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Project announcement: A creative collaboration with WCCEH on LGBTQ+ loneliness and history

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Following an initial seed phase in which three artists were granted funding to think about loneliness, theatre and performance alongside scholars at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health, we are excited to announce the direction that this collaboration will take.

Working closely with the Centre and with Exeter’s Northcott Theatre, the acclaimed playwright and activist Natalie McGrath will create an original piece of work for production, drawing in part on creative exchanges with Centre researchers and LGBTQ+ people with lived experiences of loneliness and isolation.

Conceived before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, one aim of the work was to think critically about the loss of hard won social and emotional spaces which LGBTQ+ people have created to share with one another. Running deeper than this present, dislocating moment are stories and histories which reverberate through queer experiences of isolation, quarantine and distance in 2020.

As Natalie put it:

“Working with Drs Fred Cooper and Charlotte Jones from the University of Exeter’s Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health on the subject of loneliness, in partnership with Exeter Northcott Theatre, is an exciting new direction for my work as a playwright and socially engaged artist.  LGBTQ+ stories have historically been erased or silenced due to hatred, ignorance and prejudice, whilst structural legislation and lack of rights have caused harm to many lives.  This opportunity to explore some of the pivotal moments in LGBTQ+ history through the lens of loneliness will enable an exciting new play to emerge for an ensemble of LGBTQ+ performers in the future life of the project.”

For Fred and Charlotte, this project goes much further than simply engaging new audiences with academic research that has already been done. Fred had the following to say about the importance of the project for his own work, and why Natalie’s ideas stood out:

“A significant aspect of what we want to do is to push back against ways of working which create artificial hierarchies between university academics and the people they collaborate with. Natalie is not here to ‘translate’ our research into something more accessible, she is here to determine an agenda, explore the questions that she knows are vital, and participate in a meaningful process of exchange which will alter and enrich our practice as academics. Natalie began the project with a clear idea of the direction she wanted our work together to take, and a keen sense of the historical and structural harms which are embedded in LGBTQ+ experiences of loneliness. We’re delighted to be working with such an accomplished and talented artist.”

Daniel Buckroyd, Artistic Director & Chief Executive of Exeter Northcott Theatre added:

“Artists such as Natalie have an extraordinary ability to pose questions, stretch our imaginations and create a space for considering new possibilities. Through projects such as this and the Northcott Futures programme which supports local theatre-makers, the Northcott aims to make meaningful exchanges between artists, audiences and practitioners across a number of disciplines and lived experiences. We’re delighted to take this project forward and excited to see how the play evolves.”

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Natalie McGrath is a playwright, poet, occasional performer, producer of arts and heritage projects, and Co-Director of Dreadnought South West who curate the Rebellious Sounds Archive.

Natalie is currently Writer in Residence and Cultural Heritage Producer at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum for Out and About: Queering the Museum, a National Lottery Heritage Fund project in collaboration with the University of Exeter’s Dr Jana Funke.