Ben Buratta, Artistic Director at Outbox, about LGBT Theatre, HIV and more...

“I wanted to give opportunities to LGBT actors to play LGBT characters and explore facets of their sexuality creatively in a way that often mainstream media and theatre doesn’t allow”

OutSavvy recently partnered with Outbox Theatre and sat down with Artistic Director Ben Buratta for an in-depth chat about LGBT Theatre, HIV and more...

Hi Ben, tell us a bit about yourself and your involvement in Outbox Theatre.

I’m a theatre director and a lecturer at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. As a gay man working in theatre clearly I am not alone, but like many others it took a long time for me to come to terms with my sexuality and once I had, I wanted to use my work to further explore queer culture and community. I founded Outbox Theatre 6 years ago as a way of making really high quality theatre that engaged with the LGBT community. I wanted to give opportunities to LGBT actors to play LGBT characters and explore facets of their sexuality creatively in a way that often mainstream media and theatre doesn’t allow. I am artistic director of the company which means that I direct productions, run and manage a national outreach programme that works with older and younger LGBT people and support emerging LGBT artists to make their own work. There are so many fascinating stories of the LGBT community that have never been told or have been forgotten and it is wonderful to be able to help these stories be shared with a wider audience.


Your upcoming production, Affection, runs from 13-24 September at The Glory, why should people go and watch it?

This is a brand new play that is extremely topical and relevant in a time when more gay men are contracting HIV than ever and the great debate over PrEP is in the mainstream media. The public haven’t seen such blatant homophobia in the right-wing press since Thatcher’s heyday and so it’s about time that we had another creative discussion about it. The show is political in its nature but the stories themselves are very human and are based on interviews that I have undertaken with men living with HIV. We want to make sure that we reflect the breadth of experiences of people living with HIV and therefore the stories are not only sad but they are funny, sexy, honest, and compassionate. Our professional cast are outstanding and are giving incredible performances, we are working with multi-media and a beautiful set to transform the basement of The Glory, acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Jodi Gray has written a powerful and poetic script and our movement director Coral Messam (who once toured as a dancer with queen of the gays, Kylie!) is creating stunning choreography. Above all good theatre is about telling stories well, in new, dynamic, and powerful ways and so should transcend what your sexuality or your status might be. It is also being staged in the coolest pub in London - what more could you want?

People with HIV are still being stigmatised in 2016, why do you think that more gay men than ever are contracting HIV and why is there so much confusion surrounding being HIV positive?

This is a really tough question but I believe that it comes down to a lack of education. There is simply not a broad enough sex education happening within schools and within society as a whole. As a gay man who went to a comprehensive school in the 1990’s, I can remember the media surrounding the AIDS crisis which, whilst maybe temporarily effective, was downright terrifying! In that decade, we were taught that non-heterosexual sex equalled death by the media and, thanks to section 28, our schools weren’t even allowed to mention alternative sexualities. Since then, the climate surrounding HIV has changed dramatically thanks to advances in science, but education really hasn’t kept up. Many of the young people that I interviewed who had been recently diagnosed with HIV were unaware of just how much their sex lives had put them at risk. Even within the gay community there is huge stigma and prejudice surrounding HIV and what it means to be undetectable. There are so many other complex factors; lack of self-esteem, homophobia, the rise in chemsex, the danger and thrill of risky sex, all of which we will cover in ‘affection’.

Can you tell us a bit more about the different characters in affection?

We devise our work and so the characters are based upon the interviews that we have undertaken and what the actors bring into the rehearsal space. The show is being developed and rehearsed right up until the final performance which makes for exciting theatre! The play is experimental in form and doesn’t follow one protagonist or central character, which means that the actors get to play more than one part and we meet many different characters and are able to tell a diverse range of stories.


Outbox Theatre focuses on telling the forgotten and unheard stories of the LGBT community, what is in the pipeline for the future, any productions in the making that you can share some info on?

We’ve got lots of exciting plans for the future with another major production being developed for next year which will explore how we express our gender identity. We are also developing a smaller, touring production called ‘Stray’ which is a two-hander that explores the often unseen problem of youth LGBT homelessness. Our outreach work is on-going and we work with LGBT youth groups across the country offering workshops that promote education, confidence and theatre-making skills.

Affection is Outbox Theatre’s 7th production, what has been your highlight so far?

There have been so many highlights. When I first told people that I was planning to set up Outbox, I witnessed people openly sniggering about it. There was this idea that the great fight of gay rights had been won and that theatre with queer issues at its core was a thing of the past. So for the work to be so well received by audiences and to still be here making the work 6 years later is a massive highlight in itself! The moments that always stay with me though are the small moments of reflection that the audience and the performers have shared with me. Gay women and men in their eighties who have thanked us for representing their story, teenagers who take part in workshops and report that they feel more confident about expressing themselves, the straight guy who comes to see the show and says “Hmmm… I’ve never really thought about it like that”! Those are the moments that make it worth making the theatre for.

And finally, we won’t lie, we love a bit of gossip here at OutSavvy, anything that you can share with us?

The Outbox after-show parties have got a reputation for getting pretty out of control. I wouldn’t know of course, but you can always join in by buying a ticket- the play and the after-party are happening in the venue after all…

Affection is at The Glory (281 Kingsland Road,  London, E2 8AS) from 13-24 September, 7.30pm. To book tickets click here.

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