The world premiere of The Beat of Our Hearts

Last week saw the start of LGBT+ History Month 2022 and, as part of our collaborative project, Natalie McGrath’s The Beat of Our Hearts also had its world premiere at the Exeter Northcott Theatre. Over four performances, Valentine, Dove, Quill, and Luca – the play’s four characters – burst into the lives of audiences who came to see the play. During the performance week, audiences were also invited to engage with materials and local groups via our market stalls and project exhibition, and attend the post-show panel and informal discussion for Intercom’s Young and Yourself! (YAY!) LGBTQ+ youth group.

Background

logo of the beat of our hearts -- a pink heart with an eighties style font of block text in the middle of the heart, reading the beat of our hearts.
Our logo, designed by Frank Duffy

The Beat of Our Hearts has been in process for some time, originating in research carried out at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health at the University of Exeter, but also grounded in the long-term interests of the Writer and research team, around histories and experiences of loneliness and isolation experienced by marginalised and stigmatised groups.

Since its beginning, the project has sought to engage creative approaches to these themes, and our partnership with Writer Natalie McGrath stretches back to 2019, when Natalie worked with us at the Wellcome Centre alongside two other artists, as part of a pilot scheme to explore creative engagement with loneliness. We selected Natalie’s work to take forward into this project. She brought with her many new conceptual and creative ideas around the project’s themes, helping us to explore and express our ideas about loneliness in a new way. Her first sketches of what might later be a script or performance felt urgent and exciting. Here she focused on LGBTQIA+ loneliness, describing the significant loss of physical community and meeting spaces, the importance of shared knowledges, histories and heritages, and the relationship between loneliness and survival. Her work was politically energised and it resonated with us personally, as well as with our research.

The project took a turn in its journey when Charlotte (Academic Lead) was awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Fellowship for the collaboration. This funding secured our ability to stage the play, and to bring in a broader creative and production team. It also allowed Natalie to continue working closely with us at the Wellcome Centre and the Exeter Northcott, and with the project’s partner charity, Intercom Trust, who provide a range of support for local LGBT+ people. Further funding for script development was later awarded to Natalie from an Arts Council National Lottery Project Grant.

A key part of our work with Intercom Trust involved Natalie and Richard facilitating a series of creative writing and discussion workshops with LGBTQIA+ people based in the South West, particularly Cornwall. These workshops – which are explored elsewhere in this blog – inspired Natalie in the shaping of her play, and helped to ensure that the play reflected a diversity of lived experiences which feel timely, urgent, and accessible to those we hoped the play might reach.

The performance

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.
Promotional poster, designed by Exeter Northcott Theatre

So it was with real excitement that we finally arrived at the performance itself, directed by Scott Hurran. An incredible number of people have been involved in staging The Beat of Our Hearts — a full list of which is available through the links at the top of this blog. It was amazing to see everything finally come together at the Northcott: set design, costume, sound design and music, lighting, movement, and of course the acting itself – all of which was also made further accessible for our audiences by a fantastic BSL interpreter and Audio Describer.

Rehearsals at the Northcott took place earlier last week, and the final dress rehearsal on Thursday afternoon was the first time we saw the play in full.

Beat of Our Hearts characters facing each other in a circle on stage. Dark background and a piercing white light coming down from the ceiling.
Dove, Quill, Val, and Luca look into a reflective screen (Photo by Craig Fuller)

Each time we saw it we were moved in different ways, and we enjoyed experiencing the production evolve with every performance. Natalie’s poetic script was brought to life, its potency conserved by a sparing and effective set design involving a few key portable installations. It was beautifully performed, and it was clear how much the actors had bonded and how much the themes of the play – about community, chosen family, and love – mattered to them. From an initial review of our feedback, audiences also perceived the immediacy and relevance of the characters’ stories and the long histories of injustice and pride explored in Natalie’s work.

Luca and Quill - Quill touches Luca's shoulder in an act of reassurance
Luca and Quill – played by Frewyn Thursfield and Elijah W. Harris  (Photo by Craig Fuller)

We were delighted to welcome our workshop participants to the performance, and on Saturday afternoon the young people visiting with the Intercom Trust had some time to chat with the actors and Natalie about their experiences of the play. Some of the group had joined us for online discussions earlier in the project, so it was exciting to be able to finally share the production with them, and to hear how the play and its characters resonated.

