Exclusive Interview: Nick Connaughton - Arcola Queer Collective

Arcola Queer Collective is a queer performance company for any one who identifies as LGBTQ+ in London.  The Collective is based at Arcola Theatre in Dalston, East London, and stages usually 1-2 main theatre productions every year, plus occasional cabaret and new writing nights, and the odd (infamous) after-party. The Collective has also been invited to perform at Rotterdam Unlimited in The Netherlands, one of the largest city-wide Festivals anywhere in Europe!

OutSavvy sat down with Creative Engagement Manager Nick Connaughton to get all 'The Buzz' about the Arcola Queer Collective...

When was the group founded?

We formed the group in September 2014 in response to the lack of LGBTQ+/Queer specific performance opportunities at theatres in London. This also coincided with a fundraiser Arcola held for the charity Unfinished Histories, who were celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the first season of Gay play in London. What was interesting was that from the 60's to the mid 90s there were a whole range of amateur, semi-professional and professional companies, many attached or closely associated with certain theatres, making work that spoke directly- politically, socially and personally to the queer community. The majority of these companies no longer exist, and the Collective was an experiment to see if a group like this was wanted or needed in London. We sold out the first production - a reimagining of A Midsummer Night's Dream (with new contemporary monologues by the wonderful Pat Cash) for two runs, including in Arcola's main house, so we have grown from there.

Who has joined and who are they? Can anyone join?

The Collective began with an open call out in 2014 and we formed a company of 20 members, from talented first timers, through to some of the leading names in queer performance. Since then, we do an annual call for members and opperate an open programming policy, which means any member of the Collective can suggest a production or idea that goes forward for consideration. We also operate an open casting policy and try to find a role, either on or off stage, for as many members as are interested. It's not always possible, but as we do our best.

Some former and current members include cabaret stars Rubyyy Jones, Travis Alabanza, Miss Cairo and Sam Reynolds, Ku Bar (and Impulse London's) Damien Killeen, and actors like Damien Hughes (original cast of 5 Guys Chillin'), Temi Wilkey (now at the Royal Shakespeare Company) and Lotte Vallis (who was just onstage at The National Theatre). Many of our members don't have any previous acting experience or formal training (including Outsavvy's own Stuart Honey), but  that becomes irrelevant once everyone is in the room working together to bring the show to life.

What performances have you put on so far?

There was our first production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (January and December 2015), and last year a production of The Little Prince (February and May 2016). Both were sell outs and got glowing reviews so we are very proud of them!

Tell us about the 2017 season? This looks ambitious!

Since 2016 was so rubbish, we decided that 2017 needs more of the Collective so we are staging a 10 day mini Festival to start the year queer!

We have two headline productions The X and The Drag. The first is a radical reimagining of La Prisionairre by Edouard Bourdet, which was the first play to depict lesbianism on Broadway. This is followed The Drag written by the inimitable Mae West! Both plays caused a scandal in the US when they premiered in the late 1920's, with police raids, cast arrests and eventually the productions being shut down.

As far as we are aware neither play has ever been staged in the UK at a major venue, so we are really interested in how they reflect our modern experience, and highlight how far the queer community has come in it's fight for acceptance, as well as what work there is still to be done. You can see them both as a double bill on a single night, or as stand alone shows.

Alongside this we have 4 special events including the Collective's famous opening night party and cabaret; special fundraisers for Hackney's only LGBT+ Youth Centre, Project Indigo, and Unfinished Histories; and the Collective's first ever Musical Theatre Review!

Tell us a bit about the Arcola Theatre itself (and we hear you have a great bar for celebrity spotting!)

Arcola is one of London's leading Off West End Theatres and has been in Dalston in Hackney since it was founded in 2000. The programme is a diverse mix of classics (like the upcoming Revolution Season including Chekov's The Cherry Orchard) and vibrant new writing, often LGBTQ+ themed (including last year's Kenny Morgan, which told the real life story of Terrence Rattigan's affair with a young actor, which won Paul Keating the Attitude Magazine Stage Performance of the Year!). We also run an Opera Festival every August, Grimeborn.

The bar is also open till late, with great local beer, wine and spirits, regular music and club nights, and yes quite a bit of celebrity spotting, including 3 Oscar winers joining us for a show and a drink in December.

Last but not least, we love a bit of gossip here at OutSavvy! Can you share anything with us?

In the Queer Collective we never kiss and tell, but come along to the Opening Night Party and ask any one of us yourselves!

Arcola Queer Collective runs from Saturday 7 January until Sunday 15 January at Arcola Theatre (24 Ashwin Street, London, E8 3DL). Click here to see all the events.

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