Lemon House Theatre goes digital with this exciting new project

BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS

There’s so much to miss during lockdown, but one of the main things we’ve been missing here at DIVA HQ (AKA our respective homes) is the sweet feeling of queer theatre. 

There’s nothing quite like the buzz in the air when a collective of queer storytellers get together to share the relevant, impactful and real experiences of our LGBTQI community. 

As a way of ensuring there’s still a place for queer stories when we can eventually return to theatres, Lemon House Theatre (who you might remember from last year’s hilarious play Willow) have announced a brand-new project. Lemon Lounge is a new six-part series of podcasts, where the first half of the series is all about Queer artists.

Each episode will also include extracts from their show Willow, exploring a queer break-up and how we tell our own stories in the aftermath. 

Here’s what podcast host and Co-Artistic Director of Lemon House Theatre, Jennifer Cerys, had to say all about the new podcast and the future of theatre after lockdown. 🏳️‍🌈

DIVA: How have you been making the most of the digital opportunities available during COVID-19? 

JENNIFER CERYS: It was incredible seeing how quickly people adapted their creative projects to being online. It also meant a lot of events became more accessible than they had been before which, as someone with a disability, was great. I got to see events and shows that I hadn’t been able to at the time, such as Barber Shop Chronicles and I and You. Though there definitely came a point where I felt like I had over-Zoomed and had been staring at screens too much… 

That meant that when St. Margaret’s House spoke to me and Samia, who I run Lemon House Theatre with, about collaborating on a project, we decided we wanted to do something audio, rather than visual, based. We ended up creating Lemon Lounge, a six-part series of curated conversations with Queer artists and artists from the MENA diaspora about their experiences in theatres. The first half of the series focuses on Queer experience, and the second half on MENA experience. This enabled us to keep developing our upcoming shows and work, even while doors to theatres are closed.

What do you hope might be a silver lining from this situation for artists/creatives, if any?

Something that I’ve heard from a lot of other artists, and feel myself, is that the arts weren’t working for us before COVID-19. There were certain stories that dominated stages (typically white, straight, cis, male, and able-bodied), and both representation and access often felt like something tagged on to the end of a show rather than being a central part of it from the beginning. Starting again can feel pretty intimating, but I’m hoping that this crisis will give us a change to rebuild theatre in a more inclusive way, and that when doors are reopened, all artists and audiences are not just welcomed back, but valued, and valued for their different experiences and voices. 

How do you think UK theatre will look for queer artists when we can eventually go back to “normal” life? What changes do you hope are made?

In our third Lemon Lounge episode with Daisy Hale and Salome Wagaine, we chat about the future of queer theatre and something they both mentioned was about queer artists finding spaces that suited them rather than contorting themselves to fit into spaces that already exist. When we get back to some sort of normal, I think queer artists will naturally gravitate to the spaces that you would historical find queer people at: fringe theatres, pubs and bars, community venues etc. And I’m hoping there’ll be more funding into smaller venues to support this. 

Daisy and Salome have lots of incredible points about the future of queer theatre, so definitely keep an eye out for this episode – it’s coming out on 23 July!

What have you personally learned during this challenging time? 

How much my queerness is rooted in theatre, and that that’s both good and bad. Not being able to go and see queer shows felt like I lost a part of my queer identity. This was partly because, as someone who grew up in a town where they were so few openly queer people, moving to London and starting to see queer comedy, cabaret, and theatre shows helped me feel represented and find the community I had been missing. Though this shows how important representation is on stages, and makes me even more confident in what we’re trying to do with Lemon House Theatre, it’s also made me realise I still have a way to go in fully understanding and connecting with my queer identity, and knowing that I’m still valued as an LGBTQI+ person even when I’m by myself at home, without a community around me.

I’ve also learnt about asking for more. As a disabled person, I can be wary about asking to work from home, or about event hosts adjusting a part of the event so it’s more suitable for me, as I don’t want anyone to think I’m being difficult. But seeing how most things were able to adapt to being online, it’s made me realise that someone’s not being “difficult” when all they’re asking is to be supported and accounted for.

And I’ve not necessarily learnt, but it’s been made even more obvious to me how many brilliant people are in my life. Hopefully I’ll get to hug them soon. 

Make sure you check out the fist episode of Lemon Lounge below and look out for new episodes weekly.

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