Hello again, dear readers. I am writing to you, not from Glasgow as suggested in my last post, but from the safety of my own home. It appears that, as is often the case with me, I was stressing rather too much and it turns out my journey to Midland’s Arts Centre (Mac), in Birmingham, though now re-branded as mac birmingham, was easier than I had anticipated.
For future reference, it is a very simple bus ride from the centre of Birmingham – although I’m sure you’ll have a much better sense of navigation than I do! The building itself is gorgeous and I was surprised at how picturesque it was!
Another guilty confession, readers, but despite professing to be a theatre-maker who has spent eighteen years in the West Midlands, I had never visited Mac before but boy do I wish I had. Clearly I have spent far too much time in the likes of Manchester and London and have neglected the amazing venues us Midlanders have on our doorsteps.
Well anyway, to the matter at hand, by which I mean Beneath the Surface event number 3!! I don’t know what it was about this performance but I really thought it was the best one yet. The performed extracts were very well done (apart from a slight mix-up on the sound levels…anybody sitting on the right-hand side of the room might be ever so slightly deaf in one ear now) and once again there were plenty of surprises in how the audience reacted to parts of the script.
There seemed to be a more relaxed and vocal atmosphere in the room with audience members laughing harder at the jokes in the script and exchanging glances with one another throughout. This may have been to do with the number that we had in – our largest audience yet – and once again an eclectic mix of men, women, white, Asian, straight and gay. There were also a significant number of older people which I found very interesting and made a point of talking to after the show – but more on that in a bit.
One thing I really noticed at this performance was how the audience in Birmingham was very keen to dive straight in to talking about the issues raised by the piece and to discuss these with much greater ferocity than I have thus far witnessed. Indeed, there was very little talk about the theatricality of the piece but a much greater emphasis on the themes raised in the work.
The discussion at one point intensified with one man saying how he would have preferred some lighter stories which celebrated tolerant parents as well as the stories that condemn the prejudices of others. While one woman countered this by saying the whole point of this piece was to raise awareness of those who find being gay and South Asian extremely torturous and that by including too many “happy” stories risked diluting the poignancy of the piece. Personally, I think that both are right. This work is not simply about telling horror stories of people who can’t/won’t be true to themselves and are tortured by it but should very definitely celebrate those who are open and proud and have found a way of gaining acceptance. Yet the piece should be about balance with both the lighter and darker stories being given equal airing. At the end of the day, the purpose of the piece is to tell stories about contemporary British Asian gay lives and to do that the whole spectrum of experiences must be examined
I mentioned earlier in this post how there was a significantly larger proportion of older audience members at Mac than there had been at either London or Smethwick. I think this is a very interesting point to make and may have led to one of the most fascinating discussion points of the evening. The piece itself is made up of both younger and older voices. Indeed, the voices of the two Indian parents (if this isn’t making much sense to you then it is possibly because you haven’t seen the show and I would therefore direct you to the bookings page where there are still tickets left for two of our three remaining dates) represent the older generation who still have trouble accepting and might even find the idea of homosexuality abhorrent. Yet it is simplistic to state that the older generation is prejudiced and the younger generation tolerant. One older Asian lady that I talked to described the piece as “completely new” to her – she had seen the event listed and thought she would give it a go. Yet as our conversation continued I saw how adamantly she believed that supporting those you love and care about, no matter what, was what made you a family and I found myself thinking that her presence here was no mistake. She wanted to learn more so she could continue to be supportive to those that she loved. This was put into stark contrast when I heard about the abuse a young Asian teen had received from his peers when he came out at school. It struck me that in many cases the older generation can be instrumental in teaching the younger generation to be tolerant too. Cast your minds back to my London blog, the story of the young boy teaching his grandmother about tolerance through his unbiased innocence and you’ll find, as I have done, that every generation needs to be taught tolerance and that it is down to families and communities to do this teaching and that if we all practice and teach acceptance then suddenly the world might begin to change.
As well as these incredibly deep revelations, we also found the time to have some fun with the discussions. For the first time in the workshops so far we had people sharing the ten words they would like to impart to a character in the script. While they were all very insightful, I do remember one lady using her ten words to ask one of the characters out for a coffee! I’m smiling to myself as I write this as I can just imagine that character going on a date with one of the audience – it just seems like something they’d do! I also remember the words “love risk” being mentioned as part of someone’s ten words and I thought that was such a great phrase…I think I might have it embroidered onto a cushion!
So a slightly longer blog this time but one that I think deserved a few more words. I left Birmingham buzzing, both because of the performances which I think are getting better and better with each venue and also because of the discussion and the topics we touched upon. I hope our next event in Sheffield will be just as good! So until the next time – stay fabulous!
Rob Beck (is guest blogger for Beneath the Surface)