Images of loneliness: exhibiting Jade Varley’s photography

In one of our workshops with young people in the summer we asked participants to bring along an image they had identified or created themselves which somehow illustrated loneliness to them. We had some fantastic contributions, but one of them we were able to put forward to represent The Beat of Our Hearts in a new exhibition organised by Arts and Culture at the University of Exeter, showcasing innovative arts and humanities research.

Situated in the West Wing foyer just outside the Queen’s cafe, this space will provide a zone in which visual stories about university arts and culture projects can be told. Featuring collaborations between artists, academics and students, and highlighting the process of interdisciplinary working across the University, the space will also display curated images from the University.

Photo of Jade Varley's image next to the Queen's cafe door
Jade’s picture by the entrance to the Queen’s Cafe

We were delighted that Jade Varley’s photograph could represent our project for this exhibition.

Photograph depicting a hunched over figure on a park bench, with a dark green tree looming over. The image is saturated with colour, with some over-exposed white space.
Jade Varley’s photograph

When Jade shared her photograph in the workshop, there were some really interesting responses from the other participants. Adjectives used to describe this image of loneliness were:

‘scared’

‘closed-off’

‘sense of something looming’

‘disconnect’.

One participant wondered what the darkness related to: is the tree meant to be protective, or does it loom with a sense of foreboding?

Jade herself stated that the blur in the image was intentional: she wanted to emphasise the physical and emotional disconnect in the picture. The colours are saturated, heightening the intensity of the emotional state she is trying to capture. Jade described this as ‘over the top’ and ‘overwhelmed’. The brightness and the white space are also distorted somewhat. The colours are intense, and there’s an unsettling feeling to the picture.

I think it’s appropriate that the image is now placed next to the door. It hangs on a threshold, just as the white space in the image is suggestive of a world beyond the enclosed and looming environment of the tree and the bench. But thresholds can also be lonely places. They can be places of indecision, immobility, and marginalisation. The figure in the image has their back to the door and faces inward. The image raises many questions at the heart of thinking about loneliness.

This is Jade’s first exhibited photograph, and we think it’s fantastic. We’re really proud that it’s now representing The Beat of Our Hearts in this Arts and Culture exhibition.

Photo is of sheets of paper associated with the draft of The Beat of Our Hearts, as well as some stationary and scribblings on the play.

Natalie McGrath on drafting The Beat of Our Hearts

Last week we held a very special online preview performance of scenes from The Beat of Our Hearts, as part of the 2021 Being Human Festival. Our event even made it onto the Being Human 2021 promotional video!

The Being Human event – funded by both Arts Council England and the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health (University of Exeter) – was integral to a Research and Development week for Natalie McGrath, in writing the play. Meeting with performers, and discussing characters, plot, and themes with them and with the director, Scott Hurran, has proved invaluable in the overall drafting process.

I spoke to Natalie about the drafting process.

What were the main excitements and challenges you experienced when putting pen to paper for the first time on The Beat of Our Hearts?

Just to get going really after a long period of thinking, talking and absorbing research through reading and working with people through the workshops. To finally start to let some of that start to filter out and to start dreaming and imagining The Beat of Our Hearts was exciting. It is always daunting in those very early stages of a new play, where you are juggling so many possibilities and you want them all to be there. A presence in the work, knowing that as the process moves along that not all the dreaming will stay, but that it will have been a catalyst, a leap into something that will eventually make the story and the theatricality work.  

I tend to scribble first in pencil and start to draft writing or what could turn into dialogue in pencil on paper first before I even sit down at the computer.  Here I have been using large A3 sheets to map out all the ideas and to find out about that all important question: whose there?  Who is in the world being created?

There are always a lot of red herrings early on. Usually the wildest stuff that just won’t make it onto the stage as it just isn’t serving the story in some way, but I will keep trying to squeeze some of these moments of ‘magic’ in for as long as I can!

How do you feel the workshops inspired you while completing your first draft? 

The workshops were full of inspirational conversations and discussions. Full of humanity, humility, grace and generosity from all the participants. It hard to know where to begin. How to capture such a breadth of emotion and experiences. That’s a real challenge for me now writing the play.  In a way the workshops have grounded me. Made me make some vital decisions. 

One example; is that after all he workshops I changed the ages of some of the a characters to make the play more intergenerational and more representative of the age range of participants.  It has shifted the dynamic and content of a lot of the current dialogue from the first draft into the second draft which is now emerging.  So the original workshops really had a much younger focus as the impact of the early sessions struck a chord and took me back to my original intentions for having an idea of writing something that supported young LGBTQIA+ people and their experiences. 

