Norwich Arts Centre have co-commissioned a new piece of theatre, with Norwich Theatre Royal, by Norfolk-based writer James McDermott.
Over the course of the research and development of the show James has kept a blog and it’s a great document of the process. You can check it out at campranddblog.wordpress.com.
In 2017, I saw on social media an article from queer online magazine Pink News about reports of state-sanctioned anti-gay purges in Chechnya. Law enforcement agencies were using gay dating apps to entrap men suspected of being gay, kidnapping them, transporting them to illegally maintained interrogation facilities then beating, shaming and electrocuting them until they named other gay men they knew who in turn were then entrapped, kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured and questioned.
As a gay man and as a human being, I was enraged and devastated that this was happening. I was equally enraged and devastated that the anti-gay purges were receiving little if any mainstream press attention.
For the next year, I followed the story of the anti-gay purges on LGBTQ magazine web sites and continued to see little if any coverage in the mainstream media.
In the fall of 2018, I decided that if the mainstream media weren’t going to make a song and dance about the anti-gay purges then I would literally make a song and dance about them as a writer: I would create a cabaret show asserting, interrogating and satirising the purges and mainstream media’s silence on the camps.
I wanted to tell the story of the purges as a cabaret show to allow me to satirise through form how the homophobic ideology behind the purges is as ridiculous as cabaret, how serious queer stories are treated frivolously in the press and how mainstream culture turns atrocity into entertainment.
As this isn’t the first time in history minorities have been tortured by authorities in state-sanctioned torture camps, recurring songs and dance routines in the piece would allow me to reflect through form and encourage an audience to reflect upon how history repeats itself.
I wanted to make a show exploring the oppression of minorities in society by those in power as in the advent of Brexit exploring and asserting this idea had never felt more urgent.
I pitched the idea to friend and local producer Lucy Farrant, producer at LJ Hope Productions. The pitch chimed with Lucy as she has long held anxieties about minorities being labelled as “other”, particularly by over powerful media conglomerates, and their being persecuted by those who hold state sanctioned power as a result, using the will of the people as their excuse. Lucy also has gay friends who had just returned from a holiday in Dubai, one of whom had major anxiety about being arrested whilst out there.
Lucy and I then pitched the idea to Pasco Q Kevlin (artistic director of Norwich Arts Centre) and Stephen Crocker (artistic director of Norwich Theatre Royal & Norwich Playhouse). They were both passionate about the project, agreed to co-commission it and support Lucy in an application for an arts council grant to produce an R and D of the first draft of my script at Norwich Arts Centre and Norwich Theatre Royal Stage Two.