerys and Alice Schofield are creating shows which explore not just issues faced by queer women, but shows us their everyday lives. Through theatre like this, there is a chance to ‘normalise’ these figures. This is exactly what we should be aiming to achieve as both artists and members/ supporters of the LGBT+ society. When talking about the importance of Queer Theatre, Jennifer says that she
‘wants to make queer female work so that young women feel less alone and don’t struggle to find their identities and community in the same way I did’.
So, how do these issues reflect locally across Dorset?
Around Dorset, there is a hugely supportive LGBT+ network. Mind and the NHS both have medical support centres which specialise in LGBT+ issues, both physical and mental. There’s also a huge number of groups and venues around Dorset which are all about supporting the local LGBT+ community such as the Dorset LGBT+ Equality Network and Space Youth Project; Dorset’s Youth LGBT+ network. Drag nights, queer clubs, pride parades, support groups, and so much more happens in Dorset everyday to strengthen the LGBT+ community.
We host our drag nights at Flirt Cafe in Bournemouth which wouldn’t be possible without their support.
Last year, Lighthouse, Poole Centre for the Arts hosted the ‘Come as Your Are Festival’ which allowed Camden People’s Theatre to take over the venue. The festival had a huge variety of theatre exploring topics of gender and sexuality. Perdie Bargh, the Creative Engagement Officer at the Lighthouse, said that the festival was ‘a good start, but there is a way to go!’
She noted that bringing these kind of festivals into Dorset helped the venue to start making links with local LGBT groups. Perdie hopes that programming arts festivals which celebrate the diversity of our community will make the LGBT+ community ‘feel welcome in these spaces’.
Diverse programming means diverse audiences
However, very few other local venues are pushing for the same change in programming. Jennifer Cerys notes that London venues like Soho Theatre and events such as VAULTS Festival often bring modern, queer programming to light. With programming like this so readily available, Dorset venues have the chance to bring fresh, new work to the area. If we want to see a more diverse audience of theatre goers, we need to start programming more diverse theatre.
Do you agree with Sophia? What venues locally have you been inspired by recently with their diverse theatre offer? Is there more we can do locally? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.