My challenge now is that everyone’s experiences are all so different, with different experiences of loneliness and what that means. So it is this I am trying to capture, but also the wonderful spirit of the people who took part and shared their stories.   

Do you feel there’s something about the drafting process that also speaks to the experience of LGBTQIA+ loneliness and belonging?

Writing is a solitary process. Something where there comes a point where you are alone with the words and the drafting process or the editing process as it becomes, is slow and meticulous. I’m not quite sure how I can fully connect that to speaking to the experience of LGBTQIA+ loneliness and belonging.  Perhaps I can only think it in terms of my own personal experiences of loneliness and belonging as a queer person.  Growing up I felt very lonely and alone. Desperate to make connections with other LGBTQIA+ people. 

I don’t think there was much if any time spent on those kinds of conversations. It still felt a bit dangerous to even meet other queers at that time.  I wish that there had been conversations about loneliness and belonging at the time. It does feel stigmatised still as subject matter.  So as I move into a further crafting and drafting process I will think about that and how we can more forward in a more positive way.

 

— Richard Vytniorgu

Meet the Actors! — Being Human Festival 2021

For our LGBTQIA+ Loneliness and Belonging Online Performance on Thursday 11th November, as part of the 2021 Being Human Festival, we are delighted to be joined by four fantastic actors. They will be performing snippets of Natalie McGrath’s new play, The Beat of Our Hearts, which will be staged in full at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre from 3-5 February 2022, as part of LGBTQ History Month. They’ve also played a key role in the research and development phase of the script development, which is currently ongoing.

Here they are:

Zachary Hing

Black and white photo of Zachary Hing. He is looking directly at the camera with a neutral expression

Zachary (he/they) will be playing Quill in our Being Human preview of The Beat of Our Hearts on November 11, 2021.

Film: Hellraiser (Hulu, Phantom Four, Spyglass Entertainment)

Television: HALO (Showtime/Amblin)

Theatre: Living Newspaper (Royal Court); Them! (National Theatre Scotland); Pah-La (Royal Court); Forgotten 遗忘 (Arcola/ Theatre Royal, Plymouth); Why is the Sky Blue? (Southwark); Jubilee (Royal Exchange, Manchester/ Lyric, Hammersmith).

Workshops: Born Slippy (Almeida); Thatcher in China (National); Pericles (National); Timeless & Twelfth Night (National Youth Theatre); Spider Girls (Young Vic/Head For Heights).

 

Maggie Bain

Colour of Maggie Bain. They are looking directly into the camera, with a neutral / slight smile expression.

Maggie (they/them) will be playing Val in our Being Human preview of The Beat of Our Hearts on November 11, 2021.

http://www.maggiebain.com/ 

Maggie’s theatre credits include: We’ll Meet in Moscow (Traverse Theatre), Dream (RSC), Henry V & The Tempest (Shakespeare’s Rose) Cyrano de Bergerac (National Theatre of  Scotland, Citizens Theatre & Royal Lyceum) Macbeth (Tobacco Factory), Man To Man (Brooklyn Academy of Music, UK Tour, Edinburgh Fringe & Wales Millennium Centre), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare’s Globe), Broken Meats (Southwark Playhouse), The Blood is Strong (Finborough Theatre), Beautiful Burnout (Frantic Assembly), Henry V & A Doll’s House (Theatre Delicatessen), 3 Stories – Memory, Love of the Nightingale (Rough Fiction), It’s A Girl (Edinburgh Fringe & International Theatre Festival Bucharest), Kid Simple (Edinburgh Fringe). Maggie is also a practitioner for internationally renowned theatre company Frantic Assembly.

Television credits include: I Hate Suzie, Intergalactic, Black Mirror, Trigonometry, The End of the F*****g World, Goldie’s Oldies, Happiness, Crisis Control, Churchill’s Mother.

Film credits include: The Lion Vs The Little People, Dark Sense,The Wider Sun (BFI Short), Cold Kill.

Radio Credits include: The Tempest (BBC), Peking Noir (BBC), Getting Better (Audible)

 

Andrew Macbean

Colour photo of Andew Macbean. He looks directly into the camera and has a neutral expression.

Andrew (he/him) will be playing Dove in our Being Human preview of The Beat of Our Hearts on November 11, 2021.

