entertainment

Queer Theatre Special: Exploring LGBT+ homelessness in 'Safe'

2016-10-10
Safe is a new play based on real-life experiences, that presents a stark look at the struggles of young homeless LGBT+ people. Here, Alexis Gregory and Robert Chevra, the play's writer and director, respectively, discuss what inspired the new show and some of the young people who informed its events. Alexis Gregory: Safe is one of three full-length plays I’ve written. I write rather wild plays; mixes of fantasy and reality where anything can — and often does — happen on stage. Safe is different in that it’s verbatim theatre, shaped out of my interviews with homeless and at-risk LGBT+ youth whom I met through The Albert Kennedy Trust, the charity that works to help young LGBT+ homeless people. The play’s stories, from some of the most marginalised and vulnerable in our community, are extraordinary, moving, shocking, challenging, hard-hitting and even, at times, funny. There’s lots of unexpected humour in Safe. In their interviews with me, the young people were amazing; sharing deeply personal and painful stories with a complete stranger at the time, to make their voices heard, to give something back to the AKT and to help other young people. We talked about sexuality, gender, identity, childhood, family, addiction, relationships, religion, race, and one of the play’s big themes: survival, and what it means to feel truly safe in today’s world. Emmanuel, one of the young people I interviewed, who incidentally won an Attitude Pride Award last year, told me how he was outed by his sister. There was a family meeting with “Bible chapters flying around,” he said. “I am from a very religious family and they told me they would pray for me. There was a conversation about sending me back to Africa for curing.” To escape his family, Emmanuel would go to college hours early and ride around on buses all evening. He became the family’s scapegoat. ‘’When I was outed, my family felt united and as if they had found the solution to all the problems everyone had.” There was verbal and psychological abuse until Emmanuel couldn’t take any more and fled the family home, making himself homeless before finding help through the AKT. ‘’Family is the people you surround yourself with,” he says reflecting on the new life he’s created for himself. Robert Chevra I first met Alexis Gregory, when he worked with my oldest friend, Rikki Beadle-Blair. Rikki has a knack for finding great talent and Lex was a sensitive, intelligent and intense actor and was at the heart of Rikki’s ensemble of fantastic performers. But I didn’t know he could write, too. Lex’s work is often wild, surreal, funny and dark. Safe seemed so different to his two other plays. It’s a verbatim piece, gleaned from interviews. Yet when I read it, I could see and feel a link to his other work. It was wholly taken from interviews he’d conducted with LGBT+ teenagers, their experiences of homelessness and rejection. These were young, vulnerable adults who had no voice and seemed almost invisible to our community. But their stories poured off the page. They were heartbreaking and funny, terrible and life-enhancing. They demanded to be heard. Theatre can change our perceptions. It can make us think about life, or people, in a different way, make us compassionate and ready to empathise. It can also help us to find something universal in some of the hilarious, heartbreaking things these kids have already had to go through. Lex has woven their histories into a dazzling, epic and intimate show, which plays like a thriller but has a real pulsing heart. Safe will be performed at the London Theatre Workshop from 17-22 October. Grab tickets at londontheatreworkshop.co.uk.