It was also a pleasure to welcome so many local and University organisations to be present at The Beat of Our Hearts through our stall area. For some it was the first time they had seen each other since the start of the pandemic, and there was a real sense of hope and positivity in looking to the future. These organisations included Exeter Pride, It’s All About You Wellbeing, the Exeter University LGBTQ+ Staff Network and Trans and Non-binary Cafe, Exeter Guild and student LGBTQ+ Society, the local independent bookshop, Bookbag, Intercom Trust, and Out And About, plus materials from OutStories and Hidayah — a support organisation for LGBTQI+ Muslims.

It was brilliant to have such a range of organisations, and the stalls were popular with our audiences who were able to pick up some Pride merch, browse leaflets, buy books, and catch up with old friends and make new contacts.

What’s next?

For those who didn’t manage to see the performance, we will have some exciting news soon about other ways you can view it in the future. Watch this space! We will also be taking some time to look at the audience feedback, in which we asked people attending what loneliness and belonging meant to them, and what the play made them think about.

If anyone would like to find out more about the project, then please get in touch with us via the contact button at the top of this blog.

We would like to take this opportunity again to thank all those involved in funding, staging, and inspiring The Beat of Our Hearts; to Natalie for writing this beautiful play; and to the audiences who came to watch it. It was fantastic. Well done!

– 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.

 

Stock photo of a pen writing in blank ink on ruled paper

Poems by Sheena Sen: The Beat of My Heart

In a second post featuring poetry by one of our workshop participants, Sheena Sen, Sheena gets to the heart of the project by personalising our project title and, indeed, the title of Natalie McGrath’s play. In her earlier poem, Sheena explores the emotions and thoughts tied up with experiences of loneliness. By contrast, ‘The Beat of My Heart’ is a heartfelt exploration of what motivates and drives the speaker. The beating heart is often a symbol of warmth, passion, and energy. In this poem, Sheena uses repetition and rhyme to create a closely packed and punchy piece that really moves us.

This heart beats for Loyalty

and too for acceptance

with or without commonality

it beats for simplicity

in a world full of complexity

 

for the sounds of my family

for lost love and last loves

for the lost and the found

for kisses once dreamed of

and gendered equality

 

It beats for diversity

to be brave and show courage

in the face of adversity

it beats to end prejudice

and be fierce in the fight

for all human rights

like those who precede me

 

It beats for memory of time

for belonging and longing

for all that is certain

and all that is not it beats

for the breath that rests

between life death

and freedom

 

Asked to reflect on her poem, Sheena has added:

I took the title of the play and thought about what it all is, what is the stuff we are made of in our beating heart of existence. Your project and research is valuable as it creates a space for the questions inside us. It allows space to breathe in integrity and with as much honesty as we have in us, when we express what it means to be lonely or to belong in a place or a family that expression is real . I felt like an imposter at the start of the sessions as my personal journey hasn’t been difficult and yet I realised I too have felt isolated and a sense of loneliness at one time in my life. I recognised others words were like mirrors as they resonated in the story of my life. It made me write.

We’re very glad it did.

 

To cite, please credit Sheena Sen.

 

— Richard Vytniorgu

Poems by Sheena Sen: The Well of Loneliness

After each of the workshops we conducted in the summer and autumn, we invited participants to submit any additional writing or creative work that they felt inspired to do after attending the workshops. One of our participants, Sheena Sen, sent us some wonderful poems and reflections on her experience of participating in the workshops, and more broadly, on loneliness and belonging as an LGBTQIA+ person.

In a series of posts, we will showcase Sheena’s work and reflections, and pause to think about how they shape understandings of LGBTQIA+ loneliness and belonging.

Sheena’s first poem, ‘The Well of Loneliness’, explores the emotions surronding experiences of loneliness over a period of time.

Titled after Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928), Sen’s poem is, to my mind, a tribute to Hall’s painful experiences of loneliness as well as bringing the idea of ‘the well of loneliness’ into the twenty-first century. Hall’s story, ‘Miss Ogilvey Finds Herself’ (1934), was used as one of the prompts to get us thinking in the autumn workshops.

