Sian Johnson: “No Bisexuals will be harmed during the making of this show…..!”
“No Bisexuals will be harmed during the making of this show…..!”
That’s what was promised in an email to BiPhoria last October when Sian Johnson asked us for interviewees for a writing project about being bi and the LGBT community. With the finished play coming up at Taurus, Canal Street on 25th and 26th August as part of the 10 day Manchester Pride festival, Twice Removed is a one woman, one act show based on the real life experiences of LGBT people.
We caught up with the writer, who also performs the piece under the stage name Sian Hawthorn:
So, those months since October – how has the project taken shape?
I cast my mind back to December, to one interview for the project. Heather, in response to my question replied “Marginalisation? That is a big one.… Marginalisation” She paused, rolled the word over her tongue and savoured it as if tasting new thoughts. She then spat out a vicious stream of words describing her experiences as a 48 year old bisexual. I was shocked. I think she was too. But then who can blame her. I became aware then, that this was a really good project. Good for people to tell their stories, good for me to understand, learn and grow and good for audiences to see, hear and feel; to laugh, relate, celebrate and reflect on our complicated and varied community together.
I wasn’t always so sure.
Rewind: October: An uncharacteristically sunny autumn morning which, it seemed, was arranged especially for me as I bounded towards the first of what I hoped would be many meetings with LGBT workers. I was ready to discuss my ideas for a writing project based on real life experiences and how collaboration between me as writer, she as worker, and LGBT people as storytellers could create a positive, upbeat portrayal of LGBT life. Half an hour later, I left the dark building, clutching my battered ideas, protecting them from further damage under careless sunlight that seemed now to mock my earlier optimism.
I faced a choice: to follow my usual “give it up because people don’t like it” pattern or adapt, change, challenge and push forward. I spent the following weeks re-evaluating, seeking creative input and advice. I discovered that writers often have an overarching question in mind which they try to resolve through their writing. I found my question. It is deeply personal but also, I discovered, relevant to other Bi identified people.
I also discovered warmth and generosity from more experienced writers, Community activists and people from all genders, ages and sexualities. Each person had experiences to share and stories to tell. Some were harrowing, some hilarious, many were light hearted, and all were a mix of these and more. I faithfully recorded and transcribed each conversation, copy and pasted each online forum post, email and message and finally collated over 600 pages of thoughts, feelings and facts.
Fast forward: May: I stood on stage and delivered the closing lines of Twice Removed to my partner, my peers and people who had supported the project. In that moment, I felt a battle was won; not just for me in grappling my faults and fears but for those who shared their stories, found their voices, and for those who have yet to do so.
Fast forward: Present day: Since those first performances in May, Twice Removed has had a makeover and is now suitably polished and gleaming. An invitation is extended to you, to join me for an evening of love and life, fun and humanity and where you will discover whether I kept my promise that no bisexuals would be harmed during the making of the show…..!
Twice Removed will be performed downstairs at Taurus bar, Canal Street, Manchester Tuesday 25th August 2009 at 7pm, Wednesday 26th at 7 pm and 9pm. Tickets for this intimate venue cost £5 and are likely to sell out quickly. From Quaytickets online www.quaytickets.com or by phone on 0870 428 0785. The performances are partly supported by a small grant from the Manchester Pride Community Fund.
Stepping back a bit, how did you get started?
I am an actor and have always loved live theatre, performing and watching – I want to perform in and see events that that move me. I have no shame, I’ll cry and laugh out loud when I see good stuff and that’s basically what I wanted to do – create something meaningful, funny, poignant and real.
What keeps you motivated?
Because Twice Removed is based on the real lives of people from the community and their friends, I feel very strongly that the experiences that people shared with me must be told with genuineness. People are naturally funny and this humour ebbs and flows throughout the play.
What sort of people attend your performances?
All sorts of people – I’ve had a really positive response from LGBT audiences and their friends which is brilliant. The youngest member of the audience I’ve met was 16 and the oldest 62. I was initially worried that because of the ‘bisexuality angle’ that people who ID as Bi wouldn’t get anything from the play. I was reassured though, by an audience member who saw it and said that it was great to identify with the characters and to have an opportunity to have their experiences reflected back at them. I realised then that this is true and echoes the frustrations I feel at the invisibility of people who lead a bisexual life and the lack of positive mainstream media. Although this is only a small project with a niche audience, I would like to think that Twice Removed will go some way to addressing this.
What happens after this Pride?
I am seeking opportunities to perform Twice Removed in theatres, festivals and community venues. I am also working with Pro Act Training to develop the piece to help promote equality and diversity, which basically means performing it at conferences, in workshops and at training events as a stimulus for people to explore some of the themes raised in the play and creating discussion and learning. I am also looking at using similar interview and writing techniques to develop a new play – topic to be decided. So to sum up: more performances, more development, more writing, more fun!
Find out more about Sian’s work at www.sianjohnson.co.uk