Saying Goodbye: Project End and Legacy

The Beat of Our Hearts production poster - a bright, moody sky with dark blue shades and stars at the top, with pink underneath. At the bottom is a silhouetted cityscape include a pride flag, library, and murmuration of starlings.
Logo design – Frank Duffy. Poster design – Eleanor Fitzpatrick & Ralph Whitehead.

It’s hard to believe we’ve now come to the end of The Beat of Our Hearts. After 12 months, our funding period drew to a close at the end of April. We’re very grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for supporting this project as part of an Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Fellowship awarded to Charlotte.

Looking back on the last year, there have been so many highlights. Working closely with 17 fantastic, imaginative, and energised LGBTQIA+ people in the South West has been a real privilege for us, and we hope that we will see some of them again in the future. As the blog posts here testify, the conversations we had were wide-ranging and thought-provoking. The play, which you can now view online, was in part shaped by our opportunity to explore ideas with them.

Our event at the Being Human Festival in November was another highlight, with thanks to Arts Council England and the Wellcome Centre at the University of Exeter for financially supporting this. The preview scenes brought us into contact with some wonderful actors, and the event represented the beginning of the production process that came to fruition in the performance.

A photo of the production. A figure stands with their arms raise dramatically in the air in the foreground. White lights and smoke jet from the top of the image. In the background, two figures move a table and a box, in preparation for the next scene.
Photography – Craig Fuller.

As we’ve reflected on this blog, the performance itself was a real delight, and a huge milestone for us and for Natalie McGrath, the Playwright. To create a play in a relatively short space of time presented a range of challenges but also opportunities for our various collaborations with the amazing creative team, including Director, Scott Hurran. The production at the Northcott really blew us away; as researchers it’s unusual to experience the impact of our collaborations in such a powerful and remarkable setting. The audience feedback was also overwhelmingly positive, and you can read some additional performance reviews here.

Cover of The Beat of Our Hearts report. The 'heart' project logo is in the centre, surrounded by small black and white drawings (e.g. a pride flag, boxing gloves, a smart phone, holding hands).
Report illustrations & design – Elly Jahnz.

Our overall reflections on the project are now available in our final report, which you can read here. Learning from this work, we have a number of suggestions for next steps and recommendations for future LGBTQIA+/arts-research collaborations, particularly for partnerships between universities and theatres. These are shared in the report and we hope they can be useful to others. As with every project, there are plenty of things we’d do differently next time.

Going forward, we really hope the materials we’ve created through this project can continue to be used for generating conversations about LGBTQIA+ community, friendships, mental health, loneliness, and mutual support. The film of the production is available to view online for free, and we welcome anyone who would like to organise a free public film screening to get in touch. The play script is also available to purchase from the publisher, or from selected local bookshops and libraries. We encourage you to share this with your friends, schools, LGBTQIA+ groups and networks.

 

A posed group photo of some of the project and creative team. Eight people stand in a line, with five people posing crouched in front. Lots of smiles.Finally, there are so many people we’d like to thank. We won’t name everyone here (see our report), but we’re very grateful to the huge number of individuals and organisations who’ve supported and contributed to this project, and helped to make it such an exciting and memorable collaboration. We’re especially grateful to Intercom Trust, Exeter Northcott, and Natalie McGrath – our project partners – who have approached this work with such enthusiasm, insight, and dedication. We’ve learned so much from these partnerships, and from working with the wider team – Producer, Naomi Turner, and Historical Advisor, Fred Cooper. It was Natalie’s initial interactions with our loneliness research at the Wellcome Centre which developed into the inspiration behind this project, and we’re so grateful to Natalie for her wonderful creative imagination, her commitment to bringing people together, and to celebrating the lives of LGBTQIA+ people in the South West.

 

Thanks to all of you for joining us for this project, please stay in touch.

– Richard and Charlotte

AHRC Filming and Development Day

Picture shows a group photo of the Beat of Our Hearts team.
Left to right (back): Charlotte Jones, Richard Vytniorgu, Fred Cooper, Kieron Jecchinis, Naomi Turner, Scott Hurran, Zoe Fitzgibbon, Natalie McGrath. Left to right (front): Andy Hunt, Sophie Cottle, Frewyn Thursfield, Rebecca Todd, Elijah W. Harris

The new year brought with it the excitement of knowing that soon LGBT+ History Month would be upon us and the Northcott Theatre would be staging new histories of LGBTQIA+ loneliness. As I write, we have just over a week before Natalie McGrath’s The Beat of Our Hearts premieres.

Soon after rehearsals began, early in January, videographers Biggerhouse Film came down to the Barnfield Theatre in Exeter on behalf of the AHRC, where rehearsals were in full swing. The footage they captured will be used to make a short film about our project which will be launched in May, alongside films from the other EDI Engagement Fellows, who were funded by the same scheme.

Two people wearing blue standing next two each other, reading from scripts. On the left, Elijah wears a cap and his head is bowed. On the right, Rebecca wears a scarf and places a hand on Elijah's shoulder.

This was the first time Charlotte and I had met the actors and some of the creative team, and it was great to see a couple of the work-in-progress scenes from Natalie’s play performed. The acting team brings together a range of intergenerational talent and a keen sensitivity for the nuances of different queer identities. The four characters – Dove, Val, Luca, and Quill – became embodied before us as the performers sought to test out the characters’ personalities and relationships with each other.

One of the things that struck me most about the day was getting to see how the Barnfield Theatre room that the company was using had been transformed as their development deepened. Walls were decorated with evidence of their discussions. Key LGBTQIA+ events in history were outlined; there were mood boards for each character’s wardrobe and background; and there were photos printed from Pinterest which seemed to illustrate the team’s imagination and thinking around the environment brought forth in The Beat of Our Hearts.

Six people stand together around a table strewn with papers and pen. Some of them look at each other, some look down at the table.

As we’re learning, a lot goes into producing a play, especially one that is being produced and developed at a relatively rapid pace. But with a stellar creative team steering us, we have every confidence that the final thing is going to be every bit as thought-provoking and dynamic as we expect.

Tickets are still on sale, so if you haven’t bought one already, you can still do so via the Northcott’s website. The play will be staged from 3rd-5th Feb, including a matinee performance on Saturday 5th Feb, and a free post-show discussion on Friday 4th Feb.

 

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
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.

 

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