Critically acclaimed LGBT+ theatre show, Riot Act, is back, for its second time this year, in aid of the Dean Street Wellbeing Programme. Performed and created by Alexis Gregory, and directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair MBE, Riot Act is verbatim theatre piece, created entirely word-for-word from interviews with three iconic survivors and covering six decades of queer history.
To be performed at the Duchess Theatre, this charity gala on 26th November 2018, will take the audience through a journey of three ‘standout’ queer lives at pivotal moments in queer history by exploring those three lives into the present day.
The three survivors Alexis interviewed are: one of the only remaining Stonewall survivors; Michael-Anthony Nozzi, a member of a 1970s London radical drag troupe; Lavinia Co-Op and a prominent ACT-UP London AIDS activist; Paul Burston.
I caught up with Alexis to find out more…
This is the second time you’ll be performing this year (2018) – what was the reception like the first time?
I first performed Riot Act in the summer at the Kings Head Queer Festival. The audience response was astonishing. Audiences sat and listened to these three men’s lives unfold. There’s massive laughs in the play and devastatingly sad moments too – which keeps the audience engaged throughout. Each night, the audiences went on a journey with me with a standing ovation each night too. Performing this play has been one of the most extraordinary experiences of my career; to look into audience members eyes and directly connect with and essentially hold a conversation with them is on a whole new level of powerful.
Why should people know about these issues and these men?
I am committed to representing untold queer stories on stage. There are few, if any, other survivors from the night of the Stonewall riots, which hold stories and experiences we all have to hear in order to understand. It is a rare chance to hear one person’s memories of what really happened that night. Similarly with the Lavinia character who talks about radical drag, whose experiences are extraordinary; following his life from being a young man asking the doctor to cure his homosexuality to becoming an underground and ground-breaking drag icon! Vin’s piece is positioned like a TED talk on the history of drag and as we all know, DRAG IS BACK (did it ever really go away?). Paul’s story looks at the devastating impact of HIV and AIDS on the gay community and on its survivors too; for example, young men in their twenties who lost their whole set of friends and without giving too much away, Paul’s and indeed all of the stories, take the audience into the present day with an urgent call to arms in these current politically and socially volatile times. Young and older audiences respond very well to the play’s themes. There are unheard stories that I believe need to be heard.
How do you create a play from interviews in a way that is accurate and sensitive, but also engaging?
I quite simply tell the truth and I don’t sanitise anything. I take no prisoners and give the honest truth, that we all need and should hear. The piece is an exploration of humanity and not just in it’s broad themes of Stonewall, AIDS activism and drag but also in how ‘Riot Act’ explores themes of sexuality, gender, identity, family, drugs, community, loss, belonging, not belonging, togetherness, conflict, youth, getting older and ageing in the LGBTQ+ community. There’s a lot of humour in the stories that I drew out and emphasise. We used humour, as it’s a great tool to get audiences to engage, digest, but to remember. One minute they are the laughing, the next crying; the play questions the audience and challenges them. The audience also doesn’t have to agree with what all the three characters say, we wanted to ignite discussions off these experiences.
Why did you choose to support the Dean Street Wellbeing Programme?
Dean Street approached me and asked me if I would be interested in doing this special fundraiser performance and I said yes to them straight away. Dean Street do great work within our community and the money raised from the performance will go towards funding their Wellbeing Programme; a range of entertaining, educational and community engagement events, including talks, events, performance, education programmes, art exhibitions, film screenings and community discussions on a range of challenging and culturally topical issues. The programme also includes support groups and outreach programmes. I have always said that Riot Act is set to channel six decades of queer history but it is also channeling the queer spirit and where we have been as a community, where we are now and where we are going. Riot Act fits perfectly with the Wellbeing Programme. I am very pleased and honoured that clinic manager Leigh Chislett, via David Stuart who manages the ChemSex support service at Dean Street approached me and I hope I can raise as much money for them as possible, alongside raises the voices of these amazing survivors.