This week I was asked if I would like to interview the director of the theatre show Dancing Bear, Jamie Fletcher. I was so honoured and looking forward to the chat. I feel like I really got to know what Jamie is about in such a short chat and made me even more eager to watch the show. If you’d like to get tickets to see the show (6th & 7th April at Leeds West Yorkshire Playhouse) the links are at the end of this interview. Here is the soundtrack too which I thoroughly enjoyed listening to!
Anyway, let’s take it away…
For readers that don’t know who you are and what you do – would you mind introducing yourself?
Yes my name is Jamie Fletcher I am a trans, queer theatre and film director and musician and LGBTQ+ activist and I’ve been doing this work for over a decade now. It’s taken me all over the country and I’ve worked with lots of incredible people doing some really exciting projects and making some really cool things.
One of those projects I noticed was that you are one of the founders of Trans Pride Leeds?
Yes well we’re actually in the midst of Trans Pride Leeds right now, it’s the first time it’s happened this year so we’ve organised two weeks of celebratory events from the 25th March to the 7th April. Dancing Bear is at the end of Trans Pride but there are lots of wonderful events happening right now as we speak!
Amazing! Are there any highlights so far and what events are coming up?
Yeah we had a really interesting panel discussion following a screening of A Fantastic Woman at Hyde Park Picture House, we’ve had trans and non-binary only swimming at Bramley Swimming Baths. We’ll have some brilliant performances taking place at Live Art Bistro on Friday featuring Mzz Kimberley, Kate O’Donnell and Hester Chillingworth. The Pride march itself co-insides with Trans Day of Visibility on Saturday – come rain or shine we will take to the streets to be visible, proud and celebrate who we are. Then on Sunday we will have a film spectacular with lots of incredible trans and non-binary films curated in collaboration with Leeds Queer Film Festival.
There’s so much going on – it’s brilliant! Check out www.facebook.com/transprideleeds for more information!
Yes there is so much as well! How long has it taken to organise this?
Well Trans Pride came about because the trans and non-binary community can often feel left out of or not catered for at mainstream Pride events. I have visited Trans Pride Brighton a number of times. It is the first Trans Pride that happened in the country – I’ve seen it develop over the past five years and do so much and that’s amazing. Last year at LGBT Pride in Leeds there was a large gathering of about one hundred and fifty trans and non-binary people that ended up marching together. There is also a growing need for visibility, spaces and education. So, we were like well why don’t we have our own Trans Pride? That’s where the initial ideas came from. With the help of a small team from the community we managed to organise a range of different events!
Wow and if you don’t mind me asking – what do you think could be the consequences if don’t have events like this?
Great question, I think it’s important for the communities and individuals themselves to feel good about who they are, particularly right now the media is spinning a lot of disinformation about trans and non-binary people about our lives. It’s really problematic and is affecting a lot of people. Events like this are a way for us to celebrate who we are when we’re often told that we are less human in some respects. It’s quite a radical act to actually go, “No, I’m going to love myself and I’m going to be myself despite what others may say.”
In many ways that’s what our show Dancing Bear, is all about inclusion, community and love. That’s a universal message. We should all be able to be our whole selves and support each other.
Yes and it’s exciting that this is the first year and it can only get bigger and better…
Yes, and by no means are we getting it perfect – we’ve got a lot of work to do in order to make sure that all of our spaces are safe for every member of our community whether that’s trans people of colour or people with different access needs. We’re thinking about these things and we’re trying to get things right but sometimes you get it wrong. We’re doing our best and I think we’re all proud of what we have achieved, but I know we’ve got a lot more that we can do given the right opportunities and resources.
Talking of trialling things, what kind of access features have you incorporated within Dancing Bear?
So Dancing Bear has been in development now for four years. Two years ago, we previewed the show at West Yorkshire Playhouse to sell out audiences which was brilliant. Since then we have been refining the show – ensuring that the BSL interpreter as well as audio description is more fully integrated and an integral part of the piece. We’re trying to be inclusive as we can and we hope we can do more in the future as we continue to grow as a company. Part of it comes down to cost and resources (often that’s the way with these things) but it’s exciting and there aren’t many theatre shows that are doing this.
How does it feel to be directing a show in Leeds, our home city!?
