Acting Out: Celebrating LGBTQ Theatre of the 1970s and 80s returns
This exhibition, curated by Susan Croft and originally seen at Hackney Archives for LGBTQ+ History Month (see details at end of this page) returns in July, this time at Newington Green Meeting House, 39A Newington Green, London N16 9PR in the Wollstonecraft Room where it will open on 6th July and run till the end of August – Thursdays and Fridays 12.00 till 18.00 p.m. The exhibition features a host of posters from Bloolips, Gay Sweatshop, Character Ladies, DET Enterprises, Theatre of Black Women, Brixton Faeries, even Belt and Braces (!) and many others, including key US influences Split Britches and Hot Peaches, plus some rarely seen photographs. Visitors to it at Hackney Archives said: ‘Brilliant!’ ‘Fascinating’ ‘Great to see such a display of all the theatre groups, writers, performers. Memory here. Inspiring. Liberating. Well done!’
As part of the accompanying events there will be a staged reading of Chiaroscuro by Jackie Kay on Thus 13th July. See below for details and watch this space for booking link.
The exhibition is available to tour to other venues. If you would be interested in booking it for next year’s History Month, to accompany a production later this year, or for another reason please email email@example.com for details.
Flyer designed by Ingrid Pollard and Lenthall Road Workshop
Chiaroscuro by Jackie Kay
Unfinished Histories will be presenting a staged reading of Jackie Kay’s 1986 play Chiaroscuro as part of the re-opening of the original Soho Poly theatre space at University of Westminster in June 2023. The Soho Poly was one of the spaces where Dalston-based Theatre of Black Women performed this ground-breaking piece, the first play in Britain to address Black lesbian experience. The event is free and will take place at lunchtime 1pm on Thursday 16th June, directed by Olusola Oyeleye, produced by Susan Croft. The venue will also host a display of photos by Suzanne Roden and designer Helena Roden from the original rehearsal process with Bernardine Evaristo, Jacqueline de Peza, Vinny Dhillon and Ella Wilder, directed by Joan-Ann Maynard. The reading will be followed by a Q&A. To book and for more information please go here
This event is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Quintin Hogg Trust and Westminster City Council (Culture and Community Grant) and is part of the Soho Poly Summer Festival 2023.
In 1975 Inter-Action hosted Homosexual Acts the first Gay Theatre season in Britain. It took place at the Almost Free Theatre in Rupert St, W1 and featured 5 plays all by men. Fuelled by the energy of the Gay Liberation Front it was a huge success. Further plays were added including Martin Sherman’s Passing By, which featured a young Simon Callow who later wrote in My Life in Pieces: ‘[It] was my first experience of political theatre. Though in essence a very sweet account of a passing love affair between two young men, it was utterly radical in offering no apology or explanation for the affair, like any other. The effect on the predominantly gay audience was sensational – they wept, not because it was sad, but because it was the first time they’d seen their own lives represented on the stage without inverted commas, with neither remorse nor disgust.’
Out of the success of the season came Gay Sweatshop the first out gay theatre company in Britain. The following year a group of lesbians joined them to tour Britain in Jill Posener’s Any Woman Can. Julie Parker who was part of that tour remembers: ‘ we’d go to places in England and again the local right-wing would come out and picket and threaten, and there’d be all the letters in the papers, and people heckling in the audience, and then, there’d be all of the women … who would come up to you and talk to you afterwards and who were in tears at the show and said, ‘That’s me, that’s my story, that’s my life,’ and ‘I’ve never met people like you before.’ People would come out and you would understand why you were doing it.
From these beginnings grew the LGBTQ theatre of today that has changed and challenged perceptions, telling untold stories, introducing new theatre vocabularies, confronting prejudice, celebrating difference. Unfinished Histories is a Hackney-based project that gathers the oral history and the archives of the alternative theatre movement of the 1970s and 80s, including political, community, street, feminist, LGBTQ, Black, Asian theatres, Disability Arts, experimental work, a radical activist movement which set out to challenge who theatre was made by and for, what it looked like and where it was seen, finding and creating new venues and taking shows to new audiences in marginalised spaces and places. As well as gathering the archive and the memories of those who were there, Unfinished Histories works to share that history with a new generation through readings, exhibitions, workshops discussions, and has created an extensive web site where users can view extracts from interviews and find out more about numerous companies and LGBTQ+ interviewees like directors Julie Parker, Kate Crutchley, playwrights Bryony Lavery, Noel Greig, Philip Osment, performers like Ian Townson of Brixton Faeries and Lavinia Co-op of Bloolips, designer Mary Moore, the women of lesbian feminist theatre company and band Siren, and many others.
For LGBTQIA+ History Month 2023 in conjunction with Hackney Archives UH hosted an exhibition reproducing iconic posters from the ground-breaking early days of the lesbian and gay theatre in the 1970s and 80s from Gay Sweatshop and Bloolips to Character Ladies and Siren. Also on display were a range of books and a book and resource list from Homosexual Acts that accompanied that first Gay Theatre season in Britain in 1975 to shows like Iman Qureshi’s The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs in 2022.
The Acting Out exhibition initially ran at Hackney Archives, CLR James Library, Dalston Square, E8 3BQ from 1st Feb till Wed 8th March 2.00 a.m. till 6.00 p.m. (Wed to Fri, plus some Saturdays)
The exhibition is bookable to tour to other venues. For details please email contact at unfinishedhistories.com