by guest writer Tabby Lamb
It’s now been one whole year since I’ve been regularly running Theatre Queers, a meet-up for queer people who work in theatre. With it being the new year, it was a good time to reflect on what I’ve learnt from these meet-ups.
Theatre Queers was born out of Ed Fringe Queer, which I founded in the summer of 2018 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I was sick of doing the Fringe with all-cis teams, and not being able to find any queer work aside from the big name drag/cabaret acts. I wanted to find other emerging artists to befriend, and most importantly – I wanted to promote my show. It would seem that my selfish act was appreciated though and in the first year, consisting of weekly meetups across August, we welcomed nearly 1000 people. In 2019, we partnered with Assembly and had over 1500 people come to our meet-ups over the course of the festival. They ranged from award-winning artists to a queer, French 9-year-old who came alone and held court for 3 hours before sauntering off with a stash of flyers and an espresso.
Once back in London after the Fringe and in the midst of a deep depression, I once again selfishly decided to seek support from my community. I approached Jules Haworth at Soho Theatre about the possibility of bringing Ed Fringe Queer out of Ed Fringe, and so in January 2020 we held our first, rebranded Theatre Queers in Soho Theatre Bar. We managed 2.5 physical meet-ups before lockdown (I say 0.5 as we had to cancel February’s meet up due to a WWII found near the theatre, but 30+ people took over a local pub and we carried on regardless).
The first few meet-ups were magical. Though it could have been that cliche, new year feeling, but we coincided with Vault Festival so there was also that festival energy, new shows to hear about, new artists to meet and new collaborations to be formed. I realised how important it was to be to be surrounded by queer people, and to help others to find the community that I myself was looking for. I felt unstoppable. I had a hit show at Vault Festival, I’d just been published, I was about to embark on an international tour and I’d finally found the community I’d been looking for.
Once lockdown hit, things obviously changed. We were no longer able to swap flyers, promote shows, and buy each other drinks, but the meetings became more important than ever. Like everyone else, we switched to Zoom. We also moved the meetings from monthly to fortnightly. The first few months are a blur due to once again being in a state of deep depression. I remember dreading our first few meetups; I was unsure if I would be able to fake a smile, or look sober or follow conversational topics, but after each session I felt renewed. I still never sleep as well as I did following one of our events.
I remember one specific meet-up, really early on. I’d built a blanket fort it my living room and hadn’t left its loving cocoon for a week. It felt safe, but it did not smell good. We were still in the Zoom Quiz phase of lockdown and as I got more answers wrong, and laughed with other queer people about our ignorance on sports or popular culture or music, I felt a weight being lifted. I know it’s cliche by now to realise that we’re not alone, but living on my own with unmedicated and unchecked depression (as I was then) it really was the first time I realised that everyone was going through similar shit as I was. Most people coming to Theatre Queers were going through almost the exact same thing as me. We’d all lost access to queer bars and events, we’d all lost shows we’d been working on for years, and we were all overwhelmed.
It sounds odd, but we barely even talk about theatre anymore. Other Zoom meetings have been overtaken with advice on on how to use lockdown productively, venues lead meet-ups that felt exclusive and alienating, huge freelance gatherings went in circles. There are Zoom rehearsals where everyone pretends this is totally fine and we didn’t hate every second of it. It felt liberating to talk to a bunch of queer people going through exactly the same thing as myself about anything else.
From Tiger King to Black Lives Matter, no subject was off limits yet theatre wasn’t touched upon. Maybe it was too hard and it hurt too much, or maybe for the first time in our lives we had to contemplate who we were and what our interests were in a world without theatre. I don’t know, but I do know that I couldn’t have gotten through last year without Theatre Queers. There are people who I’ve never physically met who are now my closest friends. There are projects I’ve worked on purely through chatting to people in the group, and most importantly there is a community that understands.
Being queer in theatre is considered the norm, but ask any trans or gender non-confirming (GNC) person in this industry and they’ll tell you that’s not the case. Yes, we have the white, cis, gay mafia running huge commercial organisations but I used to be able to count the number of trans, GNC or queer people I knew in this industry on one hand. Now I have an entire Rolodex of incredible people, from Artistic Directors to current drama school students. We get them all in our Zoom waiting room, and they all get treated as part of the family. We don’t need to talk about our pain, our worries, our productivity or lack thereof because it is mutually understood. We see and know the impact this is having on our community.
We broke this no-theatre rule at the start of 2021 with the #TaxingQueers event, once again selfishly spearheaded by me. It’s the first time I’ve ever had to do my tax return, so I wanted guidance and support – and I wasn’t alone. With the help of others more experienced than me, us less-experienced filers muddling through it got there. I managed to submit my tax return without once crying!
One thing I’ve loved about moving online is losing the London-centric nature of the event at the Soho. The only reason we’re based in London is because I live there, and bringing the events online has meant people have joined us not only from around the country, but from around the globe. Jules and I made a commitment to keep up the online aspect of Theatre Queers after we’re able to meet up in person again.
As we dive head first into what feels like Lockdown 15, I’d urge any queer people reading this to join us at our next event on 28 January. Come along and have a chat. It probably won’t be about anything important, but it might just help you sleep better.
You can find us on Twitter and instagram at @TheatreQueers, and you can find me directly at @thetabbylamb and @badgalenby.
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