How to come out on stage
Last year was the first time I was awarded Arts Council Northern Ireland Funding it was to help revitalise my career after Covid and Lockdowns etc. It has ended up changing the very way I write and perform.
There were several aspects to the project:
One off Workshop Facilitation
Mentorship (2x 4 hour sessions)
Getting the work out there.
I am by and large a confessional poet. My first one person show was about my battles with mental health. I ran it on several tours and a 3 week run at Edinboro Fringe. It was finally published by Eyewear.
My second show, Fix is about my battles with addiction. I seem to be battling stuff all the time! It is scheduled in for shows at the Fringe this year, as well as to be performed home and away over the next few years.
My third show, and the one concerning the project LGBTQI+NI is about my sexuality. In this era of gender flux it seems an important subject to write about and since it concerns my own identity, or at least a huge part of it, explorative and cathartic.
In Northern Ireland it seems sometimes to be dragging along behind the rest of a lot of countries, in reality though it is also quite progressive, especially in the last 20 years.
So I sat down to write.
The content flowed
It was as if something was being uncorked.
Somehow it ended up the best manuscript I’ve ever written.
I came out in Manchester. In Northern Ireland a lot of my friends knew I was bi, but moving back 10 years ago, I somehow kind of sort of, in a way, ended up thoroughly back in the closet.
I’d love to go into the story in more detail but that’s the job of the show I guess. The show also discusses sexuality more broadly, especially queer sexuality, and how it is viewed in Northern Ireland and the UK these days.
I realised that being a Northern Irish poet means that the show is actually a coming out in itself. Particularly in my home town of Portstewart. It marks the start of me as a queer poet, at least in visibility. The show also displays a closed mindedness of me fearing a backlash, judging people needlessly. In fact, for me, the show itself is a cry for tolerance, even a tolerance and understanding for the resistance queers face, not just in the past but in the current cultures we inhabit and move through.
Secondly, and even more important I managed to get the poet Gerry Potter over from Manchester to mentor my performance of the show. We had two sessions at the end of January. Gerry was confident the writing wouldn’t be the focus, it was the performance of it he wanted to explore. I’ve known Gerry for years, since I began this whole game of performance poetry stretching back to 2004. I knew he would be a massive asset to the project, and being a queer poet, who often writes and performs about sexuality, that he would “get it.”
Any doubts I might have had about the importance of the mentorship were thoroughly dashed when Gerry “turned my performance on”: in that he changed permanently the way I perform. He instilled in me the inherent importance of silence, of spaces in the show, the pauses and the changes of inflection that mark the changing from one “scene” or scenario from the next. Whatever the show does, whatever the project gave me, it has changed, improved my game as a performance poet from hereon in. It seems such a common sense thing, but I just needed the push and the lack of ego to make the change, to realise that even 18 years into performing poetry, it’s the influence of outside forces such as Gerry’s mentorship that we are always learning, always improving. I must thank him deeply for this.
I also got to work with OutWrite, a creative writing arm of the Rainbow Project in Northern Ireland. I facilitated a one-off workshop about sexuality with participants who wanted to take part. All done, of course, ethically, their writing not to be used directly but rather to inform me of some of the broad and narrow issues affecting people in Northern Ireland as far as sexuality is concerned. Some of their response blew me away.
The final part, and in some the most important for this particular project is taking it on the road. The first performances at Community Arts Partnership Belfast had to be postponed due to Covid itself, but is also being performed for a week at Edinburgh Fringe, been pitched to other Fringes as well. I can now also read sections of the show as part of headline slots at regular poetry events. Recently I headlined Blot From the Blue online, earlier this month. It ended up being one of my best ever readings of poetry. The silences and inflections making their impact felt. I am also planning international performances of the show internationally in the Autumn. Gerry suggested approaching OutBurst Festival in Manchester in November. There are so many avenues for the show. In his words: “it has legs”.
I have never really written or performed about my sexuality. This project changed that. Since writing it, I have begun being more open about it here. The reaction is that I have drastically underestimated people. Sure there are still so many battles left to fight, but these days, we have so many allies. Sexuality, Otherness, is now front and centre in the media. The show touches on many of these aspects. It has its difficulties but:
“Queer sexuality, can be and is,
such a beautiful expression
serious playtime through identity
the bright colours we paint our bodies
the electricity of connecting with each other
in time and space
exploration of the 4 best dimensional sides of ourselves….
The arc of the rainbow
That binds us in the realisation
That everyone is sacred
But also, just are.”