We spent a beautiful Saturday morning a couple of weeks back delivering a pilot workshop for a digital drama group for young LGBTQ+ people (aged 18 to 27). The participants were so creative, so supportive of each other, and so committed to the work. Guided by the tasks we suggested, they came up with ideas for shows rooted in their own experience that we would rush to see. Really. They were all that good.
The pilot was the last part of the project we ran last year with the help of a Covid-19 emergency grant from Arts Council England (ACE). After the success of our digital drama group with LGBTQ+ elders, we wanted to reach out to another part of our community that has been hit hard by the pandemic.
The restrictions required to combat coronavirus have forced many young LGBTQ+ people to live in households where they cannot be their true selves because of the transphobia / homophobia of family members of housemates. They have also cut them off from their queer families, whose love and support are especially important when so many have had to live without it inside their biological families. In addition, there is the damage done by loneliness and isolation to members of this age group, at a time when peer interaction is as important for their development as it is for their mental health and wellbeing – and one survey identified 50 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds have experienced ‘lockdown loneliness’. These mental health challenges are often compounded by financial anxiety since – pre-Covid – young people were much more likely to be working in the gig economy, in hospitality or in independent shops – all sectors that have all suffered from the economic uncertainty.
So there’s no question that LGBTQ+ young people need avenues for connection and self-expression. That’s why we organised the pilot workshop, which we hope will lead to a longer-term project in the weeks ahead. Working once more with the brilliant theatre-maker Vicky Olusanya, we designed a two-hour session built around four short tasks to help participants take the first steps towards developing solo work: coming up with a title; drafting a compelling pitch to promote the show on social media; identifying an object or prop that would be key to the story-telling; and writing the opening moments to begin exploring tone and style.
The stories they came up with were brilliant. And their feedback was really positive. “It was just so wonderful to be able to share things and feel really supported,” said one. “I really enjoyed re-connecting with writing, acting and theatre – things I always really loved and did a lot more with it in my younger years but I’ve got a lot more disconnected as I was growing up,” said another. “In another theatre group that I go to, I don’t always feel safe enough to be honest so it was cool that I felt like that today,” commented a third.