DIVA chats to Clodagh Chapman about brand-new show, butterfly

BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS

Bedlam Chorus is a collective of queer artists, who want to shift the balance within queer theatre and make sure regular people’s voices are heard. They have been working extremely hard on their latest show, butterfly, to bring to light the LGBTQI stories that no one has heard of.

Their remit is telling un(der)told stories, especially ones that reflect aspects of the queer experience in spectacular ways. butterfly is about a band of five queer misfits from across time whose stories haven’t been told before, who find themselves together underneath London. From drag, to dancing, to spoken word, butterfly encapsulates five totally different stories in five totally different forms.

At its core, butterfly is a love letter to the everyday queer changemakers. DIVA caught up with narrative director at Bedlam Chorus, Clodagh Chapman, to find out about the show ahead of its run at VAULT Festival.

DIVA: What led to the creation of the show?

CLODAGH CHAPMAN: butterfly emerged from a frustration with how queer stories from history get told. Where straight and cisgender people get to have these big, gorgeous period dramas, we get statistics or rehashed stories of the same five big-name activists – which there’s a time and a place for, but massively limits how we can understand our heritage. And we only ever hear about young, fit men in Spandex! Or lesbians who die in scene three!

Who is butterfly for?

Everyone, genuinely. Though butterfly has an all-LGBTQI+ creative team and obviously speaks to lots of different facets of the queer experience, it also works as a piece of storytelling in its own right – falling in love and self-discovery and heartache aren’t unique to LGBTQI+ people. It’s a fundamentally entertaining bit of theatre, full of glitter and dance and drag and live music.

So butterfly is really a show for everyone, regardless of identity. Bring your nan.

How did you come to find the stories that formed butterfly?

Lots and lots of hard work from a small but stupidly dedicated team! Often it was through digging around in archives and libraries, uncovering newspaper articles, reading minutes from council meetings, trawling through court records – the list goes on! But you can’t forget, lots of this is living history, so we met with older LGBTQI+ people – Sam our director, and Ben our producer joined an LGBTQI+ 50+walking group, we’ve listened to hundreds of hours of interviews, we’ve met people over the internet (cheeky!). We’ve followed all sorts of different threads to try and find a really diverse, exciting selection of true stories.

What story did you find the most surprising / interesting?

Personally, I’m absolutely fascinated by the story of Mary Hamilton – a woman from the 1700s who posed as a man and married fourteen women, over a quarter of century before marriage equality. It’s just such a profoundly bold move. And the more I read into it, the more I find little snippets that totally reflect the contemporary lesbian experience, most of which we’ve actually managed to sneak into the script.

What are the main challenges you face as narrative director?

On this production, for me personally, it’s been treading the line between being true to what happened and being true to what makes good drama. We’re never working with a complete set of facts – lots of queer history is unrecorded, or actively blotted out of the records – so there’s always some interpolation that has to happen, but there are also serious questions of how much we can fictionalise before the story loses its integrity.

And at the same time, truth really is stranger than fiction! There are some nuggets of historical context which we’ve had to gloss over or simplify, otherwise butterfly would have to come with a thesis worth of footnotes. Who knew strap-ons were actually all the rage in the 1700s!?

So it’s often the more outlandish moments that actually happened, and the tiny things that we’ve had to totally invent. Balancing all this has been a real challenge, but a hugely exciting one!

What would you like the future to look like for queer theatre?

I’d love to see more of it! And not just in studio slots, but on main stages. I feel that there’s still a glass ceiling for queer artists, where there’s an unspoken assumption that our work is too risky to put in a venue with more than 50 seats.

There’s also a huge lack of diversity in queer theatre – it’s very male-dominated, not to mention white, cisgender and middle-class. I think lots of artists get complicit and assume that because they’re making queer work, that excuses them from thinking about diversity in any other ways. I’d love to see a broader array of queer experiences represented on stage.

Anything else you’d like to let DIVA readers know about the show?

We did a work-in-progress sharing of butterfly back in March which sold out, so please get booking sharpish! It’s set to be a really exciting, emotional and heartfelt show, full of laughs, goosebumps and wonder in equal measure. And the core creative team are all single.

Make sure you grab yourself a ticket here, and Bedlam Chorus will be giving a talk all about butterfly in March, too!

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