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Interview: Ben Buratta



 Ben Buratta

This month Outbox, the LGB theatre company presents a new show, You Could Move, which focuses on sharing forgotten and unheard stories of the gay community. Alex Hopkins caught up with Outbox’s director, Ben Buratta.

What is your background and how was this project born?

I’m a theatre director and also an acting tutor at The Central School of Speech and Drama. This project was started about four years ago. I wanted to do something that looked at gay issues, using gay actors. It was an experiment initially, to look at the ways that we could talk about the process of coming out and to do this theatrically and not in a cliched way.

I spoke to a lot of gay actors who said that they never really got a chance to play gay characters and tell their stories, and if they did it was often in a rather two dimensional way.

What themes are you looking at in ‘You Could Move’?

We’re looking at what it is to be gay in 2013 and have been collecting stories from people for the last four years. We then put workshops together, with younger gay people aged between 14 and 25 and also much older gay people, of 60 plus. We found that although the laws are changing and gay people are getting more rights, homophobia in schools is endemic and bullying and gay suicides are on the rise. Moreover, a lot of older gay people suffer from isolation and loneliness.

One of the questions the piece asks is ‘do we still need gay liberation?’ Do we still need to be so socially aware and, indeed, do we need things like this project, or gay bars and gay magazines in an age when we are moving towards equality?

This isn’t meant to be a heavy performance – it asks some serious questions, but does so with comedy and lighter moments. It’s really fun and also quirky at times.

I am interested to know how the stories of the younger gay generation differed from the older generation?

There were some massive differences. When we talked to younger gay people we found that they are living in a society where it is much more acceptable to be gay. There was a huge difference socially. But in terms of the coming out experience there was much common ground between the different age groups. No matter how tolerant society, is it seems to be a very difficult thing to come to terms with yourself. I also think one of the things that really unifies gay people is the sense of humour with which they tend to tell their stories. A gay person might tell the darkest story, but there’s a part of them that’s still having a bit of a laugh about it. That’s what we’re trying to do in this show. There’s a dark under current, but we want to bring out the gay humour.

There’s been a lot in the gay press recently about gay people’s lack of self-esteem and how drug taking and unsafe sex may relate to this. How does the show explore these issues?

We do look at themes around drug taking, alcohol and that sort of thing, but not just in a negative way. One of the unifying things that the people we spoke to mentioned was that the culture of the party scene could be a very positive experience – it brings people together. There is obviously also the darker side; some people get swallowed by it and the show looks at how it may effect people’s lives.

Gay marriage is another hot topic now. How does the show examine this?

We talked a lot about gay marriage and adoption and found that some people want it and others don’t. A lot of gay people, who identify as queer, do not want what they see as heterosexual norms – getting married and having children. We discussed the history of gay liberation and found that people back then were not fighting for everybody to be the same. Their fight was for difference.

How important is sharing our stories as the gay community moves further towards equality?

I think it’s really crucial and we need to do it in a way that is vibrant and exciting and inspires people. There’s a space for therapy and self-help, but that isn’t what we’re doing in this piece. We’re presenting a celebration of our different identities and also bringing people together. Our audience goes from really young to much older and these people gather in one space and may, otherwise, have not meet. Ultimately, it’s about our collective gay history, which is so important because it’s not taught in schools.

I’d describe the show as a series of snapshots about LGB life. There are moments that people might relate to or understand in someway and these are mixed in with real life stories which gay, male and female actors, perform.

You Could Move is at Arcola Theatre (www.arcolatheatre.com) 17 – 20 April and at Contact (www.contactmcr.com) in Manchester on 27 April.

Words: Alex Hopkins

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