Image of Radclyffe Hall's novel, The Well of Loneliness. Image depicts a painting of two women.
Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928)

In that place of despair
where emptiness swilled
and spilled its bile
of discontentment
I stood there barefoot
In the silence of pleas
and known certainties
now traceless in a past
that held the pieces of me
In my sense of belonging
in my split sideways
dreams and in sentences
where words have wobbled
from one side of reality
to places I barely could see

In the familiar and formal
In informal discretions
inside a fragility borne
inside the parameters
of fear and acceptance
It is there where I leaned
between mirrors
and laughter made
of small bubble tears
there I felt most alone
as I breathed out for fear
and in for my courage

at the well of my loneliness
I remember how fast
my own heart can beat
at a sentence wide open
to someone’s rejection
in the depth of a memory
as I tentatively trace
the years of my longing
in the pit of despair
I learned there how pain
can visibly bleed.

I asked Sheena about her poem, and she explained to me how she wrote it and what it means to her.

The poem was written in the midnight hour, somewhere between silence and stillness is where it began. In the recalling of the discussions shared in the project around belonging and loneliness and what came from the personal accounts of those people who opened their hearts up to strangers in honesty.

It matters to be integral to speak openly; however painful the sound of a truth might be, it is imperative to think about what makes us feel a sense of acceptance and belonging in a world full of diversity where oppression, or the fear of it, even now still finds me. I am a lucky one in my finding my identity and sexual preference; it came relatively easy with more acceptance than rejection, but it’s the essence of fear that beats in a heart full of uncertainty that you can’t see, and that’s why I wrote it — as a collection of thoughts from my own history and the pieces of those in the LGBTQIA+ community who have had their struggles too.

For me, the images of breathing and a beating heart capture the immanence of loneliness and the way it can manifest in physical sensations. I am reminded too of the broader capacity of the heart to ‘bleed’, but also how pain can be a source of learning. This is a paradox of LGBTQIA+ loneliness as well as other forms of emotional difficulty: painful as these experiences are, sometimes they can be sources of insight into ourselves and other people. Sen’s poem does that for me: it reveals the speaker’s journey, oscillating from loneliness, pain, and longing, to moments of courage, learning, and remembering — literally, collecting the pieces of oneself and placing them back together in a new mosaic.

— Richard Vytniorgu.

I come from

I come from — part two

In August we published our young people’s collaborative poem, ‘I come from’, which explored their feelings about belonging, and more broadly, aspects in their lives that have lived with them and which they felt they ‘came from’. These poems were inspired by Dean Atta’s poem of the same name. For our 26+ workshops, we repeated the activity, with really different results.

This poem has a more lyrical, exploratory shape to it, and participants often contributed more than one line, so that the poem is an amalgamation of individual poems. The overall piece has a strong thread of environmental or nature imagery running through it, suggestive perhaps of the rural experiences of some of our participants.

The final ‘I come from’ really hits home for me – ‘being asked the daft questions / I didn’t yet have the answers to’. The hint is perhaps that these answers are still to be negotiated, and may only ever be provisional.

I come from the belly of the earth,

from jellyfish and amoebae,

sharks teeth and rain clouds,

wild oats and silkworms,

puffer fish, waterfalls, mudslides and golden jackal scat

I come from seagulls and seashells and music and love

I come from Scotland, then a life of segments, compartments, boxes

I come from another world

I come from the calling of crickets and air beating off fenceposts

I come from the womb of a woman who loved her newborn

I come from the love of two people who were the best they could be

I come from a family, from the love they gave me

I come from good grades and vodka bottles

I come from duty and desire

I come from the oppressor and the oppressed

I come from the belly of the earth and the end of the Victoria Line

I come from amoebae and supernovae

I come from sharks teeth and milk teeth

I come from wild oats and oat milk in tetrapaks

I come from silkworms and nettle cordage

I come from puffer fish and puffs of smoke

I come from golden jackal scat and golden syrup

I come from tapioca cooked properly so it’s neither slimy nor sticky

I come from mermaids and magic, hairdressers and the zoo

I come from stone circles and pasties, sunsets and nightmares

I come from beauty, I come from shame

I come from being trusted from being told honesty is better than a lie told in regret

I come frog fishing with holes in a net

I come from dancing with a hairbrush to Carly Simons “coming around again”

I come from being a child in the eighties,

from Bros and Boy George pinned to my wall

I come from being in before dark,

and being asked the daft questions

I didn’t yet have the answers to.

— Richard Vytniorgu

 

(To cite: please credit University of Exeter).

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
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