Andrew Macbean trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. His work in theatre includes Under Milkwood, Amadeus, Twelfth Night for the National Theatre; Titus Andronicus, Richard III and Measure for Measure at the RSC; She Stoops to Conquer at Theatre Royal Bath; Vanity Fair at Middle Temple Hall; Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic; Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing with Rabble Theatre Co.; Much Ado About Nothing for Shakespeare in the Squares; Richard III for Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, Bristol; Rough Crossing at Vienna’s English Theatre; The Trap for the Clapham Omnibus; The Little Prince at the Bike Shed, Exeter; Killer Joe at Bristol Old Vic; Mother Goose at the Northcott; Twelfth Night, King Lear and The Taming of the Shrew for Creation; The Picture of Dorian Gray (European tour); The Lady’s Not for Burning and Out of Bounds at the Finborough; 1:36:2600 at Regent’s Park; A Christmas Carol at Trafalgar Studios; and Macbeth (UK tour).

TV includes The Pembrokeshire Murders, Abba, Post Code, EastEnders, Keith Lemon’s Fit, Whistleblower, Torchwood, Mrs David, The Great Escape, The Wrong Sea, Double Top, Dead Cat and Poirot: Evil Under the Sun. Film includes The Keith Lemon Film. Radio includes Crossparty, Stagefright, We Are Not The BBC and Springheel’d Jack.

 

Tianna Arnold

Colour photo of Tianna Arnold. They are looking directly into the camera, with a neutral expression.

Tianna (they/them) will be playing Luca in our Being Human preview of The Beat of Our Hearts on November 11, 2021.

Theatre credits:

WHO CARES Guildford School of Acting Dom Rouse
RED VELVET Guildford School of Acting Nicholai La Barrie
IMAGE OF AN UNKNOWN YOUNG WOMAN Guildford School of Acting Heather Carroll
MACBETH Guildford School of Acting Jaq Bessell
OROONOKO Guildford School of Acting Dominic Burdess
ALL MY SONS Guildford School of Acting Richard Neal

A young people’s manifesto for tackling LGBTQIA+ loneliness in the South West

It might not immediately be apparent how loneliness can be a political experience, but for the young people who participated in our workshops in July, LGBTQIA+ loneliness was thoroughly political. Experiences of marginalization, isolation, and stigma which contributed to loneliness among our young people were often derived from factors relating to policy.

So in our final workshop, we asked our young people to put on their political hats and co-create a manifesto for tackling loneliness among LGBTQIA+ young people in the South West. What would they ask for? What would they change?

The manifesto that follows is a work in progress as much as we hope to synthesise and build on our young people’s work with thoughts from our 26+ participants in October. But for now, this offers a special window onto young people’s thinking about LGBTQIA+ loneliness and belonging.

Picture of the manifesto, with a peach background and block colour flowers down the left-hand side. The Beat of Our Hearts logo is in the top left-hand corner. The manifesto is in two pages. The first page deals with healthcare and education.


Picture of the manifesto, with a peach background and block colour flowers down the left-hand side. The Beat of Our Hearts logo is in the top left-hand corner. The manifesto is in two pages. The second page continues education but also has a theme of community. Information about the authors of the manifesto is also on this page.For screen readers, please see the PDF version here of our 16-25 LGBTQIA+ Loneliness Manifesto.

 

Frank Duffy

‘Finding community probably saved my life’: An interview with graphic designer and illustrator Frank Duffy

Creativity and the arts are at the heart of our project on LGBTQIA+ loneliness and belonging. In the past as well as today, those who felt like they dwelt on the margins of societal norms regarding gender and sexuality have turned to creativity to express their feelings and experiences.

And creativity has often been a way for us to find and build community with others. Sometimes it’s as if we feel we’re reaching through an artwork to the personality that created it and sensing that ‘you are not alone’.

It was really important, therefore, that the artist who would create the logo for our project was sympathetic to these values and the way the project is framing the importance of the arts for dramatizing LGBTQIA+ loneliness and belonging.

I spoke to graphic designer and illustrator, Frank Duffy, to find out more about what The Beat of Our Hearts means to them, and why they wanted to design our logo.

Frank Duffy
Frank Duffy

When I asked Frank about why they wanted to get involved, they said:

I was delighted to be asked to work on this project. As a bisexual non-binary trans person I know first-hand the importance of queer community, of finding people who can relate to you and your life.
Frank speaks explicitly about the importance of community in their life:
There’s an easy sort of short-hand being around queers – there’s an acceptance and ease we can struggle to access in a cishet world. Finding community probably saved my life. So this play about LGBTQIAA+ loneliness, especially during the pandemic, couldn’t be more important to me.
And what about their design choices? Our logo has a very distinctive style which instantly grabbed us:
Our fab logo

Frank explains how

In about 2008 I met a group of queers all house-sharing together – there I met my first other trans person, learnt about the possibility of being non-binary, and generally came to understand myself a lot better. There were lots of zines floating about and they were generally photocopied from typewriter-typed text cut and pasted alongside drawings and photographs. There were also old copies of Spare Rib and other feminist publications, as well as art from the Guerrilla Girls. The half-tone dots of the photocopier as well as the typewriter font came from these memories, and the colours feel vivid, uncompromising and related to non-hierarchical community organising and radical politics.