What has been super amazing about Dancing Bear this year is that we premiered the show at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. I’m originally from Manchester and I saw my first ever musical there as a kid. I just remember seeing that show – it was Phantom of the Opera – and thinking, “Wow this is amazing, I want to do this.” And now, twenty-five years later, my company is performing a show on that stage. West Yorkshire Playhouse is my local theatre, it’s literally down the road from me, so it’s really amazing to have our show there. What’s more amazing is it’s really rare to see shows like Dancing Bear that have LGBTQ+ stories told by LGBTQ+ people on a big stage so that’s really cool.
Often our stories are told with a different lens or it’s straight actors playing queer roles. Dancing Bear features our own personal stories and real-life experiences. That’s really powerful and makes our show different to other musicals and theatre shows.
With activism, I find it both enjoyable and tiring. Do you find this too and how do you find the balance?
Yes, I think part of my activism is making art, art as activism. That doesn’t mean that it’s not been a tiring or difficult process developing the show, because we are bringing up our own stories and experiences as trans and queer people. I care deeply about our communities and I want to see LBGTQ+ people flourish and I hope that my work helps that in some way. I grew up in the 80s and that time saw huge leaps for gay rights movements, but this resulted in media push back and the horrendous Section 28. Now in 2018, I can see parallels with the gay rights and trans rights movement as we see the media push back due to greater visibility of trans and non-binary people.
A show that embodies my art and activism could easily be preachy but Dancing Bear is absolutely not that. It’s a show for all people regardless of your faith, sexuality or gender identity. Dancing Bear is an uplfting and entertaining show even though there are moments that are very moving.
Sorry I got a bit deep there didn’t I!
No it’s ok because it’s important to talk about these things. Right now, the media seem to be fascinated with spreading lies about trans and non-binary people like saying, “Kids are accessing hormones that are permanently changing their bodies,” – absolute rubbish, that does not happen.
What about rather than being fascinated with our bodies and medical transitioning – why not focus on 89% of trans people have self harmed who are under 25 or nearly a half of trans people under 25 have attempted suicide? That’s shocking. That makes me upset and it makes me angry that it happens. It particularly hurts me because that’s part of my experience. I have experienced those struggles, I wrestled with my gender and sexuality and wanted to take my own life because there wasn’t a visible voice saying it’s okay to be who I really was.
I know how important it is and suicide is such an awful thing to happen. That’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of issues affecting trans and non-binary people. Two weeks ago, in London, a trans woman person of colour, her name was Naomi, was killed and the media has not reported this. It’s shocking. We have a systemic problem of not giving accurate information about trans and non-binary people and our lives and not reporting on things that actually affect us.
This is 2018! We should be able to be who we are without having to fight for validation of our identities.
I believe that faith is also a key theme within Dancing Bear, how has that gone down and what has the reaction been like?
Yes, the show is about Christianity, sexuality and gender identity so I guess in many ways you may say that’s the holy trinity of head fucks. These themes are potentially controversial. Christian communities and queer communities for a long time have not been harmonious shall we say and actually what our show has tried to do is to open up positive conversations but also to share real experiences of the church and of faith and being LGBTQ+. It’s rare that those stories told and to create that space to be able to hear those. So yes, it does talk about faith and LGBTQ+ issues.
Dancing Bear is not a conventional musical but we’ve been blown away by the audience response – it’s been incredible. People of different ages from all sorts of backgrounds, whether they are LGBTQ+ or a person of faith or not, have spoken with us or tweeted about the show after seeing it.
So talking of the musicals, what is your favourite song in the show? I have a favourite too…
Mine is ‘All The Little Things’ the words just give me goose bumps, I was like wow.
For me I think I’d probably say ‘Don’t Give Up The fight’ because it was one of the songs that me and Ric Neale wrote quite early on. We wanted a really good disco song that’s fun and a bit camp and danceable, so yeah I like that one.
Well I can’t wait to see it!
I hope you enjoy it, I can’t wait to bring the show to West Yorkshire Playhouse. Hopefully we’ll get a good crowd on both dates.
And finally what’s next? What’s the plan?
We’re still a relatively young and emerging company even though some may say we’re in the midst of our career. Now that the script for Dancing Bear is completely refined and all of the music has been written, I’d like to develop the design elements of the show, perhaps adding surtitles. I’d also like to see if we can do larger tours and longer runs of the show.
We’re also starting to make another show so there’s a few things in the pipeline. If anyone would like to find out more about what we’re doing you can follow what we’re up to on facebook.com/jamiefletcherandcompany.
Massive thank you to Jamie for such an open and honest chat. I cannot wait to see the show. If you would like to get your hands on tickets to the show, it is on the 6th and 7th of April – you can buy tickets here.