Lloyd Newson: Why You Should Come & See ... DV8ís To Be Straight With YouDate: 23 October 2008
Lloyd Newson is founder and artistic director of DV8, the physical theatre company formed in 1986. DV8 has produced 15 acclaimed stage works that have toured internationally and five award-winning television films, most notably, Channel 4 commission The Cost of Living, which picked up 14 awards including a Prix Italia, Rose DíOr in Switzerland, Sette Jury Prize in Canada and the Audience Choice Award in Brazil. DV8 returns this month to the National Theatre - where they previously mounted Just for Show - with their latest work, To Be Straight With You, a verbatim work about religious intolerance and sexuality, performed by a multi-ethnic cast.
There are three main reasons, or events, which prompted me to make To Be Straight With You, a work about tolerance/intolerance, culture, religion and homo/sexuality.
In the early 1990s, I went on a Gay Pride March which, that year, went through the predominantly Afro-Caribbean neighbourhood of Brixton. My then-boyfriend, who was Indian, and I were astonished at the level of abuse and hostility directed at us as we walked hand in hand down Brixton Road. I was struck by the fact that people who themselves are part of a minority, many of whom must have experienced racism and racist abuse first-hand, were so willing to be abusive towards another minority. Our research showed that many people within the Afro-Caribbean community hold strong religious beliefs, and not surprisingly, use religious texts to justify their negative attitudes towards homosexuality.
In 2006, Channel 4 Television screened a documentary called Gay Muslims. The programme interviewed 200 gay and lesbian Muslims living in Britain, and only one person out of the 200 was willing for their face to be shown on television.
Currently the word Ďschismí appears almost daily in newspapers when referring to the potential split within the Anglican Church over the issue of homosexuality. Many archbishops and bishops representing the Anglican Communion worldwide boycotted the 2008 Lambeth Conference, hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, because invitations had been sent to more liberal bishops who condone homosexuality. Last year, the Anglican Mainstream, a network of traditional Christian organizations, sought exemption from the governmentís Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, which attempts to prevent discrimination of gay people in the provision of goods and services. Examples like these raise the question of how a society reconciles religious beliefs with human rights.
The themes behind this production are complex, sensitive and not easily translated into movement, so for the first time in DV8ís history I sought a writer, and/or an existing text, to help me structure the work. However, after six months of intensive searching, nothing I had read or seen adequately addressed the particular issues or theatrical forms I wanted to explore.
It seemed a more suitable and authentic approach would be to use first-hand, verbatim accounts of people directly affected by the issues of religion and homosexuality. We interviewed 85 people living in the UK; men and women, some who are both religious and gay, some who have given up on one for the other, members of the clergy, human rights organisations and people opposed to homosexuality due to their religious beliefs. We also conducted street interviews (vox pops) in different areas of London, in which we asked passers-by how they felt about issues like gay marriage and the relationship between religion and sexuality.
Many of our interviewees, particularly from ethnic minority groups with strong religious ties, requested that their identities remain hidden, fearful of the consequences should their communities discover their sexuality. Despite the great gains in the law to protect gay people in this country, our interviews show how many lesbians and gay men, if they choose to become visible, face intimidation or physical abuse. I hope that through this work audiences will become more aware of the lives of many people hidden under the veneer of a liberal and supposedly tolerant society.
Every word spoken on stage comes directly from the interviewees and I would like to thank them for agreeing to let us tell their stories.
Following a regional tour, To Be Straight With You opens next week at the National Theatre, running in the NT Lyttelton from 29 October to 15 November 2008. Itís suitable for 16+ years.