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Saturday 17th October 2015 at Barbican Theatre, Plymouth:

And we’re off.

It is a really lovely thing to be at this point. I really love this part of We’ll Meet in Moscow. This collaboration with Alan Butler from Pride in Plymouth who runs the award-winning Plymouth LGBT Archive. It is such a unique resource, and not just in the South West. We need these stories from our LGBT past held with care like they are here.

I remember being introduced to Al by Sheila Snelgrove back in 2013 at OxygenNation, and I can’t quite believe that we are now here. LGBT writers responding to LGBT stories. Seems so long ago now. But some people are good at planting those seeds, making connections between folk and seeing if they can be nurtured, grown. The Barbican have supported the archive and Pride in Plymouth’s Pride in Our Past exhibition. I feel very humbled to be part of the story now.

We are thinking about sharing these extraordinary histories with a new audience.  

I feel very emotional at different points in the day about this, as I did when I finally visited the archive. It’s that thing about a history that is ours as LGBT people that resonates, that Al talks about so well. Me not so well, but I feel it nonetheless. I feel it, I feel it deeply. It’s in my LGBT bones. 

This Saturday, when we meet at the Barbican Theatre with the Plymouth-based LGBT writers of In Other Words, it is for the very first time. 

Paul Cooke, Jon Nash, Jo Lewis, Jennifer McDerra, and Alan Butler is the fifth Plymouth writer. Al couldn’t be with us today as he has commitments with Plymouth International Book Festival. He is missed and thought of and spoken about a lot during the day. We are here, of course, because of him and it is fitting that he is one of the writers working on this project. I am going to join them as I want this experience, as I am keen to write something new, something in response. Always up for the challenge. Always keen to learn something new.

Director and dramaturg Josie Sutcliffe leads the day. 

Here we are. Seeking a way to breathe new life into this beautiful and brave resource telling us about LGBT lives.

How might we re-tell, re-imagine, re-capture, weave, interweave and adventure forward?

Josie talks about what a play might be. Here we are seeking to share a 10-minute piece with audiences in January and February 2016, as part of our writers’ process.

Some of us have some experience. Some of us might think we know what a play is, what form it could take, but here with Josie talking and asking us to be lively in our thinking, it could be anything. The form is ours to find. It is about finding our own voices and it is clear we are not short of stories to tell, the real question that burns is how we will tell it. And, of course, how we will honour the archive through our storytelling.

Everyone has been to visit the award-winning Plymouth LGBT Archive housed at Plymouth School of Arts. Everyone has arrived with a potential story in their minds to tell, explore or be influenced by from the archive. Everyone is keen to get started.

It’s not a course. We are clear about that. A challenge for all, then. It is about leaping right in without too much thought, about taking this on. Some folk haven’t written for the stage before and this doesn’t matter in this context. Josie opens up the notion of possibility of finding out what it might be and not what it should be or look or feel like.

Find the shape.

We do exercises that allow us to get to know one another a little. We share our own stories. People remember Club 91 and having to ring a doorbell to be let in. We remember something about subcultures and what it was to try and meet other LGBT people when we were younger. Everyone has their own stories. We also tell a few lies in the process as part of a task. Laugh. There is laughter. There are barriers we don’t have to face as we are all LGBT in the room. It is a given. Not something hidden or to be worked out or to be revealed. This is a gift. A gift. I feel light and proud to be there.  

Josie asks us to think quickly about the story we might tell:

Give us a title
Central image
What it is about?

It is so revealing and good to do, even if it isn’t the direction which we end up following.

Early. Early stages.

And so: now a process must emerge for each of us.

Natalie McGrath
(20th October 2015)

In Other Words is supported by Vital Sparks Community Fund in Plymouth, Arts Council England funding, and Pride in Plymouth, Plymouth LGBT Archive, We’ll Meet in Moscow, Plymouth’s Barbican Theatre, and Dreadnought South West are its key partners.