For Frank, the design of our logo is connected to a history of dissident politics and attempts to challenge existing ways of seeing things. For me, this link to the past enriches the artwork and illustrates the project’s focus on histories of LGBTQIA+ belonging and loneliness as much as present experiences.

We can’t wait to explore the ways in which our project will elicit new histories of LGBTQIA+ community, isolation, and intimacy.

 

I come from

I come from: Young people’s poetry of LGBTQIA+ belonging

As an experience, loneliness can be frightening to think about. For LGBTQIA+ people especially, speaking about loneliness has the potential to trigger unhappy memories and emotions that strike deep chords within.

Which is why for our first workshop with young LGBTQIA+ people (16-25), based in Cornwall, we began by thinking about the experience of belonging.

Where do I feel like I belong?

Where do I come from?

To whom do I belong?

So together we watched Dean Atta’s performance of the poem ‘I Come From’. This is a remarkably simple yet complex poem. Essentially you write it yourself, using only ‘I come from’ as the start of a line. Usually you’d join together two quite unlikely sources of belonging, such as

I come from fish and chips and Chemistry homework.

But over time, you end up with a really intimate and personal glimpse into what makes you you.

The young people in our workshops each provided a line or so using the ‘I come from’ format. And the results were deeply moving. We’ll leave them to speak for themselves.

I come from punk and the heart of the forest 

I come from a feral family and well spoken words

I come from rainbow and black and white 

I come from total freedom and a medically controlled mind 

I come from soft piano compositions and loud guitar screeches 

I come from boy’s shirts and pretty skirts

I come from neglect and care 

I come from Instagram captions and polaroids being fashionable

I come from boredom and an anxiously racing mind 

I come from an empty bedroom and big crowds. 

 

— Richard Vytniorgu

N.B.: for those who wish to credit the poem by quoting it, please use University of Exeter as the ‘author’.

 

Welcome to The Beat of Our Hearts!

Hello and welcome,

We’re delighted to announce the launch of our blog showcasing our AHRC-funded EDI engagement project, The Beat of Our Hearts: Staging New Histories of LGBTQIA+ Loneliness. The project, based at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health at the University of Exeter and led by researchers Dr Charlotte Jones (PI) and Dr Richard Vytniorgu (PDRA), is intended to foreground and reflect on histories and experiences of LGBTQIA+ loneliness in the south west of England.

The project situates lived experiences of loneliness and belonging at its heart, and uses creativity – especially theatre – to amplify the complexities and challenges that LGBTQIA+ people in the South West have faced and continue to face as they seek ways to confront experiences of marginalisation and foster community. Starting with a series of creative workshops, the project will culminate in the development of an original performance, written by Natalie McGrath, and staged at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre as part of LGBT+ history month in February 2022 (more information here).

Project leader, Dr Charlotte Jones, notes:

Through this project, we will explore 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.

After working directly with LGBTQIA+ people aged 16 and above, Writer Natalie McGrath will create a new play that explores stories which are often hidden or marginalised:

 I was inspired to explore this from the outset after researching loneliness and isolation amongst young LGBTQIA+ people. I was really upset by stories of isolation and discrimination that young people are facing everyday, and so this motivated me to do something to navigate this as a writer and socially engaged artist. To see what could be done as a positive force for good for LGBTQIA+ people in the South West by tackling this issue creatively, and of course what I could learn in the process.

Over the summer and autumn of 2021, we will provide updates about the series of creative writing workshops we are holding in collaboration with the Intercom Trust, to elicit and explore histories and experiences of loneliness and belonging among a range of LGBTQIA+ people.

CEO of Intercom, Andy Hunt, explains that

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.

We are really excited about the coming months, so please keep tabs with what’s going on by following or bookmarking our blog.

For now, we are also delighted to draw your attention to our logo, designed by graphic designer and illustrator, Frank Duffy.

A pink heart overlaid with orange dots. In the centre, typewriter text reads 'the beat of our hearts'.

We love its 80s vibe and its vibrant pink, and we can’t wait to hear what others think of it too.

If you want to get in touch, then please click on the contact tab in the menu.

 

— Richard Vytniorgu