TSOTA was lucky enough to chat to Jamie Fletcher ahead of her sell out show at West Yorkshire Playhouse…
Dancing Bear is funny, frank and honest but definitely not preachy.”
TSOTA: How did the idea for Dancing Bear first come about?
JF: Dancing Bear is part of The Dancing Bear Trilogy, a series of experimental films, thought provoking publications and theatrical performances that aim to engage different audiences (particularly Christian communities) in conversations about LGBTQ issues. I’ve been working on this series for a few years now so it feels like it has been very much building up to making this show, Dancing Bear.
I’m Queer, I’m a Queer activist and I’m also a Christian so I guess the initial idea for Dancing Bear comes from a personal one. Faith, gender and sexuality are important themes to look at. It’s a vital subject. I mean, for a start The Anglican Church has power and influence in our society whether we like it or not. 26 leaders representing the Anglican Church sit in the House of Lords and one million children are educated through their schools. The last few years have seen ripples of conversations about queerness happening throughout Christian communities. People have stood up and spoken out: Christian theologian and Evangelical Steve Chalke came out in favour of same sex marriage (but was kicked out of the Evangelical Alliance for it); or Christian worship leader Vicky Beeching came out as Lesbian. Things are moving forward, and about blooming time!
TSOTA: How did you find the balance between the hard-hitting themes and the musical performances?
JF: It’s been an interesting journey for me trying to find the balance between high and low art, I wanted to make something that would be suitable for both Christian and Queer audiences but also an audience that might not have encountered much if any contemporary performance work. I also wanted to make sure the show is relevant to people who aren’t LGBTQ or don’t have a faith perspective. I think we got there in the end. Well I hope so. I guess we will soon find out…
TSOTA: How difficult was the production process? What was most challenging about it?
JF: I suppose if you make theatre about anything that is inherently queer or religious it has a potential to cause controversy. But what I’m trying to do with this show is open up positive conversations between Queer and Christian communities: communities that have a history of not necessarily getting along. In truth it’s been the hardest show I’ve ever made. Grappling with theology, putting myself in vulnerable positions and having some incredibly blunt and difficult conversations with conservative evangelical Christians as well as hearing and reading many heart-wrenching articles, interviews, stories and personal experiences.
I am fortunate enough to be working with such an awesome cast and team including Choreographer Eleni Edipidi, Musical Director Ric Neale and Designer Bethany Wells. Beccy Owen is the writer I have been collaborating with (she’s also one of the ten multi-talented performers in the show). Beccy and I have had to have a very open dialogue carefully considering how to bring all our research and personal stories together and deciding what stays and what has to go. For example, we eventually decided not to comment and talk about theology and the different readings and interpretations of the bible’s ‘clobber’ passages because there’s so much to be said about each of them and to look at each one in depth could be a show in itself. It just got in the way of the story we wanted to tell. Dancing Bear is funny, frank and honest but definitely not preachy. We’re not trying to tell you what to think. At its heart this is a show about a search for peace, happiness and, most importantly, love. Everyone wants to experience that.
TSOTA: Have any other productions inspired or influenced you when working on this play?
JF: I think the work of companies like DV8 Physical Theatre and Knee High have always been inspiring to me. The work I make is multi-disciplinary, it combines different art forms. But the main drive and influence behind Dancing Bear is a political one. Knowing what is happening to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in this country and around the world often due to religious expression and biblical interpretation really upsets me. Like musician Patti Smith once said “People have the power to redeem the work of fools”.
TSOTA: Any words of wisdom for would-be directors out there?
JF: Make work that you feel passionate about!
What makes you tick? What do you want to say to the world? Consider your audience, they are the ones who are paying to see your show. What do you want them to think or feel? What do you want them to remember?
TSOTA: Lastly, which part of the production means the most to you?
JF: Dancing Bear features a number of songs in the show composed by Ric Neale, Beccy Owen and myself. But there’s this one particular song I wrote called Catch Dreams, I wrote it before any of the other music or text was written for the show. In the show it forms part of a moving scene towards the end. It’s a very personal and emotional moment where the song is sung and accompanied by a full live band including strings whilst a hauntingly beautiful dance takes place before our eyes. It’s the part of the show that gives our sound engineer, Craig Rothery, goose bumps.
Taken from Dancing Bear, here’s a sneaky peak of Jamie Fletcher playing Catch Dreams live: www.vimeo.com/jamiefletcher/catchdreams
Although Dancing Bear is sold out at West Yorkshire Playhouse there is still some tickets remaining for the show at Contact Theatre (Manchester) on Thursday 11 Feb. Don’t miss out!