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It is hoped the workshops will create intergenerational friendships and solidarity, and a new heritage of LGBTQIA stories which will be shared through the performance.

LGBTQIA communities to help create new Exeter play showing history of loneliness and exclusion

A new play co-created by people living in the South West – due to be performed in Exeter – will show the long history of LGBTQIA loneliness and marginalisation.

Mistreatment and exclusion from society has meant LGBTQIA communities have created their own spaces for solidarity, creativity, and dialogue.  Dr Charlotte Jones and Dr Fred Cooper, from the University of Exeter, will work with organisations and individuals in Devon and Cornwall to develop and stage the new production, as well as to discuss the endemic issue of LGBTQIA exclusion.

The play will be written by LGBTQIA communities and playwright Natalie McGrath through a series of creative workshops held in collaboration with the Intercom Trust, the main charity in the South West supporting LGBTQ+ people through training, activities, and legal issues.

The original theatrical performance will feature a series of historical vignettes of queer stories from the past 150 years, and will be performed at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre as part of a week-long festival, with corresponding events, workshops, discussion forums, and stalls. The historical material in the performance will be taken from the research of Dr Jones and Dr Cooper. This new project has been funded by an EDI Engagement Fellowship from the UK Research and Innovation Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Dr Jones, who will lead the project, said: “LGBTQIA loneliness is a complex form of injustice, and it manifests in very different ways, some of which are not always directly labelled as ‘loneliness’. Through this project, Fred and I will share what we’ve found out about histories as well as current experiences of LGBTQIA loneliness and marginalisation, and provide collective spaces for reflection, creativity, and sharing.

“We are extremely pleased to work with Natalie McGrath to create a new community biography of loneliness through performance, which we hope may offer solace and comfort to others experiencing similar feelings. Natalie has been developing these ideas over the last few months, so Fred and I are excited to work in partnership with the Northcott Theatre and the Intercom Trust to see this project flourish.”

Dr Jones and Dr Cooper have been researching loneliness in Britain and have identified numerous poignant reflections on LGBTQIA experiences of loneliness over the past 70 years. They have also led various other initiatives around loneliness, including a website called Lockdown Blues which allows people to record their experiences of living through the coronavirus lockdowns in different formats including writing, images and music.

It is hoped the workshops will create intergenerational friendships and solidarity, and a new heritage of LGBTQIA stories which will be shared through the performance.

Natalie McGrath said: “To be able to move forward with a major project about LGBTQIA loneliness at a time like this is hugely significant, and can only have a positive impact for queer people in Devon and Cornwall. 

“As an artist I am incredibly excited to be leading on the creative vision for this project by writing a new play, whilst also contributing to new research in this field through a socially engaged practice. It is vital that LGBTQIA lives and stories are recognised, recorded and honoured.”

Andy Hunt, CEO of The Intercom Trust, said: “Loneliness and Isolation is a huge factor for our service users, and this innovative and exciting project will allow us to work with service users on a different level.

“I feel that this work will reach some of our more marginalised service users and supporters, giving them a voice for maybe the first time. This will in turn help with self-esteem, and confidence, as many of our clients have issues around internalised shame. By playing a part in this and getting their voices heard it is hoped that the effects will be beneficial.”

Daniel Buckroyd, Artistic Director & Chief Executive of Exeter Northcott Theatre said: “Artists such as Natalie have an extraordinary ability to pose questions, stretch our imaginations and create a space for considering new possibilities. We’re delighted to collaborate with the University and The Intercom Trust on this project enabling us to present new voices in our programme and offer new opportunities for participation.’

Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair, said: “Learning about our heritage and culture and participating in the arts can deepen our perception of our history and of ourselves. 

 “The EDI Engagement Fellowships will enable researchers to connect their scholarship with diverse communities across the UK and bring about positive change.

 “Arts and humanities research has tremendous potential to help people to embrace different viewpoints and to build a fairer, more inclusive society.”

Date: 28 January 2021

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